2021 TSP: Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects

Montreal Canadiens vs Toronto Maple Leafs, 2021 Top Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects

Welcome to the 2021 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2021 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. You can find all the articles here.  Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2021 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today, we look at the 2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects.

What we will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2021-22 roster of the NHL team in question. We will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.

2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects

Leafs Season and Off-Season

It was deja vu for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Led by the big four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander, the Leafs had an excellent regular season. They comfortably finished in first place in the North Division. The team then quickly got out to a 3-1 series lead over their biggest rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Two overtime games and a Game 7 collapse later, and the Leafs once again failed to win a playoff series.

The off-season brought change. The team traded for Jared McCann, then quickly lost him in the expansion draft. They big loss though is free agent Zach Hyman, who was a regular in the Leafs top six. Other free agents who left include Joe Thornton, Frederik Andersen, Nick Foligno, Alex Galchenyuk, Zach Bogosian, Riley Nash, and Ben Hutton leave. Meanwhile, they brought in Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, Michael Bunting, Petr Mrazek, David Kampf, and Michael Amadio.

2021 Draft Picks (D): Matthew Knies, Ty Voit, Vyacheslav Peksa
Graduations: Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev

 

2021 Top Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect: Nick Robertson

Left Wing — shoots Left
Born September 11th, 2001 — Northville, Michigan
Height 5’19″ — Weight 176 lbs [178 cm/80 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd Round, #53 Overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.

After getting some time in the bubble playoffs, Robertson had his first pro season last year.  He put up five goals and 16 points in 21 games for the Toronto Marlies.  He also played six games in the NHL, picking up one assist, his first career regular-season point.

Skating

At just five-foot-nine, Robertson is undersized and considerably shorter than his brother. That said, he makes up for his lack of size with his strong skating ability. His first few steps and acceleration are amongst the best in the draft and his top-end speed is also excellent. He can use his ability to change speeds to blow by a defender off the rush. Robertson also has very good agility and edgework. His ability to make quick cuts or change directions makes him very hard to contain. Robertson has a low centre of gravity that helps him to win battles along the boards or in front of the net. However, his lack of size is still an issue as he can be overpowered by bigger opponents and knocked off the puck.

Offensive Game

Robertson has a non-stop motor and is always involved in the middle of the play. He is surprisingly physical for his size, getting in quickly on the forecheck and being an absolute wrecking ball against opposing defenders. His ability to cause turnovers and create havoc on the forecheck helps him to create offence. He is also willing to get to the front of the net and creates havoc there. Robertson is good at getting tip-ins, burying rebounds, or just causing goaltenders problems with his presence and ability to get under their skin.

Robertson is also skilled. He has good hands and can make strong stickhandling moves around a defender. When he creates some space, he is able to get off a good wrist shot and a quick release. He also has a very good snapshot. Robertson is shifty and this helps him to make passing and shooting lanes. When he gets the opportunity, he can create for teammates with a tape-to-tape pass in a scoring area. Robertson sees the ice well and reads the play effectively making smart plays with the puck. Without the puck, he is able to find open space and take a pass from a teammate.

Defensive Game

Robertson keeps his feet moving and is willing to play his gritty game in all three zones. The effort level cannot be questioned. However, he needs to work on his positioning and discipline. Robertson can get himself out of position by chasing the puck and looking for the big hit. This can leave his man open at times and creates some problems. With more time and proper coaching, he can fix these issues though. He also could use some work in the faceoff circle, especially if he wants to play centre at the next level. Robertson’s lack of size can be an issue when he supports down low as he can be overpowered by bigger and more physical forwards.

Outlook

Robertson comes to Leafs camp looking to compete for one of the forward spots open by the Leafs off-season changes. However, he will need time to add muscle to his frame to be able to withstand the rigours of playing against professionals every night. He will also need to work on his defensive game. Robertson could be a top-six forward if he develops properly. While he played both centre and left-wing in Peterborough, he likely projects as a winger at the NHL level and this is where he was used by the Marlies. If Robertson ends up in the AHL, expect him to be one of the first call-ups if injuries hit and to be a full-timer by 2022-23 at the latest.

 

#2 Prospect: Rasmus Sandin

Defence — shoots Left
Born March 7th, 2000 — Uppsala, Sweden
Height 5’11” — Weight 187 lbs [180 cm/85 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1st round, #29 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft.

Sandin’s season was interrupted by a broken foot. As a result, he was limited to just 10 regular-season games, nine for the Leafs and one with the Marlies. Over that time he picked up four assists in the NHL. He also played five games in the playoffs, picking up a goal.

Skating

Sandin is a good but not great skater. His speed is slightly above average, and he keeps up with the play, but he is not a speedster by any means. He is a better backwards skater than forward (comparative to his opposition of course), which is obviously a good tool for a defender. With good cross-overs and agility, he is able to retreat quickly and keep the play in front of him. Sandin has very good lower-body strength, especially when you consider there is probably some room to add even more muscle on his frame. His balance and low centre of gravity help him to win battles for loose pucks and clear the front of the net. He is tough to knock off the puck.

Offensive Game

Sandin is an extremely intelligent player. He is poised with the puck on his stick and makes smart plays. Sandin has great vision and the ability to thread the needle to the open man with good passing skills. He can make the long stretch pass to create a breakaway or odd-man rush when it is available. When the home-run type play is not there, he does not try to force it, instead, finding a quicker, shorter pass to start the transition game. Sandin also has the vision and skills to set up plays on the power play.

He also has a good arsenal of shots, which he has a knack for getting on the net. Sandin is much more likely to use a wrist shot or snapshot than he is to load up for a slap shot, even from the point. He likes to sneak down to the circles, get the puck and unload a quick shot without giving the goalie time to set up. Both his wrist and snapshot generate decent power, and he has a quick release. When there is traffic, he keeps his shots low giving his teammates the opportunity for tip-ins and rebounds. Sandin always seems to be in the right place. He does a very good job of finding open ice and picks good spots to pinch in from the point.

Defensive Game

Sandin’s strong positioning and understanding of the game extends to the defensive zone as well. He is a physical player, willing to throw hits on the rush, battle in the corners, and clear the front of the net. However, he picks his spots well, not getting himself out of position to chase the physical play. Sandin maintains good gap control and funnels attackers to the outside. He anticipates plays well and cuts down passing and shooting lanes.

Outlook

There appears to be a spot open on the Leafs blueline and its hoped that Sandin is now ready to step up and take a full-time role. With Morgan Rielly’s future with the team in question as he is set to become a UFA next summer, it is hoped that Sandin can prove that he can take on top-four minutes, though it may take an injury before he gets that opportunity this year.

 

#3 Prospect: Rodion Amirov

Right Wing/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born October 2nd, 2001 — Salavat, Russia
Height 6’0″ — Weight 168 lbs [183 cm / 76 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1st Round, #15 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Amirov spent most of the season in the KHL, though ice time was sometimes an issue. He put up nine goals and 13 points in 39 games. He was also held scoreless in nine playoff games. Amirov also had the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage. He put up two goals and six points in seven games at the World Juniors. He also played on the Men’s National Team on the European Hockey Tour. Amirov scored three goals in three games.

Skating

Amirov is a strong skater who plays a 200-foot game. He has very good top-end speed and good acceleration. He also possesses an excellent first step. Amirov couples this with excellent agility and edge work. This gives him the ability to weave in and out of traffic both with and without the puck. Amirov could stand to add some muscle to his frame though, especially in his lower body. This would help him to fight through checks and to maintain his balance in battles along the boards. This area of his game should continue to mature as he matures.

Offensive Game

Amirov also has an excellent wrist shot and a quick release. His shot is powerful and accurate and helps Amirov to be a natural goal scorer. He is also effective at establishing his position in front of the net. From there he can use a quick stick to bury a pass from a teammate; pounce on a rebound, or deflect a shot into the net. He has the soft hands to finish plays if he gets one-on-one with the goaltender. With his high-end hockey IQ, he is able to find soft spots in the defence and set up for a one-timer.

Amirov is effective on the forecheck, getting in quickly and hounding defencemen and forcing them to move the puck quicker than they want to. This often leads to mistakes which he can quickly turn into a scoring chance. He isn’t overly physical, but his mere presence hounding the puck is effective. Amirov could become even more effective in this area of his game as he gains muscle. While he can often look like a man amongst boys in the MHL, he looks slight and skinny when playing in the VHL or KHL. Amirov has excellent hands and is able to make plays with the puck at top speed. He is not really a creative passer but makes short, safe passes in the cycle game to keep the puck moving.

Defensive Game

Amirov is effective in all three zones, also hounding the puck in the neutral zone and helping out on the backcheck. He is positionally sound and uses an active stick to cut down passing lanes and to knock the puck away from his opponent. Amirov is not an overly physical player, instead, he uses his smarts, ability to read the play, and anticipation to help break up offensive chances and support the defenders in his own end of the ice. He has been used as a penalty killer in the MHL as well as when he plays with his age group in international tournaments.

Projection and Comparison

According to Elite Prospects, Amirov’s KHL contract runs until the end of the 2023-24 season, though it’s not clear if there are any out clauses earlier than that. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as he is not NHL ready and could use some more time developing. However, Amirov is not getting a lot of ice time in the KHL and only played a few VHL games last year. It is hoped he can get more ice-time against men, either at the KHL or VHL level next year. Amirov has all the tools to be a top-six winger in the NHL but still needs more development time.

 

#4 Prospect: Timothy Liljegren

Defence — shoots Right
Born April 30th, 1999 — Kristianstad, Sweden
Height 6’0″ — Weight 190 lbs [183 cm / 86 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1st round, #17 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft.

Liljegren put up two goals and 11 points in 21 games with the Marlies last season. He also earned a call-up for a pair of NHL games as the Leafs continue to take their time developing the 2017 first-round draft pick.

Skating

Liljegren is a very good skater. He moves well both forwards and backwards, with excellent speed and acceleration. He also has very good edgework and pivots. As such he can cover a ton of ice. Liljegren can make offensive plays rushing the puck, or pinching in at the blue line; but still has the speed to get back defensively. He also has good balance and lower-body strength. This helps him to win his battles along the boards and in front of the net. When carrying the puck, he is tough to knock off of it.

Offensive Game

Liljegren has shown the poise and smarts to quarterback a power play over his time in Sweden. He has shown flashes of this ability in the AHL but needs to be more consistent at producing offensive opportunities. At his best, Liljegren has very good vision and makes good passes to set things up from the line. Liljegren finds the open man and makes tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He can also make the long breakout pass to hit a teammate streaking through the neutral zone.

Liljegren is a very good stick handler. He can move the puck out of danger and avoid forecheckers when starting the transition game. He also has the ability to make plays leading the rush or to join the rush as a trailer. Consistency on his first pass can be an issue though. When he is pressured, he can be prone to giveaways. This is what is holding him back from full-time NHL duty and needs to be corrected going forward.

Liljegren also has a good shot. His slap shot has good power, and he has the ability to get it through traffic and on the net in the AHL. He can really hammer a laser when he is given a good pass for a one-timer. He also can vary things up with a quick release and accurate wrist shot. Liljegren usually keeps his shot low, looking for teammates to get deflections and rebounds.

Defensive Game

Liljegren’s defensive game has improved over his time with the Marlies, however, there is still room to improve. He uses his strong skating ability and quick feet to contain his opponent and maintains good gap control. His stick is quick and he can create turnovers by poking a puck away from an opponent or through intercepting a pass. Liljegren could stand to be a bit more physical though. He’s He already has decent muscle mass but could add a little more. He sometimes struggles when facing a heavy forecheck and needs to learn to move the puck quickly and be better at taking the hit but still making a play.

Outlook

The Leafs would love Liljegren to take a big step forward over the off-season and be NHL ready for the fall. A high-potential right-handed defenceman, he could be the answer to helping fill one of their biggest needs. There is not much more for Liljegren to learn in the AHL and it may be time to have him with the big club, even if he has to rotate in and out of the lineup with Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin.

 

#5 Prospect: Roni Hirvonen

Left Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born January 10th, 2002 — Espoo, Finland
Height 5’9″ — Weight 164 lbs [175 cm/74 kg]
Draftec by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd Round, #59 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Hirvonen played for Finland at the World Juniors. He put up two goals and six points in seven games and came home with a bronze medal. Hirvonen also played 54 games for Assat Pori in the Finnish Liiga last season. He put up six goals and 21 points. Following the season he has moved to HIFK, a much stronger team and is looking to help the team compete for the Finnish title this year.

Skating

An undersized player, Hirvonen makes up for his lack of size with outstanding skating ability. His feet are very quick, as he has an excellent first step and very good acceleration. A smooth stride leads to Hirvonen generating a lot of speed, especially when he gets a bit of room in the neutral zone. Hirvonen’s ability to change speeds can cause real issues on the rush. If he catches a defenceman flat-footed he can blow by and cut to the net. Hirvonen also has excellent agility. His ability to quickly change directions can also give defenders issues. However, Hirvonen needs to get stronger. He can be knocked off balance and off the puck a bit too much right now. As he adds strength, especially core strength, this should improve.

Offensive Game

Hirvonen combines his outstanding skating with excellent hands. He can handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. If defenders back off to protect against his speed, he has very good vision and can use the wider passing lane to set up a linemate for a scoring chance. He is a very smart player, he reads the play well, anticipating where teammates will be and setting them up at the right time. Hirvonen can also slow down the play, controlling the puck and giving them more time to get open. He is very creative, pulling off plays that most other players will not attempt.

Hirvonen is much more of a natural playmaker than a goal scorer but can play an all-around game. He has a decent shot but could stand to add a bit more power. His wrist shot features a quick release and with his soft hands, he can change the angle on it before letting it go. Hirvonen does not play a perimeter game. He is willing to get to the dirty areas of the ice and take a hit to make a play. Hirvonen is also not afraid to physically engage in battles along the boards. However, he needs to get stronger to play this type of game effectively at the professional level.

Defensive Game

Hirvonen uses his smarts to be effective at the defensive end of the ice as well. He supports the defence with backpressure against the rush and working down low against the cycle game. While his lack of size creates issues, his quick stick is good at knocking the puck away from his opponent. He reads the play well, putting himself in a position to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Hirvonen did not play much on the penalty kill with his pro team but that is not unusual given his age and experience. He has played in that role internationally and his speed and anticipation make him a threat to produce short-handed as well.

Outlook

Hirvonen has the potential to be a top-six forward at the next level if he can continue his development. While he is undersized, his skating and smarts can help him to overcome that. He mostly played on the wing with Assat but got some time at centre late in the year. He has also played at centre at the junior and international levels. Hirvonen will likely spend another year or two in Finland before making his way to North America.

 

#6 Prospect: Topi Niemela

Right Defence — shoots Right
Born March 25th, 2002 — Oulu, Finland
Height 6’0″ — Weight 163 lbs [182 cm/74 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 3rd Round, #64 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Niemela also played for Finland at the World Juniors. He up up two gals and eight points in seven games. Playing in the Karpat system, he split time between the Under-20 team and the SM Liiga. He put up four assists in 15 Liiga games and two assists in four playoff games. He also added a goal and four points for the junior team.

Skating

Niemela may be undersized but makes up for it with his outstanding skating ability. His stride is smooth and powerful. Blessed with quick feet, Niemela has an excellent first step and good acceleration in both directions. He can get up the ice to join the rush and get back defensively. His backwards skating is often able to keep up with attacking forwards without getting turned around. When he does have to transition, smooth pivots help him do so quickly. He could stand to be stronger on his skates though. This will help him in the pro game when he battles along the boards and in front of the net.

Offensive Game

Niemela combines his strong stickhandling ability with his excellent skating. This allows him to skate the puck out of the defensive end, as well as to carry it in the neutral zone. Niemela starts the transition game with a good first pass. He will sometimes join the rush but is a bit cautious. He could add more to his offensive game by jumping in the play a bit more often. Niemela can use his agility to walk the line at the blueline, creating passing and shooting lanes. He makes smart passes, getting the puck to teammates. He isn’t the most creative player though, preferring the safer passes that keep possession and keep the puck moving to ones that might set up a teammate for a scoring chance.

Niemela has an accurate shot and he gets it through shooting lanes and on the net. He also does a good job of keeping it low, so that teammates can get deflections and rebounds. However, he needs to add power to that shot. This may come with increased upper-body mass. He also could stand to use his wrist shot more. Niemela has a good wrist shot and quick release. It can be effective when he sneaks in, letting it go from the top of the circle.

Defensive Game

Niemela has very good mobility, which allows him to play a strong two-way game. He has good gap control and is strong positionally, leading to a strong defensive game. Niemela defends effectively in one-on-one situations, forcing attackers to the outside and away from prime scoring areas. As he continues to add weight to his frame he will become even better at working along the boards and winning battles for loose pucks. Niemela retrieves loose pucks quickly and moves it out of the zone quickly with a good first pass, as well as the ability to skate the puck out of danger with his good stickhandling ability. He is strong positionally and uses his stick to steal the puck from opponents as well as to intercept passes.

Projection and Comparison

Niemela is an undersized defender, part of the new age defender where speed and mobility are prized over size and toughness. However, he still needs to put more muscle on his frame in order to be more effective in the North American game. Niemela is more of a defensive defender than an offensive one. He should be back in Finland next season and will fight for a place on the World Junior team. That time in Europe will give him time to bulk up as the schedule is a little lighter than what we see in North America. He’s already off to a great start to the new season with six points in seven games.

 

#7 Prospect: Matthew Knies

The Maple Leafs drafted Knies with the 57th overall pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Prior to the draft, we took an in-depth look at Knies. As there has not been a significant sample size of games played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.

 

#8 Prospect: Mikko Kokkonen

Left Defence — shoots Left
Born January 18th, 2001 — Mikkeli, Finland
Height 5’11” — Weight 198 lbs [181 cm / 90 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 3rd Round, #84 Overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.

Kokkonen is another member of Finland’s bronze-medal winning World Junior team last year. He picked up one assist in seven tournament games. In 50 games with Jukurit in the SM Liiga, he put up one goal and 10 points. After the Finnish season was over, he joined the Marlies. Kokkonen scored one goal and seven points in 11 AHL games.

Skating

Kokkonen will need to work on his skating going forward. His first few steps and his acceleration are a bit below average and will need to get better. His feet could be quicker and his startup less choppy. Once he gets moving his top-end speed allows him to keep up with the play. His edgework and agility are very good. This allows him to keep himself in front of attackers and maintain good gap control. It also allows him to walk the line in the offensive zone to open up shooting and passing lanes. Kokkonen has good muscle mass and core strength for his age. He is strong on the boards and in front of the net. His balance is excellent and he is able to fight through checks and is tough to knock off the puck.

Offensive Game

With the numbers Kokkonen put up, it is clear that he has offensive skills. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. This helps him to get his shots through traffic and on the net. Kokkonen has a hard slap shot. He also has a very good wrist shot and a quick release. Kokkonen can sneak down from the line to get that shot off from the top of the faceoff circles. He keeps his shot low, allowing teammates to create a screen, get a deflection or pounce on a rebound.

Kokkonen is also an effective playmaker. He makes a strong first pass, either starting the breakout through head-manning the puck in the neutral zone, or hitting a forward streaking through the neutral zone with a long home run pass. He can also quarterback the play from the point, using his agility to create passing lanes. Kokkonen does not lead the rush very often but is not afraid to join the rush as a trailer.

Defensive Game

Kokkonen plays a smart defensive game.  He has good gap control against the rush and keeps his man to the outside. He also does a good job of cutting down passing lanes and using his stick to break up plays. Kokkonen is willing to battle in front of the net and play a physical game along the boards. However, he is not a big hitter. Rather he uses his body to win battles for loose pucks as well as protect the puck when he gets it.

Outlook

Kokkonen does a lot of things well, both with and without the puck. However, he needs to improve his skating. He will have time to make those adjustments and could be ready in a couple of years. Kokkonen could become a top-four defender with plenty of power-play opportunities if he reaches his ceiling. Kokkonen is playing for Pelicans in the SM Liiga this season. He has put up five assists in eight games to start the year.

 

#9: Nick Abruzzese

Centre/Left Wing — shoots Left
Born June 4th, 1999 — Slate Hill, New York
Height 5.09 — Weight 160 [175 cm/73 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 4th round, #124 overall, at the 2019 NHL Draft.

In 2019-20, Abruzzese had an outstanding freshman season with Harvard, putting up 14 goals and 44 points in 31 games. However, he was unable to play last season. The Ivy League season never started due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. On top of that, Abruzzese underwent hip surgery in September 2020, so even if he could have found another team to play for, he was out for the year.

Skating

Another undersized forward, Abruzzese is a very good skater. He makes the most of it with a high-end work ethic and always keeping his feet moving. Abruzzese has a good stride that leads to quick acceleration and very good top-end speed. He can take a defender wide and get to the front of the net. Abruzzese also has very good edgework and agility. This allows him to avoid defenders both with and without the puck. His quick lateral movements also allow him to open up a passing lane to a teammate. He has a strong lower body and this gives him decent balance. However, his lack of size is always likely to be a limiting factor in board battles and in fighting for position in front of the net.

Offensive Game

Abruzzese is best known for his playmaking ability. He is very smart and seems to read the play before it happens. His ability to slow things down and control the puck allows his teammates time to get open. When they do, Abruzzese can hit them with a tape-to-tape pass through tight passing lanes. His skill and smarts are particularly useful on the power-play, where he quarterbacks the play from the half boards. Abruzzese uses his quick hands and good lateral movement to create passing lanes. Off the rush, he is able to handle the puck and make plays at top speed. He also controls the puck through the neutral zone and generates effective zone entries.

Abruzzese needs some work on his shot. Right now it lacks power and his release takes some time to load up. As a result, he has some trouble scoring from longer shots. Most of his goals come from very close to the net, whether it be pouncing on a rebound or taking a pass from a teammate and one-timing it in tight. He also could bulk up to be better in battles along the boards going forward.

Defensive Game

Abruzzese brings his high-end work ethic and IQ to all three zones. He backchecks hard and looks to support the defence down low. Abruzzese reads the play well and is strong positionally. He is in the right position, cutting down passing lanes and forcing opponents into bad areas to shoot. He also uses his quick stick to poke-check opponents. When a turnover is created, Abruzzese is quick to transition the puck up the ice and create offence. However, he can struggle in defending against the cycle when facing bigger and stronger opponents. Abruzzese must bulk up so that he is not overpowered at the pro level.

Outlook

Abruzzese returns to Harvard for what will be his junior season, though he did get credited with a redshirt campaign in 2020-21, meaning he has three years of eligibility yet. He will look to shake off the rush and any lingering concerns from him previous surgery and improve on the impressive freshman campaign. The lighter college schedule will also give him an opportunity to bulk up, which will certainly help when he turns pro.

 

#10 Prospect: Veeti Miettinen

Right Wing — shoots Left
Born September 20th, 2001 — Espoo, Finland
Height 5’9” — Weight 159 lbs [175 cm/72 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 6th Round, #168 Overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Miettinen came to North American and played NCAA hockey last season. In his freshman season with St. Cloud State, Miettenen scored 11 goals and 24 points in 31 games.

Skating

Miettinen is undersized but has the skating ability to make up for that. He has an explosive first step and good acceleration. He reaches his top-end speed quickly and is fast enough to beat defenders, generating odd-man rushes or getting past them and heading to the front of the net. Miettinen also has very good lateral agility and edgework. He can change directions on a dime and makes tight turns. This allows him to avoid defenders both with and without the puck. Miettinen size hurts his strength on his skates though. He can be pushed off the puck and must get stronger before he can handle playing against men. Increased lower-body strength would also help his balance.

Offensive Game

Miettinen is a high-volume shooter. He is always looking to fire the puck on the net. He has an impressive array of shots. Miettinen has a very good wrist shot and an excellent release. He also has a very good wrist shot, one-timer, slap shot and backhand. Miettinen can elevate the puck quickly and has the hands to score in close. He is able to find open ice without the puck, setting himself up to take a pass and fire the puck on net. Miettinen likes to set up in the right face-off circle and take a one-timer from the opposite of the Ovechin spot. Off the rush, his speed must be respected and when defenders back off, he can use them as a screen and fire the puck on the net.

Miettinen can also play the role of a play-maker. He shows signs of making creative passes to teammates to set up scoring chances. He also has good vision and finds open teammates. That said, Miettinen is a shoot-first player when presented with two choices. Miettinen is a bit of a perimeter player though. He can be knocked off the puck when he tries to cut to the middle of the ice. He also has issues winning his battles along the boards. This will need to improve going forward.

Defensive Game

Miettinen is willing to backcheck hard, bringing back pressure against the rush and supporting the defence down low against the cycle game. However, his lack of size can be a limiting factor as he can be overpowered by bigger and stronger opponents. Miettinen reads the play well and gets into good positions to intercept passes and create turnovers. He is a responsible player, helping to retrieve pucks and start the transition game. Miettinen’s quick stick also helps to knock the puck away from opponents and create turnovers.

Outlook

Miettinen has the skills and the smarts to play at the next level, however, his lack of size may hold him back. He must get stronger on the puck so that he can make plays in the dirty areas of the ice. His shots can beat junior goalies from the perimeter, but pro goalies are too good, and he will need to get in high danger areas to score consistently. Playing at the NCAA level will give him the time to improve his size and strength during the week, with almost all games on weekends. He returns to St. Cloud State this season.

 

Sleeper Prospect: Dmitri Ovchinnikov

Right Wing/Centre — shoots Left
Born August 19th, 2002 — Chita, Russia
Height 5’10″ — Weight 161 lbs [179 cm/73 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 5th Round, #137 Overall at the 2020 NHL Draft.

Ovchinnikov played 16 games for Sibir Novosibirsk in the KHL last season. However, he mainly played on the fourth line and picked up just one assist. He was dominant at the junior level though, with 20 goals and 51 points in 40 games at the MHL level.

Skating

A bit undersized, Ovchinnikov makes up for it by being a very good skater. His first step quickness is very good. He also has excellent acceleration and very good top-end speed. Ovchinnikov is a threat to get behind the defence and can take a long breakaway pass. He also can challenge defenders in one-on-one situations, beating them to the outside and cutting to the net. Ovchinnikov has very good edgework and agility as well. He can make quick cuts and get away from defenders and generate effective zone entries. Ovchinnikov needs to work on his core strength though. He is willing to battle physically but lacks strength right now. He’s knocked off the puck easily and has trouble battling for loose pucks and in front of the net.

Offensive Game

Ovchinnikov combines his skating with excellent stickhandling ability. He can get around defenders and cut to the net. Once he gets there, he has the soft hands to beat a goalie in tight. He likes to deke to his backhand and go high on the goalie. Ovchinnikov also has a strong wrist shot and a quick release which he uses from further out. His speed forces defenders to back off and he can create his own shot. He is also smart enough to get open without the puck, giving him room to take a pass and shoot the puck on the net.

Ovchinnikov is also a strong playmaker. He can make smart passes to his teammates through tight areas. With his quick hands and lateral agility, he can open up passing lanes with a quick move to create space. Ovchinnikov is willing to work down low in the cycle game and is also willing to work along the boards battling for loose pucks. However, his lack of size and strength leaves him ineffective in these areas. He needs to get stronger if he is going to be more effective on North American ice playing against men.

Defensive Game

Ovchinnikov is a responsible defensive player. He plays as a third man high in the offensive zone, sure to get back in his own zone. He gets back quickly and provides effective backpressure against the transition game. Ovchinnikov is able to knock away passes with a quick stick and intercept passes. He is willing to contribute against the cycle game as well. However, the lack of size and strength becomes a limiting factor here. He has trouble trying to contain bigger and stronger opponents. Ovchinnikov will need to bulk up to be able to play his game at the pro level.

Projection and Comparison

Ovchinnikov is a potential boom or bust prospect. He has the offensive skills to be part of a team’s top-six and plays a defensively responsible style as well. However, physically he is very slight and can be pushed around. While it is a theme in our scouting reports that most players need to gain strength and put on muscle, this is at another level. The question becomes can he put on the 30 or 40 pounds that may be necessary to play at the NHL level, and still have the quickness and skill that make him so intriguing. If he can do it, the boom potential here is high. Back in Russia this season, it is hoped that Ovchinnikov can start to produce in the KHL or VHL, playing against men.

 

Other 2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects

With the Leafs picking later in recent drafts and also trading a couple of first-round picks, they don’t have the same high-end talent that other teams have in their system. However, Kyle Dubas often trades down, acquiring more picks and helping the team by building a deep system. There are a number of other prospects worth keeping an eye on.

In goal, the Leafs have Joseph Woll, Ian Scott, Erik Kallgren, and Artur Akhtiamov in the system. On the blue line, the Leafs have intriguing prospects in Filip Kral, Mac Hollowell, William Villeneuve, Axel Rindell, and Mike Koster. Upfront fans should keep an eye on Mikhail Abramov, Pavel Gogolev, Joey Anderson, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Alex Steeves, Pontus Holmberg, and Ryan Tverberg.

 

2021 Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects Main Photo:

MONTREAL, QC – APRIL 12: Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (89) tries to avoid coverage Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (89) tries to during the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Montreal Canadiens game on April 12, 2021, at Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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