According to their website, the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed recent draftees Mikhail Stefanovich, Carl Gunnarsson and Juraj Mikus to entry-level contracts. As General Manager Brian Burke continues the process of evaluating the Maple Leafs farm system, he has identified a trio of players with a chance of becoming part of the long-term picture in Toronto.
Forward Mikhail Stefanovich: Quebec, QMJHL
Mikhail should hardly be a stranger to those who have been following my pieces over the course of this past season, as we frequently checked in on his 48 goal breakout campaign for Quebec. He is a dynamic goal scoring machine with an exciting blend of size, skill and speed. This signing should alleviate a few concerns raised by the fact that Stefanovich was selected 2nd overall in yesterday’s KHL Entry Draft, but this signing should leave no doubt that he wants to play in North America. It’s likely that he’ll have to spend at least one season with the Marlies to further develop his two-way play.
Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson: Linkoping, SEL
Gunnarsson is a classic example of a Euro League defenseman as a player who won’t get you out of your seat, but will give you honest, reliable minutes. Carl is primarily a defensive defenseman who relies on strong positional play and good anticipation skills to get the job done. Offensively, you’re not going to get a whole lot from Carl other than short, safe passes, but he did take a step forward this past season, nearly doubling his previous year’s point totals in the SEL. Already 22 years old with 3 seasons of play in a men’s league under his belt, Gunnarsson should ascend quickly and likely projects as a bottom pairing defender further down the road.
Defenseman Juraj Mikus: Dukla Trancin, Slovakia
Mikus was the Leafs’ 5th round pick, 134th overall in the 2007 Entry Draft and is perfect example of a late round gamble on a high upside project prospect. As a tall and lanky defenseman at this point in his career, Juraj is sure to remind people of another NHL player from the same hometown of Trencin, Slovakia: Zdeno Chara. Still just 20 years of age with a very raw skillset, it certainly bodes well for Mikus that the Leafs management thought enough of his game to bring him overseas this early. He likely impressed them with his strong puck moving ability and powerful point shot at this year’s World Juniors, recording 3 points in 6 games played.
It should be another interesting year of prospect following this coming season with a bunch of new faces joining the Marlies in the fall.
Always a pleasure,