With the playoffs ongoing in multiple leagues across the world, the past week was loaded with Maple Leafs prospect news.
Let’s dive right in.
Four Leafs Prospects Eliminated from Playoffs
Unfortunately, four Leafs prospects saw their season come to an end over the past seven days. Let’s go through what happened with each of them.
LW Rodion Amirov, Toronto’s first-round pick in 2020, saw his season finally come to an end with a loss in the Kharlamov Cup Playoffs. His team, Tolpar Ufa, was swept in a best-of-five series against Dynamo Moscow. Amirov was held off the scoresheet in the loss on Wednesday, a 3-2 defeat in overtime.
If you read last week’s update, you’ll know that Amirov was on the last year of his contract in Russia, and recent rumblings out of Russia suggested that the young forward was looking to cross the pond as soon as possible. That seems to be what is going to happen here, as Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun reported that the Leafs and Amirov’s camp will begin contract discussions this week:
Discussions between #Leafs and Rodion Amirov's agent, Dan Milstein, expected to get underway next week. No talks yet.
— Terry Koshan (@koshtorontosun) April 8, 2021
Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was open and honest about the possibility of his team dealing a top prospect at the trade deadline, and Amirov would qualify as a top prospect, so it made sense to wait until the deadline passes to engage in discussions with his camp. After all, it would be unfair to potentially have Amirov start a quarantine, just for him to be dealt elsewhere. The Leafs‘ front office’s attention would’ve heavily devoted to the trade deadline over the past month or so as well as opposed to sorting out his contractual situation.
Since he was not moved, I’d expect him to be on a plane to Toronto as soon as they can get his visa situation figured out.
“He is not signed yet. When signing a Russian player, especially one that is in Russia, it is a challenge. Reid Mitchell deals with this on our staff and does an incredible job of trying to get the players a Canadian visa. Especially during the pandemic, it has been even more complicated.
Our plan right now is to continue to work with Dan Milstein and Ufa to see if we can get Rodion over to North America. Unlike other years, he hasn’t even been here yet. The draft was in October, and their season was rolling along. We were really happy with how his season went overall and thought Ufa did a really good job, especially with such a young player, of bringing him along.
He had the great tournament at the Karjala Cup. He had some ups and downs at the World Juniors. They did a really good job of developing him there, especially as a young player. Our plan is to get him over and around our people as soon as we can, but we will work with Dan Milstein and Ufa on that here. Now that we are through the deadline, that will be where our focus will be shifting to.”
– GM Kyle Dubas on Rodion Amirov’s contract situation
G Artur Akhtyamov also suffered a defeat in the Kharlamov Cup Playoffs, losing 3-1 in a series against Loko.
Akhtyamov and his team, Irbis Kazan, were down 2-0 in their series the last time I updated you. They ended up winning Game 3 by a score of 5-2 on Wednesday, with Akhtyamov making 27 stops on 29 shots.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) April 8, 2021
Game 4 didn’t go quite as well for Akhtyamov and his team, though. They dropped a 7-6 barnburner in overtime, with the Leafs prospect being peppered for 44 shots on goal. Oilers prospect Maxim Beryozkin buried the series-clincher on Akhtyamov to send Loko to the Kharlamov Cup Finals:
Maxim Beryozkin (#LetsGoOilers) passes it to Ruslan Abrosimov, who goes five-hole and send Loko Yaroslavl through to the Kharlamov Cup Finals. They will be playing MHK Dynamo Moskva.
🎥 #ЛигаСильных pic.twitter.com/bxxUUmbGhf
— Dylan Griffing (@GriffingDylan) April 8, 2021
Akhtyamov could technically still resume play. KHL affiliate Ak Bars, who the goaltender spent a cup of coffee with this season, are still alive in the Garagin Cup Playoffs. This is unlikely, though, given that Akhtyamov is behind a couple of other goaltenders on the depth chart. Ak Bars is currently one loss away from elimination in their series against Avangard Omsk.
Akhtyamov’s contract expires at the conclusion of Ak Bar’s season. I don’t expect him to cross the pond for a while, but I do wonder if he elects to leave Ak Bars for a team that offers a little more opportunity at the top level.
2020 6th round pick LW Veeti Miettinen and St. Cloud State played in the NCAA Championship Game on Saturday.
The young sniper ripped a shot off of the iron early in the game, nearly putting the Huskies up 1-0 early on:
Veeti Miettinen (#LeafsForever) slams a wrist shot off of the crossbar, as he almost makes it 1-0 early in the NCAA final for @SCSUHUSKIES_MH.@MapleLeafs https://t.co/Wjf5QPxZYo pic.twitter.com/HTywfFlLPU
— Eliteprospects (@eliteprospects) April 10, 2021
Unfortunately for the Huskies, that’s about as exciting it would get for them, as they ended up losing 5-0 to UMass.
It was a terrific season for Miettinen and the Huskies. The Finnish freshman collected 11 goals and 24 points for St. Cloud, who were one win away from capturing a National Championship. He’ll need to spend a few more years in college to round out his game, but the winger’s production, shot, hands, and ability to get open make for an intriguing prospect. I’d certainly consider his freshman season to have been a success.
D Kalle Loponen, a seventh-round pick in 2019, also saw his season come to an end. He was playing for Karpat’s U20 team in the U20 SM Sarja — Finland’s top junior league.
Karpat U20 lost their best of 3 series to Lukko U20. Loponen went pointless through three games, something that was uncommon for him as the league’s leading point-getter among all blueliners.
Loponen could technically be called up to the big club, Karpat, who play in the Liiga, but he only managed to draw into the lineup for them once this season, and they’re headed into the playoffs next week. It doesn’t seem all that likely that he’ll get into another game this season.
I was a bit disappointed to see Loponen stuck playing junior hockey all season long, but Karpat is a tough roster to crack, and Loponen did everything that could’ve been asked of him. In addition to leading defenders in points and coming within a win of a championship, Loponen was named the league’s defenseman of the year a couple of weeks ago.
Pontus Holmberg Shines in SHL Playoffs
C Pontus Holmberg and the Vaxjo Lakers are up 2-0 in their playoff series against Farjestad BK, thanks in no small part to the Leafs prospect himself.
In Game 1, Holmberg notched a pair of assists in 4-3 overtime victory. His first assist wasn’t much — it was a secondary assist on the power play where he simply tapped the puck back to the point — but his other assist was a meaningful one. Holmberg broke up a play in his own zone in overtime before Frederik Karlstrom chased down the loose puck and scored the game-winner.
— C More Sport (@cmoresport) April 10, 2021
In Game 2, Holmberg recorded his first goal of the playoffs — a late one to put Vaxjo up 5-4 with just over three minutes remaining in the third period.
#LeafsForever prospect Pontus Holmberg taps home a late goal to put Växjö up 5-4 in the third
The Lakers hung on to win this one, and are up 2-0 in their series. pic.twitter.com/Ov6ClZrfin
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) April 11, 2021
Here’s to hoping Holmberg can continue his strong play as the playoffs roll on.
Mikko Kokkonen Signs New Deal
2019 3rd rounder D Mikko Kokkonen is leaving Jukurit, the team he’s spent his entire pro career with so far, for the Lahti Pelicans.
#LeafsForever D prospect Mikko Kokkonen has signed on with the Lahti Pelicans (Liiga) for next season. 3rd round pick in 2019 has 10 points in 48 Liiga games this season with Jukurit.
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) April 7, 2021
As far as I can tell, this seems to be a one-year contract.
Lahti is generally a better organization than Jukurit. The Pelicans are currently holding down a playoff spot, and have qualified for the postseason five times in the past seven seasons. Jukurit has yet to qualify for the playoffs in their history as a Liiga team.
It’ll be nice to see what Kokkonen can do on a new team. I’m not surprised that he/the Leafs want to have him in Finland for next year. Kokkonen’s skating still needs work, and the Marlies have a ton of defenceman that project to be on next year’s team. Not everyone can come over at the same time.
Filip Hallander’s Playoffs Begin
F Filip Hallander, who was acquired in the Kasperi Kapanen trade, is off to a good start in his playoff series against Skelefftea.
Game 1 was a tough pill to swallow for Lulea, who lost in double overtime. Hallander failed to record point in the game, but he played over 28 minutes of ice time.
In Game 2, Hallander found the scoresheet twice, scoring once on the power play and once into the empty net (which actually ended up as the game-winning goal).
Here’s his first of the afternoon:
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) April 12, 2021
And his second:
— C More Sport (@cmoresport) April 12, 2021
Other News and Notes
- G Ian Scott played his first game with the Marlies on Friday – his first competitive hockey game since May 21st, 2019. Scott, unfortunately, allowed four goals on 28 shots in a loss, but the reviews of his play were positive and Leafs fans should be happy to see him back and playing regardless. With so much time missed due to injury, it’s great to see him finally healthy again.
- D Rasmus Sandin is back practicing with the Toronto Marlies. I expect him to play a couple of games down there to shake off any injury-related rust. He’ll be back with the Leafs soon enough, I presume
- F Pavel Gogolev is finally done with his quarantine. He is the only Marlies skater yet to see game action. I’m sure that’s coming soon.
- D Filip Kral played his first two games with the Marlies on Friday and Saturday.
- The Liiga regular season ends on Tuesday. All of D Axel Rindell, D Mikko Kokkonen, D Eemeli Rasanen, and C Roni Hirvonen will likely miss the playoffs. Hirvonen doesn’t have a contract for next season. Could he follow in Amirov’s footsteps and also come overseas?
- F Fabrice Herzog was eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday after a 3-0 loss to SC Bern. I didn’t include him earlier as he’s not really a prospect at this point; he’s 26 years old, and he signed a deal to stay in Switzerland for next season so he’s probably never coming over. He did enjoy a breakout campaign in a good league with 30 points in 33 games this season, and I’ve gotten a few questions about him on Twitter, so I thought I’d make mention of that here.
Eliminated/Out For Season:
- F Nick Abruzzese – NCAA
- F Veeti Miettinen – NCAA
- F Ryan Tverberg – NCAA
- F Alex Steeves – NCAA
- D Mike Koster – NCAA
- D JD Greenway – NCAA
- D Ryan O’Connell – NCAA
- F Rodion Amirov – KHL/VHL/MHL (for now)
- F Dmitri Ovchinnikov – KHL/MHL
- F Semyon Kizimov – KHL/VHL
- F Vladislav Kara – KHL/VHL
- F Vladimir Bobylyov – KHL/VHL
- F Nikolai Chebykin – VHL
- G Artur Akhtyamov – VHL/MHL
- F Fabrice Herzog – NL
- D Kalle Loponen – Jr. A SM Liiga
That’s all for this week, folks! Thanks a lot for reading. Make sure to check back next week for another update! For real-time updates on what’s going on with Leafs prospects, you can follow me on Twitter at @joshsimpson77.