Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ryan Tverberg
Photo: Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

What a week it was in the world of Maple Leafs prospects.

In addition to the usual individual game highlights I always share with you, this week we also have a ton of big news to cover. Let’s get right into it!

Matthew Knies, Ryan Tverberg headed to WJC camps

It was announced this week that a pair of Leafs prospects, Matthew Knies and Ryan Tverberg, will compete for spots on their respective World Juniors teams.

Matthew Knies was expected to receive an invite for Team USA, as the Leafs 2021 second-rounder played for the Americans at the Summer Showcase this summer and played quite well at the event. He’s followed that up with a strong freshman season for the Golden Gophers, posting 16 points in 18 games.

The more surprising invite of the two is 2020 seventh-round pick Ryan Tverberg, who has been invited to try out for Team Canada. Tverberg has put himself on the map after scoring an astounding nine goals and 16 points through 14 NCAA games with UConn this season, more than doubling his seven points in 14 games from last season.

As a seventh-round pick out of the OJHL who scored half a point a game in the NCAA last season, it was never expected that Tverberg would even be considered as an invite to camp, but a breakout season has put him in contention to compete for a spot on a stacked Canadian team.

Canada often likes to have a mix of skill in their top six complemented by fast, physical, responsible depth players, and Tverberg does fit that latter mold. Whether he will make the final cut remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

Other eligible Canadian Leaf prospects in William Villeneuve and Braeden Kressler as well as Americans Ty Voit, Joe Miller, and Wyatt Schingoethe all did not receive invites to their respective World Junior camps, although that was expected despite several of those players enjoying strong seasons thus far.

The only other Leafs prospects you can expect to see at the event this year include Finns Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela, who were leaders for Team Finland at last year’s event. As mentioned in a previous article, eligible Russians Dmitri Ovchinnikov and Vyacheslav Peksa aren’t on Russia’s camp roster.

Rodion Amirov returns

Rodion Amirov is finally on his way back after his second injury of the season. The 2020 first-rounder played three games for VHL Toros this week, which I assume is to get him back up to speed and into game action after missing so much time.

He was called up to play for KHL Ufa and is currently playing as I am writing this on Monday morning. We’ll talk about his performance in that game in next week’s prospect update.

It looked as though that Amirov was primed for a breakout year this season after a productive preseason playing in Ufa’s top six. However, a pair of injuries have limited him to just three KHL games thus far. Hopefully, he can stay healthy now and work his way back into the same opportunity it looked like he was going to receive in the preseason.

I remember going back, watching his preseason shifts in August, and feeling quite impressed with the progression I saw. Spending some time after last season with the Leafs‘ development staff seemed to have done Amirov well. I know that there was some emphasis placed on improving his shot mechanics while he was in Toronto.

Strong Performances

William Villeneuve

William Villeneuve continues to make his way into my “strong performances” section of these prospect updates, as his hot streak has continued into this past week. Villeneuve had four points in as many games this week, highlighted by a two-point game on Tuesday in which he scored a gorgeous goal to win the game in overtime:

Villeneuve notched his 100th career assist earlier in the contest, becoming the fifth Sea Dogs defenseman in franchise history to reach that mark. Here’s a clip of his assist:

Villeneuve joining the rush to create advantages for his team has been a consistent theme this season, which we see here once again on that assist. I also love the deception we see here from Villeneuve after the pass receptive — he loads that puck up in his hip pocket and has his head looking towards the net, totally selling as if he’s going to shoot before sending a pass over to his teammate for the goal.

Villeneuve also picked up an assist on Friday, throwing a tip-able shot on net that was directed in by teammate Olivier Picard:

He added another helper on Saturday with this deceptive slap-pass:

Villenueve is so deceptive and has such great vision and offensive instincts. He’s going to need to keep working on his skating if he wants to transition successfully to the pro level, but there’s certainly something for the development staff to work with here.

Pontus Holmberg

Pontus Holmberg is up to 21 points in 25 games in the SHL after adding a goal and two assists to his totals this week.

Holmberg’s week was highlighted by his performance on Tuesday in which he scored a goal and added an assist. On his goal, Holmberg patiently waited in the slot before one-timing his teammate’s pass into the back of the net to tie the game in the third period:

I couldn’t get a great clip of assist from Tuesday’s game, but here is his other assist from this week, which came with 14 seconds left to tie the game on Saturday:

Holmberg is two points away from matching his point total of 23 from last season in around half as many games.

Veeti Miettinen

Quite a few Leafs prospects have gotten off to slower starts this season only to go on a tear right after bumping their slump. Just ask Axel Rindell, Joe Miller, Roni Hirvonen, and William Villenueve.

Maybe Veeti Miettinen is next, as the Finnish winger finally scored points in back-to-back games this week for the first time this season. Miettinen grabbed an assist on Friday in St. Cloud State’s 8-1 beatdown of North Dakota and followed that up with a dominant showing on Saturday in which he added another assist, six individual shot attempts, and a sterling 80% Corsi For Percentage.

Miettinen shows some terrific vision and passing ability in the above clips. I also love the deception on his second assist shown in that package. The 2020 draft pick is still scoring at a slightly lower rate than he did last season with 10 points thus far through 16 contests. The sharpshooter has just three goals on over 50 shots so far this season, so some shooting regression is bound to happen sooner rather than later.

Nick Abruzzese

Abruzzese tallied three points in a game this Saturday against the Yale Bulldogs.

His goal came off a tap-in at the side of the net on the man advantage:

His first assist came off of a game of catch played with Habs prospect Sean Farrell on the PP:

His third and final point of the night — which I’d argue was his prettiest point of the game — came off a no-look backhand pass after forcing a turnover:

Harvard’s captain and Toronto’s fourth-round pick has 15 points in 11 NCAA games this season.

Roni Hirvonen

Roni Hirvonen picked up where he left off last week, scoring two more points — both assists in an overtime victory on Saturday.

His first assist of the game was a secondary helper after he started a nice passing play from the half-wall on the power play:

His second assist of the match was on HIFK’s overtime winner, where he rang a shot off the post and his teammate cleaned up the rebound:

He still can’t score goals, but Hirvonen is now producing at half a point per game in the Liiga thanks to his recent hot streak — the best single-season pace of his career thus far.

Ty Voit

Ty Voit had another hot week for the Sarnia Sting in the OHL, tallying four assists this week. This was highlighted by a three-assist outing on Friday against the Windsor Spitfires.

His first assist was something to behold. Voit broke a Spitfire’s ankle with a punch stop, and he dropped a no-look backhand pass to his teammate who finished the play off nicely:

The Leafs prospect also tallied a secondary assist on Saturday by way of the power play:

Voit wasn’t credited for any points in his final game of the week on Sunday, but he played a key factor in creating Sarnia’s Teddy Bear Toss goal nevertheless:

Make that 27 points through 21 games for the speedy playmaker.

Joe Miller

Joe Miller’s point streak is up to 10 games now, as he picked up an assist on Friday and two points on Saturday.

On Friday, Miller gained the zone, stopped up, and found Nick Moldenhauer in the slot to cut Dubuque’s lead to 4-2:

Miller also connected with Moldenhauer for a goal on Saturday, setting him up with a nice dish off the rush:

Miller’s goal in Saturday’s contest was an empty netter, bringing him up to 29 points in 23 games — good for fourth in the league in scoring.

Matthew Knies

I wanted to highlight a couple of impressive clips I saw from Knies’ games against Michigan this weekend.

On Friday, Knies eliminated fourth overall pick Luke Hughes one-on-one before setting up a goal with a nice little slip pass behind his body:

On Saturday, Knies failed to hit the score sheet, but he did not fail to put both Thomas Bordeleau and Owen Power on the wrong end of the highlight reel with some nifty stickhandling:

He may not have been able to finish the job on that play, but it was a hell of an effort nevertheless.

Other News and Notes

There is not much else to cover here, but some positive news came from Marlies camp as three players have worked their way back from absences:

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading!