Rodion Amirov, Toronto Maple Leafs
Rodion Amirov, Toronto Maple Leafs prospect

Welcome back to another Leafs prospect update.

I was unfortunately out of the lineup last week due to exams, so this prospect update will cover the last two weeks of what’s gone on regarding Leafs prospects. Because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases worldwide, a number of Leafs prospects had their games postponed over the past two weeks anyway, so I’ll be able to keep this update around the usual length.

Let’s dive right into it.

The Rodion Amirov Situation

A lot has transpired regarding Rodion Amirov since my last update.

To kick things off, Amirov finally returned to the ice after his second injury setback of the season. He was Salavat’s 13th forward for their game on Monday, December 6. He barely played — logging just 1:08 of ice time through two shifts played — but he still managed to pick up an assist. Talk about an elite point-per-60 rate.

It was a lucky one that involved Amirov’s centering pass bouncing off a player in front of the net before his teammate scooped up the loose puck and fired it past the goaltender.

Amirov proceeded to sit out Ufa’s next two games as a healthy scratch twice. My original thought was that maybe the team wanted to ease Amirov back into the lineup after suffering an injury, but even still, playing him two shifts combined through three games isn’t exactly how you’d go about doing that. Ufa’s head coach was asked about Amirov’s usage:

It appears as though the coaching staff didn’t think Amirov really fit into their lineup, which is certainly odd given that he’s established himself as a KHL player over the past two seasons who has shown he can contribute when given the opportunity. It is especially odd given that the team had Amirov in the top six in preseason games prior to his initial injury.

Amirov was able to finally crack the lineup again on Monday, December 20, logging over 13 minutes. It was positive to see him finally get a regular shift, although Ufa was short a pair of regular forwards — Ufa played Amirov out of necessity, not because they wanted to, which is still a bit of a concern.

With Dawson Mercer off to a hot start for the New Jersey Devils and Kaiden Guhle named the captain of Team Canada’s World Junior team, I’ve seen some people questioning the Leafs‘ decision to draft Amirov in the middle of the first round. I don’t think that’s entirely fair.

While there could be a few prospects selected after Amirov who develop into better players, the Russian forward has dealt with a pair of injuries, limiting him to just eight total regular-season games as of late December. He isn’t exactly receiving much opportunity to show what he can do in the games he actually suits up for, either. I’d argue that many of the people who are frustrated with the Amirov pick right now wouldn’t be nearly as upset if he hadn’t suffered an injury in the preseason, where he looked like he could be poised for a breakout year before the injury.

World Juniors Update

Ryan Tverberg

As you may have heard by now, 2020 seventh-round pick Ryan Tverberg tried out for Team Canada’s World Junior squad, but unfortunately, he was cut after playing a pair of exhibition games.  Despite falling short of the final roster, Tverberg made it a hard choice for his coaches and picked up a goal in the second game. Here’s what Hockey Canada’s leadership group had to say about him following their decision:

At the end of the day, Tverberg was always going to be a long shot as a seventh-round pick who had never attended one of these camps before. It’s positive that he was able to put his best foot forward and have a strong camp, even if he didn’t ultimately make it.

It would have been fun to see him make the team — and he’s definitely good enough to play a role — but Canada is both deep and star-studded. This is still a really good sign for Tverberg as a prospect; the fact that he was even invited to try out as an NCAA prospect who wasn’t on the radar a year ago is highly encouraging.

Tverberg will now head back to UConn to continue his breakout season.

Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela

Roni Hirvonen and Topi Niemela were named to Finland’s leadership group for this year’s World Juniors. Hirvonen was named the team’s captain, while Niemela will sport an “A.”

The two are undoubtedly expected to be pillars for the Finns at this year’s World Juniors. Niemela was named the tournament’s top defender last season and led all defenders in scoring, while Hirvonen played a big role on the team’s top line, notching a pair of clutch goals and finishing with six points in seven games.

With our favourite blue and white team on pause, who else is jumping ship to the other blue and white team this holiday season?

Ovchinnikov hurt after MHL return

Leafs prospect Dmitry Ovchinnikov hasn’t been receiving any opportunity to show what he can do in the KHL lately.

Ever since a stint in late October/early November that saw the 2020 fifth-rounder log over nine minutes of ice time in four straight games, Ovchinnikov has been stapled to the bench. He hasn’t played over nine minutes in a game since then — logging under six minutes in four of his last five games — and he has touched the ice one in KHL Sibir’s last nine contests.

That said, Ovchinnikov has been getting into some games in the MHL. He has seven points in seven games played in Russia’s top junior league, including a goal this week past fellow Leafs prospect Vyacheslav Peksa:

His next game — December 17, another matchup against Irbis — didn’t go nearly as well, with the Leafs prospect leaving the game after taking a hit on his fifth shift of the game:

Ouch. To me, that looks like a check to the head.

The Leafs’ Russian forward prospects just can’t seem to catch a break, which is the theme of this prospect update so far. Both can’t seem to earn the trust of their coaches at the KHL level no matter what they do, and both have now been the victims of unfortunate injuries. I haven’t heard anything yet about how much time Ovchinnikov will miss.

Miller sees point streak come to an end

What a run it was for Joe Miller.

The 2020 sixth-round pick’s point streak finally came to an end at 13 straight after going pointless on Saturday against the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. This also ended a mini four-game goal streak that Miller started on December 4 vs. the Fighting Saints. Miller’s point streak lasted over a month. The Chicago Steel forward picked up 25 points — eight goals and 17 assists — over that span.

Miller’s streak would have come to an end the day before if not for a clutch game-tying goal late in the third on Friday:

Miller tallied five points over the four games that he played this week, remaining over a point-per-game in the past fortnight despite the pointless outing. His week was highlighted by a three-point performance on December 10, a game that included snipe from the slot on a delayed penalty:

His primary assist set up a Fantilli goal on a two-on-one:

Finally, another primary assist set up the eventual game-winning goal early in the third period:

It would have been nice to see the streak continue, but all-in-all, it was yet another great week for Miller.

Hot Performances

Artur Akhtyamov

Akhtyamov has been on fire this month, stopping 172 of 182 shots so far in December — a .945 save percentage, moving him up to a .909 on the year in the VHL. This resurgence was much needed after the 2020 draft pick got off to a tough start to his season.

His run of form was highlighted by a 50-save performance this week, including this unbelievable stop that agent Dan Milstein tweeted about on Monday:

Akhtyamov’s week also included a 2-1 shootout victory against Ugra where the Leafs prospect stopped 32 of 33 shots and made four additional saves in the shootout. Here are his highlights from that game:

Akhtyamov remains an intriguing mid-round bet by Toronto. Nice to see him getting back on track.

Roni Hirvonen

In addition to the aforementioned World Juniors news, Hirvonen also put together a couple of strong performances week on the ice in Liiga play over the past two weeks.

On December 9, Hirvonen walked into the slot, showed shot the entire way, and then slipped a clever little pass over to his teammate for the primary assist:

On December 11, Hirvonen was the one doing the shooting. He scored a pair of goals, both of which were absolute snipes, including finding the corner from a bad angle:

Following up the accurate snapper on his first tally, Hirvonen unloaded a booming one-timer for the second goal:

As I’ve talked about in previous updates, Hirvonen is using his shot a lot more this season. His shot also seems to be improving. We’ve seen him score off of booming one-timers this season where he dropped to a knee and really created downforce on that stick as opposed to a stationary lower body. Hirvonen is now showing 5.5%, which would be a career-high for him if he manages to sustain it. He’s never shot above 4.1% in a season in the Liiga.

Mikko Kokkonen

Mikko Kokkonen picked up a pair of assists in a Liiga game against KalPa on December 17. The pair of assists ended an 18-game slumber for Kokkonen offensively (credit to Kyle Cushman on Twitter for the stat). Both of his helpers can be seen in the highlight package below:

Kokkonen only has eight points in 28 games this year, but I’ve long felt that he has better offensive instincts than most people give him credit for. His 19 points in 2018-19 led all U19 Liiga defenders in scoring that season, but he’s known more for his defensive game and penalty killing. He has yet to put up a big age-adjusted offensive season since ’18-19.

Other News and Notes

  • Pontus Holmberg is currently representing Team Sweden at an international tournament called the Channel One Cup. He is pointless through three games.
  • The Leafs inked Ty Voit, a 2021 draft pick out of the OHL, to his ELC this week. You can read more from me about the signing here.
  • Interesting non-hockey note: According to Joshua Kloke of The Athletic, Topi Niemela and Mikko Kokkonen were selected for their mandatory service with the Finnish Defense Force beginning April 11, 2022. This would take place after their Liiga season comes to an end.

That’s all for this week. Happy holidays to you and yours, and thanks once again for reading!