The key to every developmental model in the NHL is the ability to recognize talent and improving those players over time to the point that they become assets or contributors to the organization. That is an area where the Toronto Maple Leafs have improved dramatically during the Brendan Shanahan / Kyle Dubas era and that they hope to continue going forward.
On top of cashing in on high draft picks in William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin, the Leafs have been able to find NHL contributors in lower rounds such as Pierre Engvall (2014), Travis Dermott and Dmytro Timashov (2015), Egor Korshkov, Carl Grundstrom and Adam Brooks (2016), as well as college, CHL, and European free agents and unsigned draftees (Trevor Moore, Mason Marchment, Justin Holl, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman, Igor Ozhiganov, Nikita Zaitsev, Joseph Duzsak, Teemu Kivihalme, and Ilya Mikheyev).
Kyle Dubas continues to scour the NCAA, CHL and European leagues for prospects, bringing in youngsters on AHL contracts that do not count against the 50-man professional contract limit to see if they can grow into players that can fill spots with the Toronto Marlies and eventually develop into useful depth players.
Latvian defenseman Kristians Rubins, former Carolina draft pick Hudson Elyniuk and big North Bay winger Justin Brazeau were signed to AHL deals last season. Rubins and Elyniuk were part of the Newfoundland Growlers ECHL Championship club in 2019 and graduated to play with the Toronto Marlies this season. Rubins made enough progress to earn a two-year NHL entry-level deal on Thursday, while Brazeau led the Growlers with 27 goals as a rookie.
Toronto continued that trend with the signing of four players to two-year AHL contracts this week. Forwards Gordie Green (Miami University) and Bobby McMann (Colgate) are both undrafted 23-year-olds, who completed four years in the NCAA and were team captains of their respective clubs.
20-year-old Jeremy McKenna had a career-high 97 points (45 goals, 52 assists) for Moncton (QMJHL) in 2019 and agreed to an AHL deal with the Calgary Flames last summer, but opted to return to the Wildcats and led them with 40 goals as an overager.
The potential gem of the group could be North York, ON native Noel Hoefenmayer. The 21-year-old was drafted 108th overall by Arizona in 2017, but went unsigned by the Coyotes. After surprisingly going undrafted in 2019, Hoefenmayer led all OHL defensemen with a career-high 82 points (26 goals, 56 assists) in 58 games with the Ottawa 67s (OHL) this season.
Hoefenmayer has consistently been underestimated. According to Sportsology’s Russ Cohen , the 6’1”, 196 lb. blueliner was not invited to the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo in 2017 and fell to the fourth round.
I still cant believe this guy is unsigned right now.
His offensive skills have never been in question, but over the last three years, Hoefenmayer has improved his strength, skating, and defense. It is likely with Dubas favoring defensemen with offensive skills that Hoefenmayer will get a chance to advance in the Leafs organization if he can take advantage of the opportunity over the next few years.
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