The Toronto Maple Leafs were left without a first-round pick for the second consecutive year after general manager Kyle Dubas dealt the 2019 pick to acquire Jake Muzzin. Dubas had six draft picks to work with this past June, his highest a second round, 53rd-overall pick, and his lowest a seventh round, 204th-overall pick.
For the first time since 2014, the Maple Leafs did not draft a Canadian born prospect. However, Dubas did select two players from the Canadian Hockey League. From the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, Nicholas Robertson was drafted with the Maple Leafs second-round selection. A couple of rounds later, Dubas picked Mikhail Abramov from the Victoriaville Tigres of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The theme of the draft fit Dubas’ vision for his Maple Leafs, selecting highly-skilled forwards with exceptional hockey IQ, and mobile, puck-moving defensemen. Five of the six players that were selected by the Maple Leafs’ brass are all undersized, but Dubas is firm on his beliefs that talent will trump any concern over stature. It has now been about six months since draft day, and it is time to check in to see how the draft day selections are faring.
Robertson Returns to Action
After missing 10 games due to a broken finger, Robertson returned to action on Dec. 5 for the Petes. He was off to a scorching hot start this season, putting up 29 points in 18 games, and averaging more than a goal-per-game with 19. Prior to his injury, he was tied for the league lead in goals with Hamilton Bulldogs’ Arthur Kaliyev.
My colleague, Josh Bell, outlined his argument for Robertson being a steal for the Maple Leafs at 53rd overall. Roberston possesses several attributes that could help his game translate over to the NHL level. He is an extremely strong skater, who has a lightning-quick release that is difficult for the goalie to pick up. Surprisingly physical for his size, Robertson’s tenacity on the forecheck impresses scouts.
You will get the chance to see Roberston suit up for Team USA in the World Junior Hockey Championships later this month. A California kid, Roberston has plenty of experience in the American hockey program. He played in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup this past summer and scored four goals in five games.
Kokkonen Struggling in Sophomore Campaign
With their third-round pick, the Maple Leafs selected Finnish defenseman Mikko Kokkonen 84th overall. After a very impressive first year for Jukurit in Finland’s top league last year, Kokkonen has seen some regression this season. He put up three goals and 16 assists for 19 points in 56 games last year. This is excellent for an 18-year-old kid, who is playing in an elite league with men.
Kokkonen’s sophomore campaign hasn’t been so good for the skilled puck-moving defenseman. He has just one goal and one assist in 17 games while putting up a plus/minus of minus-eight.
The good news is Kokkonen was selected to Finland’s World Junior Championship roster and should make the team. This is a good opportunity for the young defenseman to showcase his talent on the international level and rediscover his game playing with guys his age.
Abramov Off to a Strong Start
Off to a stellar sophomore campaign for the Tigres, Abramov leads the team in goals, assists, and points. He has 18 goals and 16 assists in 30 games for a very young Victoriaville team. These are impressive numbers for the young Russian, as he has already surpassed his total of 16 goals in 62 games last season.
Abramov is described as a highly-skilled centerman who is an elite playmaker in the offensive zone. His 32 points are first on the team by a wide margin, as the next top scorer on the team only has 17 points. You would have to think he would perform even better with some added skill around him. He will certainly have to add some strength, as he does not do well on one-on-one battles.
Abruzzese Succeeding with Harvard
The Maple Leafs selected Nick Abruzzese with their second pick in round four. Abruzzese is a 1999 birthday who was two years past his draft-eligible year. He is an American forward who played in the USHL with the Chicago Steel the last couple of years. Abruzzese was the leading scorer as a 19-year-old for the Steel, with 29 goals and 51 assists for 80 points in 62 games last season.
Now playing for Harvard University in the NCAA-ECAC, Abruzzese is tied for second in team scoring with two goals and eight assists through 10 games. A diminutive 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, the skilled centerman relies on his elusiveness in the offensive zone to produce points.
“Nick’s super skilled, very competitive and he’s one of these guys that passes the puck almost always at the right time,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “He’s equal part playmaker and goal scorer.”
The reviews have been great for Abruzzese in his first year for Harvard, and the Maple Leafs will be keeping close tabs on his development.
Koster Not Showing Much Progress
With their fifth pick, the Maple Leafs selected defenseman Michael Koster of the Tri-City Storm. Another American born player, Koster currently has six points in 15 games for the Storm. He put up identical numbers in the same amount of games last season for the team, except this year, he is a minus-eight.
Koster will be participating this year in the 2019 World Junior A Challenge for team USA. The tournament will take place in Dawson Creek, British Columbia from Dec. 7-15. He will look to make an impact on a strong American team that has won the event six times in the last eight years.
Koster was a super-skilled defenseman in high school, who put up 59 points in 24 games. He will look to improve his all-around game before making the jump next year to play for the University of Minnesota in the NCAA.
Loponen Impressing for the Wolves
The Maple Leafs concluded their 2019 draft day by selecting defenseman Kalle Loponen in the seventh round, 204th overall. Loponen played with grown men in a tier-two Finnish league last year and was selected in the import draft by the Sudbury Wolves in June.
This season for Sudbury, Loponen has played a key role on the Wolves’ defensive end. He has put up six goals to go along with nine assists for 15 points in 26 games. Responsible in his own end, Loponen is second on the team with a plus-eight rating.
Loponen is another offensively-minded defenseman who fits the mould Dubas is trying to create for his Maple Leafs going forward. These are very impressive stats from an 18-year-old defenseman in his first season playing a North American style of hockey in the OHL.
Dubas and the Maple Leafs will be hopeful one of these skilled defensemen selected end up being a big part of their future.