It's strange the things that get burned into your memory. One of my earliest ones is being at the daycare at my mother's gym and just having none of it, crying and crying until she gave up on working out completely.

Sometimes it's something you've heard - I wrote this story after listening to the Steve Dangle Podcast while stuck in traffic at the corner where the QEW/Red Hill Valley Parkway meet.

When I heard the Toronto Maple Leafs signed Mercyhurst defender Joseph Duszak to an ELC in March, 2019 it was March Break for Ontario schools and we had taken the kids to the Buffalo Science Museum (I highly recommend it, you can even book time in the observatory on the roof) and we were in the Animal exhibit laughing at the Dik-dik, when the notification came through.

Duszak started his professional career with six games on the Marlies to end the 2018-19 season - two regular season and four playoff games - and scored his first professional goal in the process:

This season he split almost evenly between the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers and the AHL Toronto Marlies.

Duszak has been a defender who has always had a touch for points. In college he was almost a point per game player. In his final season earned himself a Hobey Baker nomination as top college player, and was named the Atlantic Hockey Associations player of the year, defender of the year, and a first team all-star. With the Marlies he had 18 points in 25 games and with the Growlers he was one of their best defenders, with 35 in 34.

In Newfoundland he had big fans in the coaching staff, even if his eye isn’t on the defensive ball all the time, from Robin Short/St. John’s Telegram:

“I played forward until I was 14,” says the Growlers’ slick first-year rearguard, “so I always had a knack for joining the rush and getting involved offensively.

“I think,” Duszak added “offence is more fun than defence, so if you have the puck, you don’t have to play defence.”

Votes - Joseph Duszak

PlayerJoseph Duszak
2020 Rank19
Average Rank20.25
Lowest Rank22
Highest Rank16
Spread in Rank6
Total Votes11

Duszak was almost unanimously ranked, only missing a vote from Hardev, who may have seen him more than most while he was up with the Marlies.

I had him at 21, just as an eye of caution around an undrafted AHL/ECHL tweener.

Kevin shared his thoughts on Duszak, whom he ranked 17th:

Duszak is a talented offensive defenceman who has boasted impressive point production in college (47 points in 37 games during his final year), the ECHL (35 points in 34 games), and even the Marlies (18 points in 23 games). It’s unfortunate that I spent most of this past season incredibly frustrated with Tyson Barrie, or I might have him even higher. Duszak’s a talented puck mover, both on the powerplay and at 5-on-5, and he’s also a half-decent skater. I expect him to take on a bigger role with the Marlies in the near future, but he’ll need to improve his defensive game in order to be in the mix for an NHL role. I still think he’s a bit of a long-shot to be an average NHL player, especially since the Leafs have plenty of offensive defenceman in the system, but there’s at least some skill to dream on here.

Hardev left Duszak unranked, so he gave his thoughts why and his analysis of Duszak from the Marlies:

When Seldo reminded me to give a comment on Duszak, I was surprised that I both had him off my ballot and that I was the only one to not rank him. Duszak was in my final tier where I had seven guys to fill the final six spots (20-25). Those players included Lindgren, Rubins, Hollowell, Kral, Woll, Scott, and Duszak, in that order. I’m going to stand by my vote, but I’m open to being swayed a different way, especially on the goalies. Probably could’ve left one of them off.

Going down the list, Lindgren was the most impressive of the second-tier defense prospects on the Marlies last year. Rubins was second. Hollowell has shown a lot of promise in his array of skills and tenacity, so I put him right in there. Kral being ranked is me betting on a strong 2020-21 in the pros after a great age-20 season. Each of these players impressed me more in one area or another more than Duszak, which is why I’ve written the T25 articles for all of them save Lindgren.

For Duszak, I wouldn’t look at his points, he had power play time late in the year and his shooting percentage numbers were high. He’s a good offensive defenseman — good in the offensive zone and in transition — but for someone who played through the NCAA and was 22 all season, he did not have enough of a defensive game. He got beat wide regularly and didn’t have the cleverness or strength to win battles in the defensive zone. I was quite disappointed by that, especially since he played lower-end competition. In a pinch with a lot of injuries, Duszak just might out-score his problems in sheltered minutes on the Leafs, but I don’t think it’s likely. Defensemen develop longer, so maybe he can change my mind in 2020-21, but he needs to take big steps on defense.

Top 25 Under 25: Mac Hollowell is transitioning to pro at #22
Top 25 Under 25: The Case For The Goalies
Top 25 Under 25: The Case for Kristians Rubins

All in all, getting a prospect like Duszak outside the draft is a move that could pay off big time. The Leafs have hit on college free agents before - Tyler Bozak is probably one of their best success stories here - but they’ve also missed on quite a few (Christian Hanson, Brayden Irwin)..

Is Duszak a Bozak or a Hanson?

Bozak baby!187
Another Hanson who we’ll forget about quickly227