The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL, but with players like Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Travis Dermott now on their roster, the next step for the club is to keep replenishing the prospect pool to provide the Leafs with youngsters who can take step and replace veterans who retire, depart via free agency or are traded.
With some input from Sportsology’s Russ Cohen and Gus Katsaros of McKeen’s Hockey, we will rank the club’s top 25 prospects over the next few weeks based on their progress in either the NCAA, CHL, Europe or the American Hockey League and their potential to make the Leafs roster and make a contribution.
Players such as Dermott, Kapanen, Frederik Gauthier, Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen, Josh Leivo, Garret Sparks and Justin Holl are not eligible because they have played more than 30 NHL games or are over the age of 23.
We continue the list today with #23 and #22 of the Leafs Top 25 Prospects
#25 – JD Greenway (Defense, Dubuque Fighting Saints – USHL)
#24 – Ian Scott (Goaltender, Prince Albert Raiders – WHL)
#23 – Martins Dzierkals (Wing, Orlando Solar Bears / Toronto Marlies – ECHL/AHL)
Dzierkals was a third round pick (68th overall) in the Leafs successful 2015 Draft and made the Memorial Cup Final in 2016 and played for Latvia in the 2017 World Junior. After two successful years playing for the QMJHL’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the speedy winger signed an AHL contract and had 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) in 51 games for Orlando of the ECHL and four games at the end of the season for the Toronto Marlies.
The 21-year-old has been a victim of the numbers game in the organization, with wing being the position with the greatest quality depth.
Last week, KHL Hockeybuzz insider Aivis Kalnins reported that Dzierkals might opt to return to Latvia and play for Dinamo Riga of the KHL if he is not signed to an entry-level contract by the Leafs.
Toronto retaining rights on Dzierkals depends on how long the winger plays in the KHL and whether he has an opportunity to get playing time in the AHL and a path the make it to the NHL.
#22 – Andrew Nielsen (Defense, Toronto Marlies – AHL)
Another of the 2015 Draft class, Nielsen averaged nearly a point-per-game as a 19-year-old in the WHL for the Lethbridge Hurricanes before turning pro and scoring 14 goals as a rookie for the Toronto Marlies.
Nielsen has never shied away from the physical side of the game and his booming shot from the point was utilized on the Marlies power play as a rookie, but he displayed some undisciplined tendencies and defensive shortcomings in a second round playoff loss to Syracuse in 2017.
The addition of Timothy Liljegren, Calle Rosen, Andreas Borgman and Martin Marincin to the Marlies roster took away some of Nielsen’s responsibilities and ice time and that showed in his offensive numbers dropping from 39 points to 26 last season, but the physical side of his game improved.
If the 21-year-old can improve on his skating, he could still be in the mix as a depth defenseman at the NHL level (especially with the Leafs defense being on the small side), but Nielsen will have to bounce back in a big way in his third professional season with Liljegren and 2018 first rounder Rasmus Sandin ahead of him in the pipeline.
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