A pair of Toronto Maple Leafs prospects re-signed in their home countries this week, while three others were eliminated in the playoffs overseas.
Let’s get right into it!
Hirvonen, Loponen sign new deals
C Roni Hirvonen and D Kalle Loponen are both staying in Finland for at least next season, according to Elite Prospects scout and Finnish prospect extraordinaire Lassi Alanen.
On Thursday, we learned that Hirvonen — a second-round pick of the Leafs in 2020 — is leaving Assat (who missed the playoffs this season) for HIFK. The terms of the deal have not been publicly announced as of yet.
According to Iltalehti’s report, Roni Hirvonen (TOR) will play for HIFK next season. Hirvonen added six goals and 21 points in 54 Liiga games with Ässät this season. He also managed six points in seven games at this year’s U20 WJC. #LeafsForever
— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) April 22, 2021
Hirvonen is leaving a team the finished 12th (out of 15 teams) for a team that placed second overall this past season.
The Leafs prospect was consistently playing in the middle six for Assat this season, and one may assume that parting for a better — and presumably deeper — club would mean a lesser role for Hirvonen. That may not actually be the case, though.
HIFK is set to lose C Henrik Borgstrom, a former first-round NHL draft pick whose rights are now owned by the Chicago Blackhawks, at the end of this season. They could also lose Anton Lundell to the Florida Panthers, too — the 12th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft enjoyed a breakout season for HIFK in 2020-21, recording 16 goals and 25 points in 26 Liiga games. His contract is up at the end of the season, to boot.
They could still add more centers between now and next season, but HIFK likely losing a pair of top centers and responding by signing Roni Hirvonen is probably a good sign for Hirvonen.
As previously mentioned, 2019 seventh-rounder D Kalle Loponen has also signed a deal to remain in Finland. He is leaving Karpat — Topi Niemela’s team — for KooKoo.
Again, we are unsure of exactly how long this contract is at this time:
Ilta-Sanomat reports that Kalle Loponen (TOR) will be joining KooKoo for next season.
Loponen added 11 goals and 33 points in 36 games with Kärpät’s U20 team this season and was named the league’s best defenceman. #LeafsForever
— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) April 25, 2021
Loponen, who was the Jr. A SM-Sarja’s defenseman of the year this past season, is moving from a team with too many defenders to a team that may be able to give him some opportunity at the top level. He is looking to climb the ranks after being unable to break into the Liiga full-time so far in his young career.
I’m glad to see that Loponen signed with a team that will give him some opportunity. My general philosophy when it comes to developing players (excluding those playing high-level pro) is that I want to see a player becomes a top player at their level before he leaves that level for a higher one. Loponen did that this season. He shouldn’t be in the Jr. A SM-Sarja anymore.
Hallander, Niemela, Malgin eliminated in Europe
All of LW Filip Hallander, D Topi Niemela, and C Denis Malgin were eliminated in the playoffs in their respective European leagues this week. I’ll take you through each player one-by-one, breaking down what happened and what could be in store next for each.
Hallander had an “okay” playoff production-wise, scoring a goal and three points in seven games for Lulea, who were eliminated in Game 7 by Skellefetea on Tuesday.
He was a player that Kyle Dubas name-dropped in a pre-trade deadline presser, stating that he would be coming over to join the Maple Leafs organization at the conclusion of his season in Europe. However, according to The Athletic’s Joshua Kloke, there’s been a change of plans. As Kloke wrote in his Maple Leafs prospect stock report on Friday, Hallander will instead audition for a spot on Team Sweden at the IIHF World Championships.
It’ll be interesting to see if he can crack the roster. I’d expect him to be at least in competition for a job with the Leafs sometime next season.
Topi Niemela came back from injury, played four games, and then immediately had to return to not playing games once again, as Karpat was eliminated from the Liiga playoffs on Thursday.
The Leafs prospect played well, especially considering he was thrown into the playoffs after recovering from an injury that kept him out for two months:
TOR prospect Topi Niemelä finishes the Liiga playoffs with two primary assists, 10 shot attempts, and 54.4% Corsi (third best on the team) while averaging 16:54 of ice-time in four games. #LeafsForever #Kärpät #Liiga pic.twitter.com/1nRtVJXMX4
— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) April 22, 2021
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) April 22, 2021
I’d consider his season to have been a success. I think he could be in for a big one next year with Karpat, assuming he receives enough opportunity.
As I covered last week, Malgin was injured in Game 2 against the Lions in the NL playoffs. He did not end up playing in Game 4 on Monday, but he was able to suit up for Game 5 and score a goal in his return.
HC Lausanne managed to push the series to six games but fell 3-0 and lost the series 4-2. Malgin ended up with three points in four playoff games for Lausanne.
He was another prospect, like Hallander, who was named dropped by Dubas as a player that would be joining Toronto after their season in Europe concluded. I have yet to hear anyone confirm or deny that he will be coming over. I could see him potentially making the same decision as Hallander, opting to instead play in the World Championships. He would, in all likelihood, make Switzerland’s roster. This is purely speculation on my part, though.
Abramov, Villeneuve scorching hot in QMJHL playoffs
Two Leafs prospects are on hot streaks in the QMJHL playoffs.
C Mikhail Abramov followed up a two-assist performance in Game 1 with a four-point outing in Game 2. Victoriaville won both of their games against Rouyn-Noranda, too. They’re a win away from advancing to the next round — the league’s Quebec-based teams are playing best-of-five series in the first round.
#LeafsForever prospect Mikhail Abramov scored this beautiful goal and added four assists in Victoriaville’s 6-3 victory on Sunday.
Victoriaville leads their opening round playoff series with Rouyn-Noranda 2-0. pic.twitter.com/IBuXl0e483
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) April 26, 2021
Abramov really intrigues me. There is a lot for the Leafs to work with there in terms of skill and hockey sense. Like quite a few recently-drafted Leafs prospects, getting stronger and improving his skating will play a big role in whether or not he’ll make the NHL.
2020 fourth-round pick D William Villeneuve remains on a roll in the QMJHL. He and his Saint John Sea Dogs are not Quebec-based clubs, as Saint John is in the Maritimes. The Maritime teams — Saint John, Moncton, and Acadie-Bathurst — are playing each other in a nine-game round robin to determine who advances.
Saint John is 2-2 so far, with one win and one loss against each team. Villeneuve himself has been an assist machine, racking up five in four games.
Last week, I made mention of Villeneuve increasing his point production as of late. It’s great to see that he’s keeping that up throughout the playoffs thus far.
MacDonald corrals the loose puck and buries it! | 3-3 pic.twitter.com/Mwc5k4oI1a
— Saint John Sea Dogs (@SJSeaDogs) April 22, 2021
USHL Regular Season Ends
The USHL regular season has come to an end, and there are Leafs prospect implications.
2020 sixth-rounder C Joe Miller and his Chicago Steel were easily the league’s best team, going 38-11-3, and they will be starting their playoffs soon.
This season was a tough one individually for Miller, who scored eight goals and 10 assists in 40 games played. His production was disappointing, but there is a bunch of context that you have to take into consideration when trying to make a fair evaluation of his season.
For one, he was a rookie. Coming into 2020-21, Miller had just one USHL game played under his belt — he made his USHL debut with Chicago back in the 2018-19 season. He played last season entirely in the US High School ranks, which is a much lower level of competition.
I watched him play a bit earlier on this season and was drawn to his speed and puck skills, but I noticed that he was still finding his way and adjusting to USHL hockey. He was often attacking the defense head on, expecting to burn them with his speed and skill just as he did back in high school, only to find out that USHL defenders are harder to deceive. At 5’9 and 150lbs, he was also pretty easily muscled off of pucks by his fellow junior hockey players.
Secondly, as Joshua Kloke reported, Miller had a bout with mononucleosis mid-season, which obviously drains your energy. I could imagine it would be hard for Miller to play his up-tempo style without having much energy in the tank.
It’s also worth noting that since he was on such a stacked team, Miller played mostly on the third line. With more ice time, he’d likely have scored quite a few more points.
Miller is a long-term prospect. He’s going to play for the Steel next season once again and will follow that up with potentially four seasons at the University of Minnesota. He’s incredibly raw, but there’s a lot to work with there.
— Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) April 15, 2021
C Wyatt Schingoethe, who Toronto selected in the seventh round in 2020, saw his season come to an end as the Waterloo Blackhawks failed to qualify for the postseason. Schingoethe took a bit of a step back this season from a point production standpoint, scoring 17 fewer points in just three fewer games in comparison to his draft year. Development is a marathon, not a sprint. Schingoethe committed to Western Michigan University earlier this season.
D John Fusco, another 2020 seventh-round selection, is a curious case. The defender had 12 points in 20 games for Sioux City in his first USHL season, but he has not played a game since February 14th. I haven’t been able to figure out the reason why — I watched his last few shifts and didn’t see anything that would suggest he has been injured, benched, or suspended. His Sioux City Musketeers are playing Omaha in the first round of the playoffs. We’ll see if he returns then.
Other News and Notes
- I wonder if F Nick Robertson is returned to the Marlies once they return from their COVID-19 induced pause. He’s played well for the Leafs, but he’s a game away from burning the first year of his entry-level deal, and the Leafs have kept him out of the lineup lately.
- C Pontus Holmberg picked up yet another point in the SHL playoffs this week, with a nice primary assist on Sunday:
— C More Sport (@cmoresport) April 25, 2021
- Judging by his recent appearances on Instagram, it would appear that F Rodion Amirov has yet to leave for Toronto yet. I have enjoyed seeing pictures of him popping up in my feed lately as he is *always* sporting a Toronto Maple Leafs hat.
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
- 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 Denis Malgin – NL
- F Fabrice Herzog – NL
- F Roni Hirvonen – Liiga
- D Axel Rindell – Liiga
- D Topi Niemela – Liiga
- D Eemeli Rasanen – Liiga
- D Kalle Loponen – Jr. A SM Liiga
- F Filip Hallander – SHL
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading this *long* edition (hope you enjoyed it)! Check back next Monday for another Leafs prospect update.