Nick Abruzzese, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect
Photo: The Harvard Crimson

A number of Maple Leafs prospects are coming off of really strong weeks in their respective leagues.

Let’s dive into it in the latest Leafs Prospect Update.

Abruzzese, Fusco contribute to Harvard’s triumphant return

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard, and by extension Leafs prospect Nick Abruzzese, hadn’t played a game since March of 2020.

The hockey club made their return to action this weekend in exciting fashion. Their first game, which took place on Friday night, was a lopsided 9-3 victory. The aforementioned Abruzzese potted his first goal of the year off of a one-timer on the power play:

Also getting on the board with a goal in this one is a lesser-known Leafs prospect, 2020 seventh-round pick D John Fusco:

Fusco is a freshman this year at Harvard, and this goal was the first of his young collegiate career. The Westwood, MA product is a right-shot defender who plays with an edge. He spent last year in the USHL and the four seasons previous playing high school hockey.  We’ll learn more about his pro potential this year with him competing in a stronger league.

Saturday was another lopsided Harvard victory, this time by a final score of 7-3.

Abruzzese dropped four assists, bringing his point total to five through two games. None of his assists were particularly highlight-reel stuff, but they don’t always ask how — they ask how many.

Clearly, Harvard is showing no signs of rust after a long layoff.

Ovchinnikov turning a corner in the KHL

In last week’s prospect update, I wrote about 2020 pick F Dmitri Ovchinnikov finally receiving ice time at the KHL level, resulting in him scoring his first KHL goal.

That trend has continued in the past week, as Ovchinnikov took a regular shift in both of his games and notched an assist in each.

On Tuesday, Ovchinnikov was his team’s man of the match. He played over 10 minutes of ice time in a shootout win:

Here’s his assist from that game:

He followed that performance up by notching a primary assist on the eventual game-winning goal on Thursday:

Ovchinnikov was stopped by the opposing goaltender in the slot and his teammate put in the rebound — not exactly highlight-reel playmaking — but the fact that he’s getting chances and playing meaningful minutes is very encouraging.

Miller named to Chicago Steel’s leadership group

The USHL Chicago Steel announced their leadership group on Tuesday, with Leafs prospect Joe Miller included as part of it. He’ll sport an “A” on his jersey this season.

Miller followed up this announcement with a productive week on the ice. He scored this goal on Friday:

And this one on Saturday:

He’s not torching the league or anything, but it’s nice to see Miller taking steps forward on the ice and receiving recognition as a leader off of the ice. He had a tough go of it last season.

Other Noteworthy Performances

There were so many noteworthy performances from Leafs prospects this week that I had a hard time deciding which ones to highlight. I’ll run you through the ones I haven’t talked about yet in this section.

Ryan Tverberg

Tverberg dropped two two-point games this week, notching a total of one goal and three assists. This brings him up to nine points through seven games in the NCAA for UConn.

Tverberg is a noteworthy prospect who has been flying under the radar. It’s understandable given that he was a late seventh-round pick who was drafted out of the OJHL, but I think it’s time that Leafs fans show him a little more love. He had a decently strong showing as an NCAA rookie last year, scoring 0.5 points per game playing in a third-line role. He’s taken things to another level this season, though. I wrote a bit about Tverberg last year, which you can find here.

Pontus Holmberg

Speaking of late-round Leafs prospects who are flying a little under the radar, Pontus Holmberg scored twice in a game against Malmo this week.

His first goal came off a strong net drive:

His second was a tap-in to give Växjö a two-goal cushion:

Holmberg has 10 points in 15 games this season in the SHL and has always had really good underlying numbers. He’s 22 now, so he is approaching the point where his status as a prospect is fading. However, he is coming off an SHL championship and playoff MVP performance that earned him an ELC with the Leafs this past summer. He’s a prospect to keep an eye on as well.

Topi Niemelä

Another week, another few points for Topi Niemelä.

Niemela picked up an assist in Wednesday’s game against the Lahti Pelicans:

He proceeded to drop two more points — a goal and a helper — during Saturday’s game:

That’s now 16 points in 18 games on the season for Niemelä. He’s already set career-highs in goals, assists, and points this year.

Alex Steeves

Steeves made his AHL debut on Friday, firing five shots on goal and picking up his first pro point, an assist on one of two Josh Ho-Sang goals:

His second AHL game went even better than his first. Steeves scored a pair of goals in a 5-2 Marlies win.

Here’s Steeves’ first AHL goal, which came shorthanded:

And here’s his second, this one a snipe on the power play off of a Der-Arguchintsev pass:

The college free-agent signing could be a big contributor for the Marlies this season. It’s great to see him off to a hot start despite the terrible timing of his injury before training camp.

Other News and Notes

  • Rodion Amirov is still not close to returning from his injury, per Joshua Kloke of The Athletic. He’s currently seeing doctors in Düsseldorf, and the nature of the injury remains unknown. Amirov has been on the shelf since September 29th.
  • Growlers G Keith Petruzzelli, who is signed by the Toronto Marlies, was named ECHL goalie of the week for the week ending October 24. Petruzzelli stopped 35 of 36 shots in his only game that week to lead his club to a 3-1 victory.
  • Fringe prospect Nikolai Chebykin, who has finally broken in as a regular in the KHL, was traded this week:

  • Speaking of trades, D Axel Rindell was traded from Jukurit to Karpat in the Finnish Liiga. He joins Topi Niemelä on the right side of their defense. He’s gotten off to a slow start to this season, with no goals and five points in 16 games, and is trying to earn a contract from the Leafs. Maybe this will help him get back on track.