Ryan Tverberg, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect
Ryan Tverberg, Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect (Photo: Stephen Slade/uconnhuskies.com)

The 2020 draft class is showing early indicators of positive returns.

We’ll start with a couple of Finnish prospects from the organization’s ’20 class in today’s Leafs Prospect Update.

Axel Rindell, Topi Niemelä lead Karpat to 2-0 week

In the last edition of Leafs Prospect Updates, I mentioned that 2020 sixth-round pick D Axel Rindell had been traded from Jukurit to Karpat in the Finnish Liiga.

Rindell is an offensive defenceman through and through. He’s put up 48 points in 94 games the past two seasons as a defender on a team that didn’t score very much. That’s why it was shocking when this season — in a year where he must earn a contract from the Leafs to retain prospect status — the 21-year-old started off his season with no goals and five points in 16 games.

Rindell desperately needed the flood gates to open. Lucky for him, they did this week.

The defender had a very strong debut with his new club on Friday, logging 21:55 of ice time and scoring his first goal of the season. He caught a pass in his hip pocket, skated down the funnel, took advantage of space, picked his head up, and launched his shot into the top corner:

This was just the start of Rindell’s terrific weekend. The Finnish blueliner followed up that performance by dropping four assists in his next game, including one on the overtime winner, in a 5-4 victory. Here’s his assist on the final goal of the match:

Rindell’s totaled five points through two games with Karpat so far. That’s exactly what the doctor ordered for the struggling offensive defenseman as he looks to earn himself an entry-level deal.

Rindell wasn’t the only Leafs D prospect who made noise in this 2-0 week for Karpat. Topi Niemelä, who now sits top-five in league scoring, also hit the scoresheet this weekend with a goal and an assist on Saturday.

His goal came in the back half of the second period when a slapshot from the point put his team ahead late in the game:

His assist is worth watching for yourself:

It’s no overstatement to suggest the young right-shot defender is having a dominant season — in a strong pro league, no less.

Roni Hirvonen heats up

Like Axel Rindell, 2020 second-round pick Roni Hirvonen was off to a slow start in the Finnish Liiga despite relatively strong production in the league last year relative to his age.

Also like Axel Rindell, the scoring regression seems to have begun over the past week. Through three games this week, Hirvonen has two goals, an assist, and a whopping 21 shots on goal.

The points aren’t exactly coming off of the prettiest of plays. His first tally came off of Hirvonen jamming home a loose puck in the crease:

His second was even uglier:

When you’re in a rut, though, sometimes all you need is for the puck to go over the line to get back on track. Throwing 21 pucks at the net in a three-game sample is the type of shot volume that was bound to snap a slump.

Hirvonen is still shooting just 4.2% on the season, scoring on three of his 72 shots. That is now in line with his career 4% shooting percentage throughout his 125 game Liiga career. He’s always been more of a playmaker, so I suspect more regression is in store by way of assists.

Ryan Tverberg keeps rolling

Last week, I mentioned that I think it’s time to show 2020 seventh-rounder Ryan Tverberg some more love. The energetic winger followed it up with another outstanding week, so it’s time to double down on that statement.

On Friday, Tverberg scored two goals and an assist. His first came off a tap-in in front of the net:

His second came off a nice off-puck read — notice how Tverberg stops up, drifts into space, and cashes in on the rebound:

And there was his assist, which ended up being the most important play of the game. Tverberg threw the puck to the net for a rebound on the power play, and teammate Jachym Kondelik put home the rebound to take a 4-3 lead late in the third. That held up to be the game-winning goal for the Huskies in this contest.

Tverberg didn’t stop there. He went on to also find the back of the net on Saturday with a deceptive move followed up by a heavy shot on the power play:

Tverberg is up to seven goals and 13 points through nine games for UConn in the NCAA. It’s been a breakout season for the Leafs‘ final pick of the 2020 draft, who is one point away from doubling last year’s point total of seven.

Pontus Holmberg named to Karjala Cup Roster

It was announced earlier this week that Leafs prospect Pontus Holmberg was selected to represent Team Sweden at the Karjala Cup, an annual international tournament held in Finland. If you recall, fellow Leafs prospect Rodion Amirov turned heads at this tournament last season.

Holmberg has five goals and seven assists in 18 games this season, scoring at a career-high 0.67 point-per-game average thus far. Two of his assists came this week, both on goals by former NHLer Tobias Rieder.

His first assist came off a nice east-west pass following a zone entry from Holmberg. I like how he delays and finds a seem here instead of skating the puck into the corner or attacking the defender one-on-one:

His second assist, which came on Saturday, was a bit more of the meat-and-potatoes variety. Holmberg won the draw and a puck battle before Rieder found the loose puck and buried it from his knees in impressive fashion:

Those two assists do a nice job of capturing Holmberg’s game: he’s a smart playmaker but also a grinder with a solid work rate and the ability to win puck battles. He’s never going to be a top-of-the-lineup player in the NHL, but he should fit as a depth player somewhere down the line.

Other Notable Performances

Just as I did last week, I’m including a section here to quickly highlight a few players who had productive weeks elsewhere in the system.

Alex Steeves

Alex Steeves seems to be translating quite well to professional hockey. The college free agent signing is up to five goals and one assist through four AHL games. Three of those goals came this weekend.

Steeves found the back of the net once on Friday — an empty-net goal — and twice on Saturday. Both of Saturday’s goals came shorthanded, which is an incredibly rare feat.

The first one came off the rush:

The second was a breakaway tally off of a deceptive release:

If Steeves keeps rolling, he is going to put himself into the conversation for a call-up sooner rather than later. He’s bounced back extremely impressively after an injury kept him out of Leafs camp.

Nick Abruzzese

Abruzzese is scoring at a 2.0 points-per-game pace with eight points in four games to start his season captaining Harvard. He padded his stats with a pair of two-assist games this weekend.

Here, Abruzzese enters the zone, gets off the wall, delays, and starts a pretty passing play that leads to his second assist of Saturday’s game:

The 22-year-old is often forgotten about when people discuss the Leafs prospect pool, but he shouldn’t be. He’s had an outstanding college career thus far.

Vyacheslav Peksa

G Vyacheslav Peksa, a 2021 sixth-round pick, went 3-0 and stopped 75 of 81 shots in MHL action this week (a .926% save percentage).

Peksa was unbeaten on five shootout attempts to help seal a victory on Monday:

He also posted a 19-save shutout against HC Sibirskie Snaypery on Friday:

Peksa has a sterling .934 save percentage through 18 contests in the MHL this season.

Matthew Knies

Last but not least, 2021 second rounder Matthew Knies had a strong showing on Saturday night, scoring a goal and adding an assist for Minnesota in their 4-1 win over Wisconsin.

Knies opened the scoring off a rebound opportunity in the first period:

He wasn’t able to score off another rebound chance later in the period, but teammate Jaxon Nelson was there to clean up the loose change and make it a 3-0 game:

That’s now seven points through 10 games for Knies to start his NCAA career.

Other News and Notes

  • Unfortunately, Dmitri Ovchinnikov is back to riding the pine for KHL Sibir. The forward had started to receive more ice time and put up a few points in recent weeks, but Ovchinnikov played just 5:57 on Thursday and dressed as the 13th forward but did not skate a single shift on Saturday. This is not ideal for Ovchinnikov, and I’d argue he deserves better.
  • We have another Rodion Amirov injury update from The Athletic’s Josh Kloke. As Kloke reported on Twitter, Amirov has returned to Ufa and the team’s head coach says that he’s hopeful that Amirov will return after the international break later in November.
  • Marlies G signing Keith Petruzzelli was named ECHL goalie of the month for October. Through his two games played, the Massachusetts native owns a 1.00 GAA and a .972 save percentage.
  • Congratulations are in order for Mikhail Abramov. The Marlies forward deposited his first AHL goal into the empty net this weekend:

  • Two D prospects, William Villeneuve and Mike Koster, are back in their respective lineups after missing a couple of games due to injury.

That’s all for this week, folks. Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to check back next week for another edition of Leafs Prospect Update.