5 Maple Leafs’ Defensemen Next in Line for NHL Playing Time

The Toronto Maple Leafs have set out to build its organizational pipeline. In this post, we’ll review five young prospects on defense to suggest where they are in terms of their ability to reach the NHL and eventually play for the Maple Leafs. These are the young defensemen we believe might be next in line for NHL playing time.  

Young Defenseman #1: Filip Kral

The Maple Leafs chose Filip Kral as a fifth-round (145th overall) pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. He’ll be 22-years-old in October. He was loaned to the Czech league and played 48 games for Brno Kometa in 2020-21 before coming over to the Toronto Marlies at the end of their season. He’s played 10 games with the Marlies.

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The word on Kral is that he’s a point-scoring defenseman with room to grow. He’s waiver-exempt, but he’s also not close to being ready for NHL action. He has good skills as a defenseman but needs tons more experience.

Young Defenseman #2: Mac Hollowell

Mac Hollowell will be 23-years-old a month from today (September 26). He was a fourth-round (118th overall) pick of the Maple Leafs during the 2018 Draft. After playing five seasons with the Soo Greyhounds (from 2014 to 2019), where he spent some time being coached by current Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe, he started the 2019-20 season with the Newfoundland Growlers of the ECHL. However, he moved to the Marlies later that season. 

Since then, Hollowell’s played 61 games for the Marlies, over parts of last two seasons. At only 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, he’s quite small for a defenseman. However, he does have good offensive talent and seems to be on a pathway where he could eventually get a look with the Maple Leafs.

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However, his time isn’t here just yet. If both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren stay with the big team in the NHL, Hollowell would likely get to play top-pairing minutes for the Marlies. He’s also waiver-exempt.

Young Defenseman #3: Kristians Rubins

Kristians Rubins could be one of those “finds” for the Maple Leafs. He was undrafted; but, at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he obviously has size. Still, he’s not your typical “big” player. He skates well for a big man and, although he’s not a playmaker, he’s smart with the puck and has a decent “first pass.” 

Rubins is good defensively. He employs good on-ice positioning and uses his stick well; however, to this point hasn’t shown much in the way of a physical game. His ceiling is probably as a third-pairing NHL defenseman. But, at 23-years old, he’s still a long way from there yet. He too is waiver-exempt.

Young Defenseman #4: Joseph Duszak 

Joseph Duszak is another smallish 5-foot-9 and 175 pound, offensively-gifted defenseman. The 24-year-old is also still waiver-exempt. Duszak was a Hobey Baker finalist at Mercyhurst College (a small Catholic liberal arts college in Erie, Pennsylvania). He’s played 50 games over the past two seasons with the Marlies and has scored seven goals and 23 assists (for 30 points) in those games. 

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Duszak has yet to play a game in the NHL; however, like Hollowell, he could see some time in the NHL in the future. Again, that time isn’t just yet. He’ll be an RFA at the end of this coming season.

Young Defenseman #5: Teemu Kivihalme 

Teemu Kivihalme was drafted during the fifth round (140th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators, but he never signed with them. As a result, the Maple Leafs were able to sign him. He’s played 72 games for the Marlies over the past two seasons, scoring 10 goals and 19 assists (for 29 points). 

At 26-years-old, Kivihalme isn’t waiver-exempt; however, he hasn’t yet played in an NHL game and shouldn’t have any problems clearing waivers.

Where Things Are with the Organization’s Pipeline for Defensemen?

Of the five young defensemen listed here, two seem to come with high expectations. These prospects are Hollowell and Duszack. That said, defensemen sometimes take a while to develop. So it’s unlikely that the organization will give up on any of these youngsters – at least, not yet.

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For those Maple Leafs’ fans who follow the Marlies, it will be interesting to see how they develop in the AHL. That would be especially true if Liljegren were able to stay on the Maple Leafs’ roster. I’m assuming that Sandin is a lock for a roster position.

[Note: Again I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]