As a would-be Stanley Cup contending team, the Toronto Maple Leafs problem isn’t their prospect pipeline or the depth of their prospect pool. It’s the inability to win a playoff round.
Toronto has done an excellent job of scouting, drafting, and developing players. They’ve hit on several players both early and with later-round selections. Recent seventh-round picks to make the NHL include Pierre Engvall and Andreas Johnsson who is now with New Jersey.
Toronto has a young core with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Rasmus Sandin. The team traded away two of the last three drafts first-round picks but refused to trade their 2022 first-round pick. They have only three picks overall currently for the 2022 draft but have several young players in the prospect pool that can step into the lineup in the near future.
- Nick Robertson, LW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round two, 53rd overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Robertson had a good draft year with the Peterborough Petes posting 55 points in 54 games. His breakout year came the following season whereas a D+1 player he had a 55 goal and 86-point performance in just 46 games. Robertson also was solid for Team USA at the WJC with five points in five games. Robertson finished the year in the NHL playoffs looking right at home and scored his first NHL goal.
All signs were pointing to him playing in the NHL full time in a top-six role, and then injuries derailed those aspirations. The long list of injuries the 20-year-old has already endured include a wrist, ribs, knee, and a fractured fibula. Robertson suffered the broken leg in his second game of this season in the AHL and was out until February. He returned to the Marlies and recorded six points in seven games before being recalled to the NHL. He played the next nine games with the Leafs but had just one goal and was returned to the AHL.
The younger brother of Dallas Stars Jason Robertson, Nick is smaller than his big brother but a better skater. They both have shooting skills and have an offensive vision, skill, and creativity. Robertson is on his ELC through 2023-24 season and with a low cap hit would be very easy for Toronto to work him into the roster. If he can overcome the injuries and stay healthy, he could be in a top-six role next season.
- Matthew Knies, LW – University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Drafted: 2021 round two, 57th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto found a first-round player in the second round in Knies. The power forward has had a breakout season as a freshman with the Golden Gophers. Knies has 13 goals and 31 points in 31 games, he was named to the USA WJC and played in one game and scored before the tournament ended. He also was selected for Team USA at the Olympics and produced two points in four games.
Knies is playing a pro-ready game now. He has the size and strength of a grown man, his skating is powerful and fast, he plays a physically aggressive game throwing impactful hits. He can play a mean game as well living up to the “No more Mr. Knies guy” moniker. Knies has been outstanding in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament scoring big and timely goals and at times carrying his team on his back.
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas refused to part with Knies at the trade deadline to acquire a rental goalie. The Leafs could sign Knies to his ELC when the NCAA Tournament ends and have him begin his pro career and include him in the roster for the playoffs. His combination of skill, size and physical play will make him a fan favorite.
- Topi Niemela, RD – Karpat (Liiga)
Drafted: 2020 round three, 64th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Another potential first-round talent the Leafs uncovered in the third round. The 20-year-old is in his third season of pro hockey in Liiga and is having a breakout season. His rise began at the 2021 WJC where he led Finland to a Bronze Medal scoring eight points in seven games leading all defense in scoring and being named Tournament Best Defenseman. This year he has taken over the Liiga with 10 goals and 32 points through 48 games.
Niemela is an offensive defenseman that can run a power play and produces points at five on five. Defensively Niemela is effective in using his smarts and skating to close gaps, take away space, and angle players away from danger zones. He uses an active stick effectively to reduce options as well and he is effective at causing turnovers and takeaways.
Niemela could add some more strength and bulk to his frame as his physical game is not very intimidating, but he is projecting as a top-four pairing defender and that is great value in the third round. Niemela has one more year remaining on his contract with Karpat and should make the transition to North America in 2023-24 where he could step right into the Leafs roster.
- Nick Abruzzese, C – Harvard University (NCAA)
Drafted: 2019 round four, 124th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Abruzzese missed the entire 2020-21 season as the Ivy League shut down for COVID and he had a hip surgery that prevented him from playing elsewhere. Losing his sophomore season was a blow, but he bounced back as Captain of the Crimson posting 33 points in 28 games. Abruzzese was also named to the Team USA Olympic roster as well scoring four points there. His performance this season was enough to warrant his ELC from Toronto and with Harvard’s season now over, he could join the organization for the balance of the season, likely in the AHL with the Marlies.
Abruzzese is a very skilled and creative playmaker. He makes plays and finds teammates that others at the NCAA level can not. His stat line also supports his tendency to pass rather than shoot as he posted nine goals and 24 assists this season, but his shot is quick and accurate. Make no mistake, he can also score goals. Look for his pro debut to happen to close out the 2022 season and for Abruzzese to push for a position full-time in the NHL next year.
- Rodion Amirov, LW – Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Drafted: 2020 round one, 15th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
The Russian prospect was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier in February. The combination of his diagnosis and the political conflict with Russia have his future with the Leafs in jeopardy.
Amirov is a smooth skating and skilled offensive winger. He lacks much of a physical presence, but his skating and mobility drive his offensive game. His puck skills are above average, and he has been able to produce and earn ice time as a teenager in the KHL.
His offensive skill was on display during the 2021 WJC with Russia where he scored six points in seven games leading Russia to a Silver Medal. Amirov has top-nine NHL talent, but there are serious concerns if he will ever play in North America for political reasons, and he is facing life-threatening health problems. Here is hoping for a speedy and full recovery.
- Roni Hirvonen, C – HIFK (Liiga)
Drafted: 2020 round two, 59th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
The Finnish center could turn out to be another first-round value found in the second round. Hirvonen is a two-way player. He plays a physical game, despite not being blessed with size. He plays a quick tempo game, despite not being a very fast skater. A very versatile and smart player, he thinks and processes the game fast, has fast hands and competes hard for pucks. H
is defensive game is above average for a player his age. His offensive production has improved in his third season in the Liiga after a move from Assat to HIFK from 0.39 to .57 points per game. In playing against his own age peers at the WJC he was outstanding scoring six points in seven games leading Finland to a Bronze Medal.
Hirvonen has one more year remaining on his contract with HIFK and will make the jump to North America for the 2023-24 season where he will compete for a role with the Leafs.
- Alex Steeves, LW – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Drafted: Free Agent signed 2021
Toronto has had some success signing undrafted free agents out of the NCAA such as Tyler Bozak. Steeves has the potential to become an NHL player as their most recent undrafted free agent.
The undersized forward had a nice development curve in college seeing a steady rise in point production in his three years at the University of Notre Dame. His rookie season in the AHL with the Marlies has been a success as he is a top player and sits third in team scoring.
While slightly undersized at 5-11, he has pro level strength and can compete physically with taller players. His game has transitioned well to the AHL as he has quick hands, makes fast reactions to plays and processes the game at a pro-level pace. Offensively he has a good shot and can score from range at the AHL level. He has proven to be a consistent offensive player and was recalled for his NHL debut in December playing three games and recording his first career NHL point.
At 22-years-old and playing on his ELC through the 2023-24 season Steeves could prove to be an affordable bottom-six player, but I am not sure his skill level can elevate him much higher on the depth chart than that.
- Mikhail Abramov, C – Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Drafted: 2019 round four, 115th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Abramov had a stellar junior career with the Victoriaville Tigres that he capped off as team Captain in 2021 leading the Tigres to a QMJHL Championship with 24 points in 19 playoff games.
Abramov is in his rookie season in the AHL and is on pace for a 29-point season. Not bad, but not great either. His offensive game has been inconsistent as he has had stretches of little to no production and point-scoring streaks to the tune of 10 points in 10 games.
With only four goals and 19 assists to date, Abramov is more of a playmaker using his creativity, quick hands, and deception to find open teammates. His shot is quick and accurate, and he needs to learn to use it more and take more shots. Abramov will need another season at least in the AHL to develop more strength to get to the middle of the ice and develop better shooting tendencies to make the jump to the NHL. Overall, he is another example of the Leafs quality scouting, now the player development needs to take over and turn this fourth-round pick into an NHL player.
- Ty Voit, C/LW – Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Drafted: 2021 round five, 153rd overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
Of all the examples of Toronto scouts finding late-round value, Voit could be the best. His OHL rookie season was good with 28 points in 49 games. He did not play at all in his draft year as the OHL was shut down and he was not named to the American U18 Team.
Now that the OHL has resumed, he is leading the Sting in scoring by a wide margin as he is on pace for 84 points in 67 games. His consistent point production has been very impressive. There have only been two occasions where he was held off the score sheet for more than one game all season.
His playmaking skills are translatable to the NHL, he has excellent vision, has quick hands, and moves the puck very quickly and deliberately. It is on and off his stick quickly as he is adept at the give-and-go. He is not just a playmaker as his deception with the puck helps him with a sneaky release that has resulted in 21 goals.
Voit is undersized and very light at 161 pounds. He will have to add plenty of muscle to be effective at the pro level and his skating is another area that needs development. Skating and strength are two components that are very correctable with training and coaching. This is a long-term project to be sure but there is definitely the potential for an NHL player with this fifth-round selection.
- Ryan Tverberg, C/RW – University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Drafted: 2020 round seven, 213th overall by Toronto Maple Leafs
I really like the trajection Tverberg is on as a prospect. Another seventh-round pick for Toronto, Tverberg was selected in 2020 from the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the OJHL where he had 51 points in 47 games. The following season he was a freshman with UConn but was limited to just 14 games where he produced seven points. His sophomore season has been a breakout performance as he has played a key role with the Huskies with 32 points in 36 games. The Richmond Hill native was also invited to the Team Canada WJC selection camp as well, putting him in an elite class of his peers.
Tverberg plays with tempo and his compete level is very high. A growth spurt and addition of muscle have immensely helped his game as well. Currently his skating and skill level are good, but not NHL level. However, if he continues to develop at the rate he is, Toronto could be looking to sign him to an ELC after his junior season and start him in the AHL. He may never make the NHL, but if Toronto found another pro player with the 213th pick you just have to tip your hat.
Joe Duszak – The 24-year-old right-shot defenseman has 44 points through 47 games with the Marlies and is second in AHL defense scoring. The third-year pro is in the last year of his ELC and will become an RFA.
Veeti Miettinen – Sophomore at St. Cloud State has had two successful seasons in NCAA. Terrific shooter.
Semyon Der-Arguchintsev – Diminutive Russian is 5-10 and 165 pounds. Super soft hands but plays super soft too.
William Villeneuve – His fourth and final season in QMJHL is leading the Saint John Sea Dogs in defense scoring with 41 points in 48 games. Memorial Cup bound.
Dmitri Ovchinnikov – Signed his ELC and joined Marlies. Workhorse and relentless forechecker. Fans are going to love him.
Joseph Woll – Not a franchise starting goalie, but he is the best goalie prospect in the system.