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2022 T25U25: The Unranked

A surprising number of prospects received no votes.

The Toronto Maple Leafs open their training camp
Despite efforts to convince us he’s one of the boys, Leafs fans aren’t buying in on Mac Hollowell.
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

With only 44 eligible players to be voted in on this year’s to 25, it’s surprising that 10 of them received no votes at all. As voters, we’re sure who is in range of the lower ranks of the list, but as we’ll learn soon, we don’t at all agree on the exact order of the bottom 15 or so names.

Usually the unranked are older, Russian prospects on indefinite rights who have revealed themselves to be who they are. Like Vladimir Bobylyov, who aged out, they’re VHL players almost exclusively. The rest are generally late round picks who were big long shots on draft day and who haven’t captured the imagination. Given that, it’s a bit surprising that there’s two younger goalies who got no votes. It’s a testimony to the way goalie prospects start piling up once management changed and they began to draft one every year.

The older Russians are:

Vladislav Kara: Likely the best of the group, he’s played 102 KHL games at age 24. He will age off the list next year as a VHL/KHL tweener.

Semyon Kizimov: Possibly a match for Kara, Kizimov is only 22, and has a lot of pro hockey to his name. He’s been slotted firmly into a VHL role at the moment, and has had success there.

Nikolai Chebykin: The oldest player on the eligibility list this year, he’s a KHL/VHL tweener, albeit in a non-scoring depth role. He had his fans back in the day based on some gaudy MHL points results in his post-draft season, but he would have needed to be in the KHL at that age to be really exciting.

Some older players we’ve lost faith in show up every year:

Kalle Loponen: The “other” Finnish defender drafted along with Mikko Kokkonen has not made the jump to pro hockey fast enough or effective enough to catch our attention. He’s only 21, but he can’t crack the team Topi Niemelä dominates from, and is likely going to play out his pro career in the Liiga.

Mac Hollowell: The Maple Leafs have made a fuss over Hollowell (formerly of the Soo Greyhounds) every year, and yet Leafs fans aren’t buying in. Very, very similar to former Marlies teammate Joey Duszak, Hollowell, at 23, is not an undisputed top pairing stalwart in the AHL. So that means the NHL is likely out of his reach. Injury- and Covid-shortened seasons haven’t helped his development either.

Ryan O’Connell: At 23, and still in the NCAA, O’Connell hasn’t done anything to be made memorable. He looks like a direct to ECHL player.

The list is padded out this year with more recent late-round drafted players that just can’t rise above the seas of third and fourth round picks that we can pin our hopes on for now:

John Fusco: At 21, Fusco has had time to play only 26 games in the NCAA, but that’s also why he’s unranked. Years of unremarkable play in the USHL and a freshman Harvard season with few games played kept him from getting any votes.

Artur Akhtyamov: The older of two goalies drafted out of the Ak Bars Kazan club in Russia, Akhtyamov is set up to be the VHL starter this season as he turns 21. The mostly likely player on today’s list to prove us wrong, he’d need to be gunning for the top KHL chair to be a lock as a good North American goalie someday.

Vyacheslav Peksa: About to have his 20th birthday, the junior partner in this goalie duo is still MHL-eligible. He’s the second most likely name here to shame us in the future.

The last unranked player is an undrafted free agent who still plays in junior hockey. Without the draft buzz around his name, I’m not surprised no one ranked him:

Braeden Kressler: At 19, Kressler is coming off an injury-shortened season followed up by a very hot playoff run. If he gets a lot of points in the season he turns 20 in the OHL, we might be tempted to overrate him next year. For now, he’s a longshot.

And that’s the sad list of the unranked for another year. Tomorrow we meet the honourable mentions.