There have been many instances where teams manage to find strong undrafted talent in the past. The Tampa Bay Lightning is the perfect example with Martin St. Louis, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde before he became a member of the Seattle Kraken. The Calgary Flames invited Mark Giordano to their camp after he went undrafted. Players who have been passed over in the draft have gone on to have strong careers.
Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas has done a relatively good job in that department. Finding undrafted talent like Justin Brazeau, the Maple Leafs have done their homework to bring on players and develop them properly. They may have found an undrafted player with a lot of promise in Pavel Gogolev.
Gogolev’s Road to the Pros
Gogolev was a very strong point producer during his junior career. He scored 30 goals as a sophomore with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League. After registering 19 points in his third season with the Petes, he was traded to the Guelph Storm where he was above a point per game but missed a significant amount of games due to a fractured ankle. He would then add another 10 points in the playoffs and win the OHL championship with his new team.
It wasn’t until his third season in 2019-20 where Gogolev really broke out. He finished his third season with 45 goals and 96 points, finishing his junior career with a 0.83 point per game average. Being passed over twice before, his production and NHL caliber shot should’ve been enough to at least be selected as a late round pick in the fourth or fifth round. Unfortunately, he was passed over a third time. Not being drafted once is a lot to take in as a player. But three times? That’s extremely difficult to grasp.
Though it may have fueled a fire in Gogolev as he earned an opportunity to go pro.
After starting his 2020-21 season with Väsby IK in the HockeyAllsvenken league, Gogolev signed an American League contract with the Toronto Marlies and caught everyone by surprise. The 21-year-old only appeared in 13 games, but he made the most of it as he scored six goals and recorded 12 points, a 0.92 P/G. As a result, he recently signed a three-year entry-level contract after an impressive pro season, despite it being a short stint.
A Great Skill Set And Underlying Production
Gogolev has great size and high offensive instincts and could thrive in the NHL. I mentioned his NHL-like shot as he has excellent power with his release. When dealing with a shot blocker, he takes that extra second for the defender to make a move first, allowing him to get to an open lane and fire it on net with great accuracy. He has a one-timer that is lightning quick, as you can see the power and force in his shot as well as his awareness to be in a great position.
Even looking at his shot selection from 2019-20, you can tell where he likes to do most of his damage. At even strength he’s a factor all over the place in the middle of the ice, making those hard-nose plays to the net. On the power play, he likes to set up shop on the right side as majority of his shots and goals came from that side.
While his shot and goal scoring is what makes him great, he’s a really good passer as well. He has great patience with the puck to draw in defenders and open lanes up to find his teammates. He also has great strength to shield the puck and drive hard to the net for a high danger opportunity.
The knock on him in junior was that he didn’t possess the top notch skating and speed. Even though it wasn’t a strength in his game, it’s something that can always be worked and improved on to make a player’s stride and style better. In this clip below, you can notice that he’s quicker in his step to jump into the rush and challenge the defenders. Even though he’s on a bad angle, he’s able to get the puck off on his backhand and score.
While he’s taken steps to improve his play, his production is also notable, as he’s increased not only his point totals but also his results in multiple situations. Below is a break down of Gogolev’s stats from Pick 224, ranging from his draft year to his first pro season in the AHL.
|Season||EV P1/GP||PP P1/GP||P1/GP||EV GF%|
|DY +2 (2019-20)||0.79||0.41||1.22||58.55%|
|DY +3 (2020-21)||0.53||0.23||0.77||55%|
Gogolev has had reasonable success in terms of his production. His even strength primary points per game dropped in his DY+1, but still an increase in his even strength goals for percentage and power play primary points. In his last two seasons, he had EV GF% over 50%, one being an over-ager in the OHL and the other in his first pro season. He thrived on being a major factor at even strength. In 2019-20 out of his 96 points, 77 were primary points, 50 at even strength and 26 on the power play and one shorthanded goal.
He made a nice transition as an over-ager in the OHL to the AHL. While his production in his first pro season with the Marlies doesn’t stand out compared to his final OHL season, it’s still respectable given the minimal amount of games he played. Out of his 12 points, 10 were primary points, seven were at even strength and 60% of his primary points were goals. He’s slowly starting to show that teams may have made a mistake in passing him over based on his consistency.
Gogolev’s Projected Future
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that by any means that Gogolev is going to be a top-six forward for the Maple Leafs in the future. There is the potential for him to be a reliable player in a third-line role where he can provide some strong secondary scoring, create rush chances and maintain offensive zonetime. Not to mention being a lethal one-time option on the power play.
Expect to see Gogolev start the season off with the Marlies in a top-six role. If he’s able to replicate his early season success in 2021-22 and continue to work on his skating and round out his game, the Maple Leafs could see him try and battle for a roster spot in the future. He’s still young and learning and in a few years, he can definitely be a cheaper depth option instead of going out to find someone like him in free agency.
As a comparison, Gourde had impressive junior numbers as well and didn’t become a full time NHLer until he was 26. Gogolev probably won’t put up 64 points as a rookie like Gourde did, but you can expect him to put up at most 30 points or slightly above. If the Maple Leafs want to add some strength and size up front with a skilled game, then Gogolev fits the description perfectly.
While finding undrafted talent who can make an immediate impact in the NHL is very rare, there has been success in the past. The Maple Leafs may have a player in Gogolev with a lot potential in their hands that can do just that.
Statistics and Image from Pick224.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.