Dom Lunardo | April 4th, 2020
Back in the 80s-90s, if an older gentleman walked into a barbershop in Toronto, and it took 30 minutes to get a haircut, chances are that he would spend five minutes talking about politics and the other 25 minutes talking about hockey. It’s instances and stories from the old days that without question fully embody what it means to be a fan of one of the most iconic franchises in NHL history, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Leafs Nation: The Highs…and Lows
Collectively referred to as ”Leafs Nation”, Toronto fans have a strong adoration for their Maple Leafs and have been waiting a long, long time for something to cheer about. We’re all aware of the history and heartbreak. The non-call in 93, the epic 4-1 third period collapse in Boston in the spring of 2013, and a Stanley Cup drought that’s going on 53 years (and counting). Needless to say, it’s been anything but roses for the boys in blue and white over the past 50+ years. The current crop of Maple Leafs boasts high-caliber names such as Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, and William Nylander. Be that as it may, it’s been 16 seasons since Toronto last won a playoff series, and Maple Leafs fans are beginning to run a little impatient.
In keeping with the positive, the Maple Leafs have further ammunition coming down the pipeline with a fairly promising group of prospects. Like all successful NHL organizations, their development begins at the grassroots level and carries right up to the professional ranks, and the Maple Leafs are no exception. With so much of an emphasis placed on young talent in today’s NHL, let’s take a closer look at Toronto’s top-3 prospects.
Number 3: Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Center, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
First up on our list is Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, (try saying that names 10 times fast). Alongside fellow Maple Leafs prospect, Nick Robertson, the two have had a tremendous season and have been “tearing it up” for the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). In 55 games for the Petes this year, Der-Arguchintsev, tallied 12 goals and 63 assists for 75 points to go along with a (+11) rating. Drafted by the Leafs in the third round, 76th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and listed at 5 ‘10, 160 pounds, Der-Arguchintsev is anything but a pro scout’s dream. However, his top-6 skill-set and small stature is music to the ears for Maple Leafs general manager, Kyle Dubas. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev is flashy, shifty, and has a real knack for making plays in the offensive zone. If he can continue to develop at this pace, look for Semyon Der-Arguchintsev to be turning heads during Maple Leafs training camp next fall.
Number 2: Mikhail Abramov, Center, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Coming in at number two is Mikhail Abramov, currently playing for the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The Russian center is definitely a player to watch and a rising star in “The Q”. In 63 games this season for the Tigres, Abramov scored 35 goals and 41 assists for 76 points. His 76 points led the entire league in scoring before the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) decided to cancel the remainder of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Talk about a season to remember for the 19-year-old Leafs prospect. Like Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Abramov is undersized (5 ‘11, 161 pounds) but possesses a high hockey IQ and elite playmaking ability. His soft hands, speed, and vision allow him to find and create space in tight areas. To quote Louis Robataille, his head coach in Victoriaville, “He (Abramov) reminds me a lot of Nicklas Backstrom at the junior level. He’s always going to be a guy with more assists than goals”. Nicklas Backstrom? Not a bad comparison. Mikhail Abramov is yet another offensive weapon who will certainly push for a job in the Leafs top-9 next season.
Number 1: Nick Robertson, Center/Left-Wing, Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Nick Robertson tops the list at number one and takes the honor as the best prospect in the Toronto Maple Leafs system by a country mile. To quote Kyle Dubas: “I’ve never come across a player at that age (18), that has that level of focus and attention to detail.”. Listed at a colossal 5 ‘9 (and that’s on a good day), don’t be fooled by Robertson’s lack of size, Maple Leafs fans. This kid is the real deal and will be given every opportunity to crack the big club next season. People are itching to know. What exactly can we expect from such a talented player with such a tremendous upside?
What many people probably don’t know about Robertson is his ability to play without the puck, which is always a big sticking point when it comes to prospects. However, Robertson checks that box with flying colors. Blessed with both hockey smarts, skill, and offensive instincts, Robertson is also relentless on loose pucks and a pain in the “you know what” to play against. Over the last five to six months, he’s even developed the reputation as a “trash talker”. This was on full display during this past winter’s IIHF 2020 World Junior Hockey Championships. Oh, and by the way, that prestigious tournament also saw Robertson tally two goals and three assists for five points in five games. Robertson’s foot speed and quickness is also a major talking point. His ability to change speeds, shift his body, and play to his strengths all place him in good stead heading into next season. Maple Leafs fans should be excited from what they see with Robertson, as all indications point towards him being a real good offensive dynamo for the Toronto Maple Leafs in years to come.
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