Now that the trade deadline has come and gone, teams are settling in for the stretch drive of the regular season at the NHL level. Some leagues around the world are entering their second week of playoff competition.
The schedule presents an opportunity to update the progress some prospects have been making and forecast their roles at the NHL level.
In the coming days I will be providing my observations on some Canadian NHL team prospects.
Here’s a look at some of the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects, as well as their draft board for the next three seasons.
The Leafs are all-in attempting to challenge for a Stanley Cup. They have relinquished a lot of their draft capital acquiring players like Ryan O’Reilly, Noel Acciari, Jake McCabe and Luke Schenn (plus others in the past).
Here’s what the Leafs’ draft grid looks like now:
Note: The Chicago picks are the Hawks’ lowest-held fifth-round picks in 2024 and 2025.
Knies is the most talked about prospect in the Leafs organization. Teams asked for Knies to be included in potential deadline transactions, but the Leafs did well by not including him in any of their trades.
Knies brings a combination of power, pace and skill. He has taken his game to another level in terms of three zone detail this season. Knies has been deployed in all situations at the University of Minnesota. He has a knack for scoring big goals at the most important time of the game. His offence comes from the middle of the ice and around the crease. He’s a load to handle coming off the half wall in the offensive zone.
At worst, Knies projects to be a power body on the third line. I’m comfortable saying he will become a top six NHL winger who, when not scoring, will open up space for his linemates with his heavy game.
Knies is tied for 15th in NCAA scoring. His No. 1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers are currently competing in the Big Ten Playoffs. They play Michigan State this weekend in the semi-finals.
Projection: NHL 2F
Minten is developing nicely in Kamloops. He is being used in all situations and averaging over 19 minutes per game.
On the power play he is a threat to direct pucks on net and produce offence from all areas of the offensive zone. He has scored from the crease, coming off the half wall, and cycling high in the zone. He has a quick and accurate release and wastes little time getting pucks on goal.
I appreciate his detail. He is working hard the entire 200 feet and competing in the trenches. Minten is a good sized forward with some bump to his game. He isn’t punishing, but he definitely isn’t shy about entering the fray and extending plays in the process. He fronts the play well in his zone and shows a willingness to block shots.
I project Minten to be a high end 3F/mid-range 2F at the NHL level. He’s the kind of player who provides his coaching staff a variety of options. Minten is capable of scoring 50-60 points, being used on the penalty-kill, and matching up in the defensive zone. His skating mechanics are sound, but like all prospects he will require more power out of his first three steps and an extra gear in transition.
Projection: NHL 2/3F
Here’s a bit of a more high level look at some other Leafs prospects…
Hildeby is trending up overall. My projection for him right now is as a 2G at the NHL level.
Voit is trending up offensively, but he still has a ton of work to do defensively. Right now my projection for him is as a minor league depth forward.
Niemela is trending flat for me right now. I have concerns about his offensive stats this season. I’m projecting him as a middle pairing, 4D at the NHL level.
Molednhauer is a forward I see trending up. His element is offence, but he still needs to play faster in all three zones. Projecting him as a 4F at the NHL level right now.
LEAFS PROSPECTS TO MONITOR CLOSELY
Ryan Tverberg, FWD, UConn (NCAA Hockey East)
6-foot, 190 pounds
The seventh-round (213th overall) selection from the 2020 draft continues to average close to a point per game at UConn, scoring 15 goals and 15 assists this season. It doesn’t look like UConn will make the NCAA tournament and Tverberg is completing his junior season at the college level. He has added more strength and power developing in college. If the Leafs don’t sign him, he will get interest from other teams.
Roni Hirvonen, FWD, HIFK (Finland Liiga)
5-foot-9, 172 pounds
I keep circling back on Hirvonen. His game has spiked recently. In his last 10-game segment he scored four goals, two assists and saw his ice time rise to a season high 16:04 in his last game. All of his ice time comes at even strength and the power play. Overall this season he’s scored 15 goals and 13 assists. The second-round pick (59th overall) in 2020 is at his best when he’s consistently pushing the pace and making plays in small areas.
Here’s a clip that gives me hope:
Hirvonen is No. 33 for HIFK (red). The team runs a zone-exit set play with the puck ending up on Hirvonen’s stick. He makes a small area play, then a cross-crease pass that ends up in the back of his opponent’s net:
The Leafs’ cupboards, and draft board, aren’t exactly flush with prospects and picks. The team is banking on playoff success as a result of spending draft capital. If all goes well this spring the investment will be worth it. If things don’t work out in the playoffs, the Leafs will feel the pain of their investment for years to come.