The Toronto Maple Leafs will need to be open to new things to succeed in the unusual world of the 2021 regular season and their road opener against the Ottawa Senators will be the first of back-to-back games in the Canadian Tire Centre.
The Sens will have a number of new faces in the lineup, including veterans acquired in offseason trades and free agency (Derek Stepan, Evgeni Dadonov, Austin Watson, Erik Gudbranson, Braydon Coburn, Craig Paquette, Josh Brown, Matt Murray) and young organizational prospects (Josh Norris, Tim Stutzle)
"We need to make sure we can come out here today against a very energetic and excited young team tonight in their home opener.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Friday morning. “They haven't played yet, they're going to have fresh legs and be jumping and excited to play (and) we've got to make sure we're ready today to establish things for ourselves."
Keefe indicated that there will be no lineup changes on Friday and confirmed that backup Jack Campbell will start on Saturday, but did not give any hint on whether his philosophy to roster tinkering in back-to-backs will see players on the taxi squad being inserted.
"We'll take it a day at a time. We've got no real plans obviously. The goaltending situation, Campbell will play tomorrow, but even that as we get going, that's not something that we should assume will be the case all the time."
Matt Murray will get the start for Ottawa.
The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Pierre Engvall, Travis Dermott and Justin Holl, but the next step for the club under GM Kyle Dubas is to keep replenishing the prospect pool to provide the Leafs with youngsters who can step up and replace veterans who retire, depart via free agency or are traded.
As we did last year, we will rank the club’s top prospects over the next few weeks based on their progress in either the NCAA, CHL, Europe, ECHL, or AHL and their potential to make the Leafs roster and make a contribution in the future.
Players are eligible for the list if they have not played more than 40 NHL games:
#40 – J.D. Greenway – D (Maine – NCAA)
#39 – Eemeli Rasanen – D (HPK – Finland SM-Liiga)
#38 – Jeremy McKenna – RW (Moncton – QMJHL)
#37 – Ryan O’Connell – D (Ohio State – NCAA)
#36 – Veeti Miettinen – RW (St. Cloud St. – NCAA)
#35 - Semyon Kizimov – RW (Lada Togliatti – VHL / Torpedo – KHL)
#34 - Kalle Loponen – D (Karpat – Finland SM-Liiga)
#33 - Vladislav Kara – LW (Cherepovets Severstal – KHL)
#32 - John Fusco – D (Harvard – NCAA)
#31 - Wyatt Schingoethe – C (Waterloo – USHL)
#30 - William Villeneuve – D (Saint John – QMJHL)
#29 - Joe Miller – C (Chicago – USHL)
#28 - Axel Rindell – D (Jukurit – Finland SM-Liiga)
#27 - Kristians Rubins - D (Toronto - AHL / Frederikshavn - Denmark)
#26 - Justin Brazeau - RW (Newfoundland - ECHL / Toronto - AHL)
#25 – Dmitry Ovchinnikov – F (Sibir Novosibirsk – MHL/KHL)
#24 – Artur Akhtyamov – G (Ak Bars Kazan – MHL/VHL/KHL)
#23 – Noel Hoefenmayer – D (Ottawa – OHL / Wichita ECHL)
#22 – Roni Hirvonen – C (Assat Pori – Finland SM-Liiga)
#21 – Teemu Kivihalme - D (Toronto - AHL)
#20 – Pontus Holmberg – LW (Vaxjo HC – SHL
#19 – Filip Kral - D (HC Prerov / Kometa Brno - Czech)
#18 – Ian Scott – G (Toronto - AHL)
#17 - Joseph Duszak - D (Newfoundland - ECHL / Toronto - AHL)
#16 – Mac Hollowell - D (Newfoundland – ECHL / Toronto – AHL / TuTo Turku – Finland Mestis)
#15 -Topi Niemela – D (Karpat – Finland SM-Liiga)
#14 – Semyon Der-Argushintsev (Center, Peterborough Petes – OHL / Torpedo - KHL)
#13 – Adam Brooks – C (Toronto – AHL/NHL)
Brooks was a late bloomer that went undrafted twice before breaking out with a 120-point season with the WHL’s Regina Pats in 2016 and being selected 92nd overall by the Leafs at the NHL Draft in Buffalo. As an overager in 2017, the Winnipeg, MB native finished one point behind teammate Sam Steel for the WHL scoring title with 130 points (43 goals, 87 assists) and signed an entry-level contract with Toronto.
The 5’10”, 175 lb. center struggled to find his place early on in his first pro season playing mostly a bottom six role, but began to get more scoring opportunities higher up in the lineup after Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson were called up to the Leafs before the 2018 playoffs. Brooks finished the season with 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) in 57 games and in the Marlies run to the Calder Cup, he provided a matchup problem playing on the fourth line with Trevor Moore and Mason Marchment, scoring six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 20 games.
With the departure of Miro Aaltonen, Ben Smith and Frederik Gauthier’s promotion to the Leafs, Brooks moved up into a top six role with the Marlies last season and doubled his point total, with 40 points (21 goals, 19 assists) in 61 games.
The progress continued in 2019-20, as Brooks earned a call up to the Leafs in late December and registered assists in three straight games against his hometown Jets and Edmonton. The 24-year-old is on the taxi squad and may get some action this season, but it is quite possible that a spot on the fourth line may be his next season if veteran Jason Spezza retires.
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