Maple Leafs Prospects: Peksa, Hirvonen, Niemela & More

Welcome back to another edition of Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect Weekly, a series where I get you up to speed on Maple Leafs’ prospects, who are making headlines in the American Hockey League (AHL), Canadian Hockey League (CHL), NCAA, European Leagues, and everywhere in between.

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In this instalment, I’m going to cover a goaltending prospect having a quietly great season in Russia, a pair of Finnish prospects who are looking to do damage at the 2022 World Juniors, and a Canadian prospect who could be a sneaky case to make his own World Junior team.

Russian Goaltender Peksa Has a Busy Week

Everybody knows that when it comes to evaluating talent, goaltenders are some of the hardest positions to predict. The easiest way to do it is by taking flyers on as many goaltenders as possible, and hope that one of them hits. The Maple Leafs drafted Vyacheslav Peksa in the sixth round of the 2021 draft after a somewhat underwhelming rookie season in the MHL, which is essentially Russia’s version of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).

But if the Vezina Trophy was a thing in the MHL, there’s no question Peksa would be among the frontrunners. He went 1-2-1 in games this week, highlighted by a 50-save performance in a 3-2 shootout loss on Nov 10. In the other three games, he made 40, 22, and 39 saves, respectively, which totals 149 saves on 157 shots. Talk about a busy week for the kid.

In terms of his development, it’s obviously far too early to even consider his NHL trajectory. But, as we saw with Joseph Woll, Ian Scott, Erik Kallgren, and Artur Akhtyamov, he’s another dart thrown by the Maple Leafs in hopes that he lands on the bullseye. And the results so far in his draft-plus-one season have been encouraging.

Niemela and Hirvonen set to Represent Finland at 2022 World Juniors

After a very impressive 2021 World Juniors, Topi Niemela and Roni Hirvonen will be back at the tournament in 2022, and both prospects played integral parts for Team Finland last year. Niemela collected eight points in seven games and defenseman of the tournament honours, and Hirvonen notched six points in seven games for the bronze medal-winning Finns.

This year, Hirvonen will serve as team captain for Finland. He’s been getting reps on the first line in early exhibition games for the Finns, and Niemela has been a staple on their top pairing. Especially considering the damage Niemela did as a defenseman last year, it’s borderline unfair to imagine what this duo could potentially do for the Finns this year.

It’s worth a reminder that general manager Kyle Dubas traded down in the 2020 NHL Draft to acquire the picks used to select Niemela and Hirvonen. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators used the pick acquired from the Maple Leafs to select defenseman Tyler Kleven. It’s far too early to judge the success of this trade since none of these players have cracked the NHL yet. But so far, this looks like a very good deal on Dubas’ part.

Tverberg Can’t Stop Scoring, Looks to Crack Team Canada

We obviously know that Hirvonen and Niemela will be on Team Finland at the World Juniors. But one prospect who isn’t as much of a guarantee is 2020 seventh-round pick Ryan Tverberg. Hell, at the start of the season, I don’t think anybody would have predicted that he would even be in the conversation. But after his hot start, I don’t think Team Canada has any choice but to consider him.

Tverberg added a goal in Saturday’s game against Providence for his fifth straight game with a goal. That brings him to nine goals and 15 points in 11 games so far this season, certainly an impressive start for the 19-year-old.

It’s well known that most of Team Canada’s prospects will come from the CHL at the World Juniors this year, but Tverberg playing in the NCAA should not deprive him of getting a look. He’s clearly found a knack for scoring goals, and he knows how to throw the body as well. It’s also worth noting that Dubas traded into the seventh round to draft Tverberg in 2020, back when he was playing Junior A for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens. Makes you wonder if Maple Leafs’ brass saw something maybe the common fan wouldn’t.

Quick Hits: Knies, Voit, and Der-Arguchintsev

Staying in the NCAA, Maple Leafs’ 2021 second-round pick Matthew Knies scored his fifth goal of the season in Saturday’s game, propelling the Minnesota Golden Gophers over the Ohio State Buckeyes. This brings the 6-foot-3 winger’s point total to nine points in 12 games. For a thin draft class, all three picks the Maple Leafs made in 2021 have had very good starts to the season.

Meanwhile, 2021 fifth-round pick Ty Voit stayed hot, notching three assists in the Sarnia Sting’s 6-1 win over the Saginaw Spirit. The 18-year-old now has 15 points in 11 games for the Sting and looks to be well on track to surpass his previous career OHL season total of 28 points.

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2018 third-round pick Semyon Der-Arguchintsev scored his second goal of the season on Sunday, going top shelf to seal the 2-1 victory for the Toronto Marlies with one second left in overtime. The goal brings SDA’s season total to seven points in 11 games, good for top-five on the team in scoring.

World Juniors on the Horizon

Maple Leafs’ prospects will likely be busy at the World Juniors this year. The aforementioned, Hirvonen, Niemela, and Knies, are all but guaranteed to represent their countries, and Tverberg and Voit will be considered to represent Canada as well. It’s going to be an interesting storyline to keep an eye on over the next few weeks.

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