In the first column of this two-part series, we took a quick look at Leaf prospect Jiri Tlusty’sÂ breakout campaign in the American Hockey League this season.Â Entering a season whereÂ expectations were tempered and hope and patience were preached, we’ve beenÂ privy toÂ a few oustanding seasons by Leaf youngsters across all levels of junior, minor, and collegiate hockey. Today, the spotlight’s onÂ Mikhail Stefanovich of the Quebec Remparts.
Entering the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Stefanovich was billed as a top 15 talent with a mid-round work ethic and question marks regarding his defensive play and desire. Consequently, he fell all the way to the 4th round where the Leafs scooped him up with the 98th overall pick, despite wining the QMJHL’s Mike Bossy Trophy for the league’s Best Professional Prospect.Â Stefanovich comes with the complete package of size, speed, and high-end skill that screams: potential, potential, potential. And so, the Leafs took a flyer on Stefanovich, and boy are they glad they did.
Mikhail was coming off an impressive rookie campaign that saw him net 32 goals and 34 assists for 66 points in 62 games played in ’07-’08. This season, he exploded back onto the junior scene with an obscene stat line of: 49 goals and 27 assists for 76 points in… (brace yourselves)…56 games played. He capped off the regular season with a pair of goals yesterday, finishing just one goal shy of 50. He looks like a man amongst boys, beating defenders off the rush, crashing the net and overpowering opposing players along the boards. In addition,Â Mikhail continues to makeÂ strides defensively and now earns time on the RempartsÂ penalty kill as well where he has pocketed a pair of shorthanded goals.
After his last game on Sunday, Mikhail granted me the courtesy of a brief exchange, despite still being in the process of getting more comfortable with his English as he didn’t know a single word before coming over to Canada.
Alex: Mikhail, how would you describe yourself as a player? What are your strengths and what parts of your game do you need to continue to work on?
Mikhail: I’m a left winger,Â I like to score goals, make some good passes.Â I think my strengths parts is my shot, hands and speed, andÂ I thinkÂ I need to work on my defensive play.
Alex: How soon can Toronto fans expect to see you? Will you be looking to make the jump to professional hockey, either the AHL or NHL next season?
Mikhail:Â I hope you will see me in Toronto next year, but i dont know yet if Toronto wants to sign a conract with me this summer.
Alex: If you could compare yourself to a current or past NHL player, who would it be?
Mikhail:Â I really like a style of Ilya Kovalchuk, he is my favorite player, and i try to play like him. He has a great shot, hands and speed but much better than me.
Alex: Toronto has one of the largest and most passionate fanbases in the NHL. Excited or nervous about one day playing in front of such crowd?
Mikhail: My dream- its in a one day play in the NHL, andÂ I am happy thatÂ I was drafted, butÂ I didnt think about the team …now i know its Toronto Maple Leafs,and its a one of the most popular team in Canada. I hope in one day i gonna play against the Montreal Canadiens and especially against the Sergei Kostitsyn, he is my very good friend and teammate when we played together for the Gomel.
Alex: Alright Mikhail, thanks for taking the time. Best of luck in the playoffs, and we’re all looking forward to seeing you don the Blue and White!
Well there you have it folks. Some good answers from a humble young man who simply wants to prove all the critics wrong. Mikhail’s next test will be no easy oneÂ as he is expected to carry much of the offensive load forÂ the surprisingly good Remparts team as they prepare for a long playoffÂ drive. Â Both he and Tlusty should provide the Maple Leaf offense with some much needed punch within a few years. Want a sneak preview?Â IÂ suggest you grab yourself a pair of dirt cheap Marlies tickets and head on downÂ to Ricoh for someÂ playoff action in a few weeks (because god knows we haven’t had any of that in a while). Check out Pogge, Tlusty, Didomenico, and maybe even Stefanovich to get a glimspe of what the future holds for Leaf fans. Â A dynamic duo from Belaus and the Czech Republic? Don Cherry would have a fit.
Always a pleasure,