Ahead of the 2022 prospects tournament in Traverse City, Assistant General Manager Ryan Hardy discussed Nick Robertson’s prospects for an NHL job this season, the organization’s goals for the tournament, and the development of Curtis Douglas, Pontus Holmberg, William Villeneuve, and Mikhail Abramov.
Maple Leafs’ 2022 Prospect Tournament Roster & Schedule
|Date & Time||Opponent|
|September 15, 6:30 p.m.||Dallas|
|September 16, 6:30 p.m.||St. Louis|
|September 18, 2:00 p.m.||Columbus|
|September 19, 11:00 a.m.||Detroit|
|#22 Max Ellis||#33 Noah Van Vliet||#40 Luke Cavallin|
|#26 Nick Abruzzese||#41 Kasper Larsen||#70 Marco Costantini|
|#29 Pontus Holmberg||#59 Tommy Miller||#80 Keith Petruzzelli|
|#39 Fraser Minten||#61 Axel Rindell|
|#46 Alex Steeves||#76 William Villeneuve|
|#49 Ty Voit||#82 Filip Kral|
|#53 Curtis Douglas||#83 Marshall Rifai|
|#56 Brandon Lisowsky||#84 Mikko Kokkonen|
|#63 Braeden Kressler|
|#67 Avery Hayes|
|#72 Sean McGurn|
|#75 Pavel Gogolev|
|#85 Semyon Der-Arguchintsev|
|#89 Nick Robertson|
|#90 Graham Slaggert|
|#97 Pano Fimis|
How close do you think Nick Robertson is to being an everyday NHLer?
Hardy: If we look at last season, in particular, I think Nicky played 28 games in the American league and scored 16 goals. That is a 40-goal clip for a kid that just turned 22 the other day. That is an unbelievable run.
He is extremely driven. He is a young man that loves hockey. I think he is very much knocking on the doorstep.
Can you see Curtis Douglas developing into his body over the next few years and become more of an offensive force?
Hardy: For Curtis, it has been a really great story for us to have him, after a couple of stops before, come in and perform the way he did. The offensive production he had was probably more than we were expecting.
When you look at what he does, he is a big man that works extremely hard at his craft. I think we have to be patient. I sort of view Curtis kind of like you would view a goalie. It is typically goalies and then defensemen who take the longest to mature, but when you are 6’8, that is probably going to take the longest time to fully mature.
We have to be patient with him. We have to temper expectations. At the same time, he brings a lot of elements that are extremely important to the future of this organization. If he continues to work the way that he does, he will be knocking on the door sooner rather than later.
Are you expecting any kind of difficulty in the transition for players like Mikko Kokkonen and Axel Rindell coming from Finland to the AHL or NHL?
Hardy: There is always a transition. There is a transition for players certainly coming from junior, even, to professional — which we saw last year with a lot of our first-year professionals. Whether it is a smaller rink or just coming to North America, you probably take for granted a little bit the transition for a young person moving away from home or what is normal and comfortable for them.
As we always are, we will be patient with the young players, but they are very talented, so I certainly expect that they will pick certain things up in short order. Some things will take some time. We will just support them and work with them and push them along as far as we can.
How do you feel Pontus Holmberg has adapted since coming over?
Hardy: Pontus is a great kid. We sort of threw him into the fire at the end of the season with the Marlies there. We dropped him right in with Brett Seney and Joey Anderson on our top unit. He played important minutes. He is another guy who has put together a nice resume for himself in Swedish professional hockey or in international hockey. He did a nice job for us at the end of the season.
I am looking forward to him maybe having an uptick in offensive production relative to what we saw at the end. He will be relied upon plenty, whichever team he is on, and certainly in this event.
William Villeneuve showed a lot of growth in junior after having a -50 season. He was +60 last year and won the Memorial Cup. What are your expectations for him?
Hardy: He is an extremely smart player with a lot of poise with the puck. He has done a really nice job this summer. If you look at him and the work he has put in on his body, it has been phenomenal. When players transitioning from junior to professional take that time and attack it that diligently, it probably shortens the learning curve.
That being said, he is another guy that, because of what he can do with the puck, with his size and his right shot, everybody is extremely excited about, especially at an event like this where you can see some real positive flashes from him.
Again, it is patience. It is going to be defensive habits and defensive details, learning the schedule, learning how to assimilate to pro hockey, and learning how to play inside of contact when men are leaning on you and bearing down on you. That is what I expect from him. There will be ups and downs in the first professional season, but he is certainly a guy myself and all of our staff really are bullish on.
Can you confirm Mikhail Abramov’s status?
Hardy: He would have been on this roster. At the end of last season, he tweaked something and he missed the last few weeks of the Marlies‘ season. I think it was something we thought was going to go away with some rest early in the summer. It just kind of lingered, lingered, and lingered.
He is another player that from an outside perspective maybe you would think should have had more production last season. From my perspective — transitioning from junior into first-year professional and with how relied on him, Douglas, and SDA were for us down the middle after the other guys didn’t clear waivers — he did a lot of things that I certainly wanted him to do.
The biggest thing for me and for us is that he is a player who is extremely conscientious in his details and has a great work ethic. I would like to get him starting this season on the absolute right foot, which is getting his body where it needs to be first and adding some strength, which probably in the summer — because he was rehabbing his injury — he didn’t get.
We are going to take a very conservative approach with him and make sure that when we do assimilate him back into the group, we will be setting him up for long-term success rather than us getting excited to see him in this event.
What was the thought process behind the coaching staff this year instead of going with the AHL staff like in other years?
Note: The Maple Leafs prospect team’s head coach will be Maple Leafs assistant coach Manny Maholtra. Assistants will include Duanté Abercrombie, Jordan Bean, Danielle Goyette, John Snowden, and Hannu Toivonen.
Hardy: I think it is a multi-layered decision, really. It was actually Sheldon [Keefe’s] idea. It originated with him. We just talked about, for the Marlies coaches that have gone to this event so many times, there is a redundancy in that. We looked at all of these people — whether it is player development, which Danielle Goyette represents, or Manny Maholtra’s experience with the Leafs staff — and we said, “Let’s give Manny an opportunity to get some exposure and experience in an area to help facilitate his development.” When we looked at the rest of the staff, we said, “Okay, where else can we make those kinds of decisions?”
We have blended together a nice staff from Marlies, player development, and the Leafs. We are just letting everybody get some experience and exposure in different areas. At the same time, we are always trying to develop players and we are always trying to develop staff. That was the thought process behind it. That is really why we went that direction.
What are your impressions of Manny Maholtra in spending time around him?
Hardy: Manny has done an excellent job. He is very professional, detailed, and organized. One thing, to Manny’s credit, is that he is very excited about this opportunity.
It is something we stressed within our group. Particularly for players who have been in this event before, sometimes it is, “Ah, I have to go to Traverse City again and go through the rookie tournament process again?” Particularly with players like Nick Robertson and Alex Steeves — who have done this before and have played NHL games — they’re excited to come here and help grow their leadership perspective.
For the coaches and management people, it is really no different. Manny has approached this with a great degree of passion and excitement for him to get his first taste of head-coaching experience. I know he is excited. He is organized. I think we’re ready to go.
What are you looking for from the prospects at this camp?
Hardy: Biggest point of emphasis is probably just to bring a high degree of competitiveness, abrasiveness, and making sure everybody is playing to their potential or capacity. We want to play fast. We want to be aggressive. We want to have everybody get off on the right foot as we start into the training camp season.
How about the players that are close to a roster spot — Nick Abruzzese, Nick Robertson? Are you expecting them to dominate against the competition?
Hardy: I expect them to play to their absolute potential. If they do that, I am confident they will have a good four games.
Are you giving the goalies one game each and going from there?
Hardy: I haven’t made a full determination yet on how we will attack that. We have a plan for the first two games. To speak candidly, we are going to see where we are at in the event. For us, within our organization, we are going here with a very specific purpose: to win. We want to set the tone here with this event in Traverse City leading into Leafs training camp — that is our expectation.
That is how we are going to approach every day. We will go into the first game putting our best foot forward, expecting to win, and we will go from there.