Breaking down the Maple Leafs’ prospect pool

We did one last week Reviewing the contributions of each player on the Toronto Maple Leafs roster from this past season. We also suggested some options for the team to change its appearance in the future. The purpose of the analysis was to give readers an insight into the year-end process teams go through when re-evaluating their group ahead of draft and free agency.

The next important date on the calendar is the annual NHL Pre-Draft Combine, which takes place in Buffalo next week from May 30th to June 4th. Attendees will include top prospects from around the world who have completed their seasons, and NHL clubs will have the opportunity to learn more about these players’ past performances, their families, interests outside of school, their schooling and injury history . It’s been a fascinating process meeting the players on this forum and watching them progress through the week. It’s undoubtedly a stressful time for each and every one of them.

With that in mind, we conclude our offseason preview coverage of the Toronto Maple Leafs with a look at their draft and prospects. In recent years, the Leafs have implemented a specific strategy for building their potential pool. Kyle Dubas wants the Leafs to be a puck-possessing team that plays with skill and speed, and there was a clear focus on that strategy when analyzing their picks:

The 2019 Maple Leafs draft picks according to HockeyDB.
The 2020 Maple Leafs draft picks according to HockeyDB.
The 2021 Maple Leafs draft picks according to HockeyDB.
Maple Leafs draft pick Capital, per cap friendly.

It’s interesting to note that the Leafs had 18 total picks in the 2019 and 2020 drafts, and only three picks in 2021. The Leafs only have three picks en route to the 2022 draft in Montreal. They won’t have many options, but it will be important for them to meet some of these tips.

As there may be changes this summer, maybe their top prospects will be given a chance in the system, or they could be used in trading. What do the Leafs have to work with on prospects? Here are some recent reports on the players in their pipeline:

Matthew Knies (FWD)

In my opinion, Knies is her top prospect. He brings a power play and is a big body who attacks with pace. He was one of the top shooters at the University of Minnesota and brings influence under the hashmarks, the goal line and along the boards. With time, he has a chance to become the power-scoring forward the Leafs are currently lacking.

Knies has the potential to be a second-round home run pick in the 2021 draft because he not only produces offense but also plays detailed play off the puck and can be used in key defensive-zone scenarios.

Forecast: Top 6 forward


Topi Niemela (D)

A transition defender who has the ability to be a power play quarterback. He’s not a strong defender, but he’s smart and knows how to keep opponents at bay and win back pucks with a quick stick and good positioning. He is an efficient player who can be trusted in a variety of roles.

Forecast: Bottom pairing defender


Roni Hirvonen (FWD)

He is short in stature but a tenacious competitor and leader. His approach to the game is similar to Brendan Gallagher’s in Montreal, but unfortunately not with the same offensive advantage. Hirvonen has the potential to provide energy and kill penalties.

Forecast: Fourth line forward


Ryan Tverberg (FWD)

I really like this choice. Any time a seventh-round selection catches your eye, it’s positive for the scouting team. Tverberg is used in all collegiate-level situations with UConn and produces offense. I don’t expect him to be any bigger than he is. His height and weight have not changed since his draft in 2020. His average points per game went from .54 in his freshman year to .89 in his sophomore year, so he’s trending up.

Forecast: Mid 6 forward


Josef Woll (G)

He is signed for three more years and is still only 23 years old. Goalies generally take longer to develop into NHL puckstoppers, so Woll still has a chance to make his mark with the Leafs. He was transferred to spot duty that season and won a few games, the highlight being a shutout against the New York Islanders on November 21. His numbers aren’t eye-opening at the AHL level, but he has good size and presence.

When seated at the bottom of the butterfly, it sits upright and picks up web. His lateral pressure and ability to find pucks in traffic are average pluses. The biggest concern is his tendency to let a puck go through him. His timing stopping shots along the ice between his legs is an area that also needs attention.

Forecast: backup goalkeeper


Alex Steeves (FWD)

In his first full pro season, he produced 23 goals and 46 points in 58 games at the AHL level and even got a cup of coffee with the big team. Steeves scored eight of his goals on the PP with the Marlies. He is a competitive player who will work for his ice.

Steeves has traditionally played center, but the Leafs deployed him on the wing when he was recalled. He has the chance to open some eyes at the training camp and apply for a job with the big team.

Forecast: 13th Forward


Joey Anderson (front wheel)

There’s a lot to like about his game. He has a quick release and generally stays above the game and stays in position. Anderson will also work the boards and go to the kink to look for rebounds and tips. My biggest concern is that his point A to point B game isn’t really fast. He has a powerful step, but it’s deep and lacks a lot of glide. The result is a player who cannot maintain high speed for long periods of time. He’s only 23, but other prospects are catching up and about to overtake him in organization.

Forecast: 4th forward line

Pontus Holmberg (FWD)

He was alternating between Vaxjo in the SHL (Sweden), the Swedish Olympic team and the Marlies that year. His element is offense, but he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter. Pontus has a slightly unusual stride. His first three steps out of the gate are solid, but he doesn’t have a long shot on open ice, so he’s quicker than quick. It will be interesting to see how his play translates to North America at the highest level. He scored four points in the six games he played with the Marlies this season.

Forecast: 4th forward line

Philipp Kral (D)

I’m not convinced Kral is a full-time NHL prospect, but he does have positive attributes. He reads the ice well and knows when to join the onslaught as an extra layer. He plays responsibly when he has time, and at the AHL level he produced a few secondary offenses (3G-18A-21PTS). I’m concerned about his build and his ability to handle the weight in the defending zone. He competes, but when players get an advantage over him he has a difficult time recovering to put them out of the game. He’s 6-foot-1, 171 pounds, so an extra nine pounds of muscle would go a long way. He’s a two-way defender by definition.

Forecast: 7th defender

Nick Robertson (front wheel)

The timing couldn’t have been worse for Robertson to break into the pro game. Coming fresh from OHL via Peterborough, he was earmarked for potential greatness almost immediately. Looking back, it’s easy to see that he needed more time to develop.

To this day, he’s still a player I’m on the fence with. He has to play within the top 9 forwards and in the worst case see the time on the second PP unit because his element is offensive. When in his game, he is a competitive player who is more of a distributor than a shooter. My concern is its durability.

He’s had nothing but bad luck as far as the injury error goes. At 5-foot-9, 162 pounds and with his approach to the game, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I applaud him for how he behaves after the game. I also give him huge credit for working his way back this season and adding bounce to his stride. But I’ve seen him struggle with injuries as long as I’ve been scouting him. He has to play to his identity and stay in the lineup for a full year.

Forecast: He’s either a center six forward playing 2nd unit PP or he’s the 13thth Forward.


Conclusions:

This list of prospects won’t be snapping people out of their seats anytime soon, but there are a few that could have a significant impact.

• Matthew Knies is an A talent.

• Topi Niemela looks like he could lead the second unit PP down the line.

• Joseph Woll has enough quality in his game to become a full-time NHL goalie who can give the team games when the starter needs a break.

• I think Nick Robertston remains a small wild card. He’s only 20 years old and a character kid. Hope he stays healthy. What I mean by Rodion Amirov (20th total in 2020). Sometimes life is bigger than the game. Fingers crossed Rodion continues to make progress and not only overcome his brain tumor diagnosis but also lead a healthy and strong life. It’s going to be a great story if he works his way all the way back and one day has a chance to don an NHL jersey.

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