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The Toronto Maple Leafs organization has drafted and developed a number of youngsters currently playing in the NHL (Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Pierre Engvall, and Justin Holl), but the club under GM Kyle Dubas has 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 upcoming 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 - Vladislav Kara – LW (Yugra - VHL)
#39 – Kalle Loponen – D (Koo Koo Kouvola/JyP HT – Finland SM-Liiga)
#38 - Jeremy McKenna – RW (Wichita – ECHL, Toronto – AHL)
#37 - John Fusco – D (Harvard – NCAA)
#36 Noel Hoefenmayer – D (Newfoundland – ECHL, Toronto – AHL)
#35 Ryan Chyzowski - LW (Newfoundland - ECHL, Toronto - AHL)
#34 Braeden Kressler - C (Flint - OHL)
The Maple Leafs traditionally go to Europe in the later rounds because of the longer development window and have had good luck in drafting the likes of Andreas Johnsson, Pierre Engvall, Carl Gunnarsson, and Pontus Holmberg. In 2022, GM Kyle Dubas and his scouting staff followed this model and selected winger Nikita Grebyonkin in the fifth round (135th overall).
Toronto possibly took advantage of the chilling effect that the current geopolitical situation in Ukraine has had on Russian prospects (who is represented by agent Daniel Milstein). Grebyonkin was not selected in his first eligible draft in 2021 but gained notice as a linemate for 2022 first-round pick Danila Yurov (selected by Minnesota 24th overall) posting more than a point-per-game (17 goals, 47 assists in 58 games) with the junior-level Stainye Lisy in the Magnitogorsk system last season.
The 6’2”, 183 lb. winger has a thinner frame that could fill out in time and issues with consistency, but has good skating ability, and is known mostly for top-end playmaking, superior edge work and excellent hockey IQ.
“Nikita has a rare blend of deception, elusiveness, and puck handling ability that makes sure he doesn’t have to rely on his frame too often.” said this year’s Hockey Prospect Black Book. “(He) has some of the best inside and outside edges available in this class. He was the only player we viewed this season, who threw a defender off balance with over three feet of space between them. That hopefully gives you a sense of how fast he can pivot and force weight shifts out of opposing players. His edgework is compounded by an efficient and fluid skating base that’s mechanically sound.”
With a February 2003 birthday, the 19-year-old could be in the mix for Team Russia in the upcoming 2023 IIHF World Junior if they are allowed to participate, but the hope is that Grebyonkin will earn more playing time in the KHL this season as part of his long-term development track.