The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL, but with players like Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson and Travis Dermott on their roster, the next step for the club 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 summer, 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 in the future.
Players are not eligible for the list if they are 25 years old or over, or if they have played more than 30 NHL games:
Top 25 list
#25 – Eemeli Rasanen - Defense, Jokerit – KHL / Toronto Marlies – AHL
#24 – Pontus Holmberg – Left Wing, Vaxjo HC – SHL
#23 – Mikhail Abramov – Center, Victoriaville – QMJHL
#22 – Nick Abruzzese - Center, Chicago Steel – USHL
#21 – Teemu Kivihalme - Defense, Karpat – SM-Liiga
2018 Ranking – Not Ranked
The Toronto Maple Leafs have continued to explore the avenue of signing overage European free agents over the last few seasons, bringing in Nikita Zaitsev, Nikita Soshnikov, Andreas Borgman, Miro Aaltonen, Calle Rosen, Par Lindholm and Igor Ozhiganov, but other than Zaitsev (who played three NHL seasons before being dealt to Ottawa last month), these players have not had much of an impact with the Leafs.
GM Kyle Dubas once again looked to the continent this summer with the signing KHL winger Ilya Mikheyev, but also added Finnish defenseman Teemu Kivihalme to a one-year deal.
The 24-year-old was born in Minnesota while his father played Division III NCAA hockey, played high school hockey in the US and played in the USHL before being drafted in the fifth-round pick (140th overall) by Nashville in 2013.
Kivihalme played three seasons at Colorado College , but was not signed by the Predators and headed to the Finnish SM-Liiga. In two seasons with Karpat, the 6’0”, 180 lb. blueliner won a league championship as a rookie and scored 30 points (9 goals and 21 assists) and nine points (4 goals, 5 assists) in 16 playoff games last season.
With the Leafs changes on the blueline this summer, there appears to be one or two spots on defense until Travis Dermott returns from off-season shoulder surgery. A group that includes Kivihalme, Ben Harpur, Kevin Gravel, Justin Holl, Martin Marincin and first round picks Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren will be in an open competition at training camp with a chance to earn a spot. Kivihalme seems to fit the mold of most of the defensemen that Toronto has brought into the organization recently, with excellent skating ability and high hockey IQ.
The combination of skill and maturity is an advantage, as the Leafs may not want to push Liljegren or Sandin before they are ready for the NHL and his other competitors are filled with flaws that might make them ill-suited for a bottom pairing role.
If Kivihalme can play well defensively and not make any big mistakes, it is possible that he could catch the eye of Mike Babcock and being waiver-exempt, he could move up and down from the Marlies to the NHL.
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