Kristians Rubins, Latvia, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect

Welcome back to another Maple Leafs prospect update!

As I mentioned last week, there are currently five players that qualify as Leafs prospects participating in the IIHF World Championships over in Latvia. That’s where we will start in today’s rundown.

World Championships Begin

The games began over the course of the past week, with three of the five Leafs prospects getting into game action.

D Kristians Rubins has been the most notable prospect thus far. The defender hasn’t recorded any points, but that’s not really his game. Rubins is playing in a defensive role for Latvia, factoring into their top four as well as their penalty kill thus far.

The Leafs prospect helped his home country shut out Team Canada (!!) on Friday, logging just over 20 minutes of ice in the victory, including 4:16 of shorthanded ice time. According to Instat Hockey’s Expect Goals metric, Rubins posted an impressive 59.8% xGF% at 5v5 — which is nothing to scoff at in any given game, let alone in a game against Team Canada.

Rubins and the Latvians also played on Saturday, with the Leafs prospect playing 21:44 in a tight 3-2 loss to Kazakhstan.

F Pontus Holmberg has also gotten into game action, although he’s played sparingly as the 13th forward for Sweden. According to the IIHF’s website, he played just 4:41 in their first game — a 4-3 loss to Denmark — and didn’t receive a single shift on Sunday in a 1-0 loss to Belarus. The Leafs prospect doesn’t have any points thus far.

Aside from that, there’s really not much to report regarding Leafs prospects in this tournament. 26-year-old F Fabrice Herzog, a 2014 fifth rounder, is pointless through one game with Switzerland. D Axel Rindell and F Filip Hallander have yet to draw into the lineup for their countries through two games.

Joe Miller wins Clark Cup

2020 sixth-round pick F Joe Miller and the Chicago Steel were crowned Clark Cup Champions on Saturday — the franchise’s second USHL title in their history. They eliminated Fargo in four games, with 16-year-old top prospect Adam Fantilli taking home playoff MVP honours.

Miller didn’t end up recording a point in the series. He plays a depth role for the Steel, stuck behind some pretty talented players in a very deep lineup. The USHL rookie — who was making the transition from high school hockey while recovering from mononucleosis — is returning to Chicago for his second full campaign with the Steel next season. Afterward, he’s expected to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NCAA.

Dmitri Ovchinnikov impressing at Black Sea Cup

F Dmitri Ovchinnikov played in two games at the Black Seas Cup this week, suiting up for Team Red. If you have never heard of the Black Sea Cup, it is an opportunity for Team Russia’s brass to get a look at some potential World Juniors hopefuls. Candidates are named to the initial roster and then split up into three teams for a mini tournament.

So far, Ovchinnikov has scored a goal and three assists through a pair of games.

In Ovchinnikov’s first game — Team Red against Team Blue — the Leafs prospect’s first point of the game came with just 25 seconds to go, as he managed to tie the game at 3-3 after being left all alone in the slot:

Ovchinnikov proceeded to set up 2022 NHL Draft-eligible Vladimir Grudinin for the game-winning goal in overtime, displaying some unbelievable vision after splitting the defense:

Ovchinnikov followed up Saturday’s two-point outing with another two-point outing, recording a pair of assists against Team White on Sunday. Both were secondary assists, and neither was highlight-reel material.

If Ovchinnikov continues to impress into next season, don’t be surprised if he ends up representing his country at the 2022 World Juniors.

Mikhail Abramov, Victoriaville Tigres headed for do-or-die Game 5 in QMJHL Semifinals

F Mikhail Abramov and his Victoriaville Tigres played the first four games of their best-of-five semifinal series against the Charlottetown Islanders this week, with each team winning two games. They will play in a series-deciding fifth game on Tuesday evening to determine who will move on to the QMJHL Finals.

Abramov has yet to score a goal in this series, but he has posted five assists through four games — four of the primary assist variety. In Game 1, he faked out one defender with a deke and outwaited the rest of the Islanders before setting up Egor Serdyuk in the slot:

And this one in Game 2 — a 9-2 blowout in Victoriaville’s favour — he laid a dime of a pass onto Benjamin Tardif’s tape off the rush to help him complete his hat trick:

And in Game 4, he double dipped. On his first primary assist, the Leafs prospect patiently waited for a passing lane to show itself and then proceeded to set up a Vincent Sevigny marker:

On his second, he spun and fired a pass onto Avalanche prospect Alex Beaucage’s tape to make it 4-1:

The Russian forward has become much more of a goal-scoring threat since being drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2019, but his crafty playmaking ability has been his standout attribute thus far in the semifinals.

Other News and Notes

  • Swedish publication Kamratföreningen Ishockeyjournalisterna named F Pontus Holmberg as the “Forward of the Year” in Swedish hockey this season after his remarkable performance in the SHL playoffs.
  • Remember 2017 second-round pick D Eemeli Rasanen? Earlier this week, the hulking 6’7 defender signed a one-year contract with the Frederikshavn White Hawks, who play in Denmark in the Metal Ligaen. Rasanen is familiar with the White Hawks, having played seven games for them in 2019-20. They also had Leafs prospect D Kristians Rubins on their roster for 21 games this season while Rubins waited for the Marlies to start their season.
  • The Marlies loaned F Bobby McMann, F Gordie Green, F Jeremy McKenna, and D Noel Hoefenmayer back to the ECHL’s Wichita Thunder this week after the AHL season came to an end. They are joining the same team that currently houses fellow Leafs/Marlies prospects G Ian Scott and D Riley McCourt. 
  • F Rodion Amirov has arrived in Toronto (as per his Instagram story), presumably to work with Toronto’s development staff over the summer. The first-round pick’s entry-level deal begins next season, but it is expected that he will be loaned back to the KHL when the season starts.
  • Expect the Leafs to call up a bunch of Marlies to their taxi squad as “Black Aces” now that their season is over.
  • The Leafs added another prospect to their pipeline, signing former Coyotes prospect G Erik Kallgren to a two-year contract. The 24-year-old Swede just backstopped Pontus Holmberg and the Vaxjo Lakers to an SHL Championship, recording a .937 save percentage in the playoffs.

That’s all for this week. As always, thanks for reading! Check back next Monday for next week’s edition, and follow me on Twitter at @joshsimpson77.