The Toronto Maple Leafs cast a wide a net at the 2020 NHL Draft, and the hope is that it will be the remedy for what’s become a bit of a barren prospect system.
Toronto entered the draft with 11 picks across the seven rounds, and after moving up and down at various points on Day 2, and surprising with a late trade to jump back into the seventh round, they eventually made 12 selections.
The strategy was clear from the Leafs, who almost exclusively chose players who are not having their seasons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant dipping primarily into the Russian and Finnish prospect pools before opening it up a bit in the later rounds.
The expectation should be that at least a few of these newly-minted prospects make an impact at the NHL level, but the focus will remain in large part on the Leafs’ 15th overall selection Rodion Amirov.
The undersized Russian winger represents the final piece of the puzzle on the return for Kasperi Kapanen, who the Leafs traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a variety of reasons, including a desire to re-claim a first-round draft selection.
Here’s what the Leafs managed to accomplish from the war room set up inside the Maple Leafs dressing room inside Scotiabank Arena.
First Round, No. 15 Overall: F, Rodion Amirov
This one couldn’t be more on-brand. While many were screaming for the Maple Leafs to add either a top-end talent on the blue line or another dimension to their forward group, the Leafs stayed true to their identity by making Amirov their top selection since Auston Matthews. Amirov doesn’t have any extraordinary single attributes or the eye-catching numbers we often seen from high draft selections, but he remains considered one of the more versatile forwards available in the draft, as well as a sure bet to contribute. For Kyle Dubas, the thought process compares well to the selection of Nick Robertson, a prospect who proved there was another layer of development to come, and validated his second-round investment by leading the Ontario Hockey League in goals this past season. The expectation is that Amirov takes a similar step forward with far more opportunity to contribute with Ufa in the KHL and on the international stage for Russia this season. The most logical criticism of the selection is that the Leafs didn’t use this valuable asset to help them in the immediate term. However it’s clear that a trade opportunity they felt comfortable triggering just wasn’t available to them, and the opportunity to trade down and still take the fourth-ranked European skater overall apparently wasn’t an option either, despite how long they waited on a call.
Second Round, No. 59 Overall: F, Roni Hirvonen
It was another typical selection in the second round for Kyle Dubas, who sprung for a small centre with high skill in Finland’s Hirvonen. The talent base isn’t as complete when compared to Amirov, but Hirvonen is another quality forward that doesn’t rely heavily on one single asset and instead has multiple dimensions to his game. It’s helped him thrive in just every situation he’s thrown in, be it against his peers or men in Finland’s top division. Draft experts love what he can do with possession of the puck, but he will have to work hard with Leafs skating coach Barb Underhill to improve his most obvious weakness: his skating.
Leafs know who they are. They want to sustain that identity. You add dimensions through other means while feeding the foundation through the draft. https://t.co/SU4EnU9OMT— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) October 7, 2020
Third Round, No. 64 Overall: D, Topi Niemela
Another Finnish prospect with experience competing at the highest level in his native country, Niemela also does more with less in terms of his stature. Draft experts laud his ability to think the game. They say Niemela makes smart decisions and routinely puts his team in position to attack with his mobility and proper care of the puck. He fits an obvious organizational need as a right-shot project on defense, and his game seems to compare accurately to Rasmus Sandin’s.
Fourth Round, No. 106 Overall: G, Artur Akhtyamov
He might not be Yaroslav Askarov, but the Maple Leafs have added a Russian goaltending prospect with really strong numbers at the top levels in his native country. Another Gold Star Hockey and Dan Milstein client, Akhtyamov’s selection only strengthens the Leafs’ deep connections with the Russian-based prospect system. Size is considered an issue for the ninth netminder off the board in the draft, even at 6-foot-2.
How soon will we see Gold Star Hockey advertised on the boards at Scotiabank Arena? https://t.co/b6JExyguwc— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) October 7, 2020
Fourth Round, No. 122 Overall: D, William Villeneuve
Villeneuve was the leading scorer for the Saint John Sea Dogs last season, which is something you don’t often see from a defenseman in Canadian Major Junior. He arrives as another project for Underhill, as scouts say this is another player that will have to improve his skating to have an impact at the next level.
Fifth Round, No. 137 Overall: F, Dmitry Ovchinnikov
The Leafs traded up in a deal with the Florida Panthers to take Ovchinnikov, who is small, supremely skilled, and scoring at a high clip in Russia’s junior ranks. He’d be the Maple Leafs draft selection in 2020 if there ever was one — that is if he was represented by Dan Milstein. This is the first of what figures to be several lottery tickets for the Leafs.
Sixth Round, No. 168 Overall: F, Veeti Miettinen
Miettinen is the third Finnish-born skater selected by the Leafs. It looks like more speed and skill from a dominant scorer in Finland’s junior ranks last season.
Sixth Round, No. 177 Overall: D, Axel Rindell
Make it four Finns. Rindell is 20 years old, so two years further along in his development curve compared to most, but is coming off a really productive season in Finland’s top division with 22 points in 47 games with Jukurit.
Sixth Round, 180th Overall: F, Joe Miller
Miller is one of several members of the Chicago Steel taken in the 2020 Draft, but he is yet to debut for the USHL club. A significantly undersized centre at 5-foot-8 and 147 pounds, Miller filled the net in the Minnesota High School circuit last season.
"Honestly I'm not too worried about it," Joe Miller says, when asked about his size.— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) October 7, 2020
Seventh Round, 189th Overall: D, John Fusco
Fusco is waiting to start his freshman season at Harvard after a solid season production-wise at the U.S. high school prep level. He found out he was drafted while in a Zoom class.
Seventh Round, 195th Overall: F, Wyatt Schingoethe
A rare selection at forward with very little offensive upside, Schingoethe is headed to the University of Denver after two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL.
Seventh Round, 213th Overall: F, Ryan Tverberg
Another Harvard commit, Tverberg posted only decent numbers with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the Ontario Junior Hockey League last season. However the Leafs clearly picked up on enough from his skillset to trade back into the draft late to prevent him from slipping into undrafted free agency.
More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports Canada