When you’re an all-in team, your collection of draft picks and prospects tends to suffer. And, if you find some playoff success, it’s a trade off you’re happy to live with.
That’s where the Toronto Maple Leafs are now, though the search for post-season success is ongoing. The cost of putting those final pieces into place has left the Leafs with just three picks in the 2022 draft (though a first-rounder is included). Last year Toronto made five selections and in 2021 they picked three times (without any first-rounders).
The last time Toronto had a big draft was 2020, where they chose 12 players overall. Their third-rounder from that season, Topi Niemela, is gaining momentum in Finland and though there are questions about his offensive game, our scout Jason Bukala projected Niemela as a middle pair D at the NHL level if his development keeps trending positively. Second-rounder Roni Hirvonen is also trending well in Finland, especially with a nice surge in play lately.
But the very last pick the Leafs made in their 2020 draft — and the fifth-last pick overall — is the focus today. Ryan Tverberg, the 213th overall selection, signed a contract with Toronto Wednesday, after his season at the University of Connecticut came to an end. When Bukala wrote about the Leafs’ prospect pool last week, he noted that if Tverberg was left unsigned by Toronto after his NCAA career finished (and he had one more year of eligibility) there would have been interest from rival teams.
Now, Toronto can get his pro development started at the AHL level with the Marlies.
But what, exactly, is the outlook for this seventh-rounder from three years ago? Can Tverberg become an NHL player one day and, if so, what impact does he project to have?
We turn to Bukala for his reaction to Tverberg’s signing and what it means for the Leafs.
It’s always a nice story when an underdog prospect breaks through and signs an NHL contract after being selected late in the draft. Tverberg earned this contract through perseverance and hard work.
Style of Play
• The fact Tverberg was used in all situations at the college level speaks to his hockey IQ. It also gives him a chance to grow into a variety of roles (in time) at the pro level.
• Tverberg scored four of his 15 goals this season on the power play. He has an accurate release coming off the boards on both sides of the ice. It’s interesting to note he isn’t a forward who is only dangerous on the weak side when directing pucks on goal. He is equally comfortable cycling high in the zone on his strong side, and has deception dragging pucks to the middle of the ice before snapping them on goal.
• Tverberg brings detail and awareness on the penalty kill. He reads the play very well, fills the lane, and collapses to assist around his crease. He’s reliable in the role, jumps to loose pucks and pressures opponents up ice before they set up their breakout.
• He averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game and there were nights he skated over 22 minutes this season. Since being drafted Tverberg has added much more strength, power, and endurance.
• Tverberg was listed at 5-foot-10 and 168 pounds in his draft year. He’s now listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds. The extra weight is noticeable, especially in the hard areas and in open ice. His stride is longer and more powerful.
Tverberg is a responsible three-zone prospect. He’s ahead of the curve when comparing him to some other players in the Leafs prospect pool.
He isn’t a one-dimensional player. He can penalty kill, slot in on the power play, and can be trusted with d-zone starts. He’s a crafty prospect who will work for his opportunities. He doesn’t project as a top-six forward at the NHL level, but is more likely a middle-six (third line) option if he maximizes his development – starting at the AHL level with the Toronto Marlies.
He’s an underdog. He’s a character kid. I wouldn’t bet against him pulling on a Maple Leafs jersey someday, but it will take time.
Note: Updated height and weight according to UConn (5-foot-11, 180 pounds)