In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll report on the hiring of Paul MacLean as a new assistant coach. I’ll also look at two prospects in the Maple Leafs’ organization – goalie Kasmir Kaskisuo and the young Russian center, Mikhail Abramov. I’ll also wonder if the team will enter the buy-out market, which might happen soon, and there are a few goalies who might become available.
Item One: Maple Leafs Hire Paul MacLean as an Assistant Coach
It’s not like there’s no Maple Leafs news. Just this morning, the team announced they have hired Paul MacLean as a new assistant coach.
MacLean previously served as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators and during the in 2019-20 season, was employed as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets. MacLean won the 2013 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Coach of the Year with the Senators.
MacLean also had a long NHL career as a player throughout the 1980s mostly with the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues. In 710 games, he scored 324 goals and 349 assists for 673 points. Perhaps more interesting for the Maple Leafs, he has a great mustache that puts Auston Matthews to shame, but it probably wasn’t a criterion for his new job.
Item Two: A Look at Kasimir Kaskisuo’s 2019-20 Season
Sometimes it seems as if Kasimir Kaskisuo gets lost in the shuffle when fans are looking at the Maple Leafs’ organizational goalie depth. However, the 26-year-old Finn has been in the organization for five seasons – with parts of four seasons with the AHL Toronto Marlies.
During the 2019-20 regular season, he was called up and finally made his NHL debut on Nov. 16. It was one of former head coach Mike Babcock’s final games with the team, and they did Kaskisuo no favours. He was thrown to the wolves – or to the Penguins (from Pittsburgh), which probably seemed more vicious at the time.
The result was brutal. The Penguins hammered six goals past him. But that’s likely not the young goalie’s fault; by the time Kaskisuo skated into the net in for debut, the team had quit on Babcock. He deserved better.
Sadly, it was Kaskisuo’s only game before he was returned to the Marlies. Because the team was in their deepest funk of the season, and as Babcock’s coaching tenure was dying, it’s tough to judge Kaskisuo’s ability based on that start. The game was also the second of back-to-back games on the road.
However, in total, Kaskisuo had a decent AHL season. In 27 games, he registered a 14-9-2 record with a goals-against-average of 2.79 and a save percentage of 0.909. It’s tough to know where he ranks within the organization. But, as you can see from his Vlog posted while the team was in the bubble, he’s an interesting young man.
Item Three: Mikhail Abramov Is Rising on the Maple Leafs Depth Charts
The Maple Leafs organization is fortunate to have a number of young, skilled wingers in their system. One is the emerging young Russian, Mikhail Abramov. Although the 19-year-old will likely stay in the QMJHL for another season or so, he seems to have the potential to earn a spot on the NHL roster sometime soon.
Abramov is typical of the young forwards general manager Kyle Dubas often drafts. He’s not necessarily short at 5-foot-11, but he’s a slender 162 pounds. The Maple Leafs found him in the fourth round (115th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. During the 2019-20 season, and playing for a so-so Victoriaville Tigres QMJHL team, he scored 35 goals and 76 points in 63 games – and that was without much help from his teammates.
Dubas drafted Abramov largely based on his reputation. His 2018-19 draft-season statistics weren’t much to write home to Moscow about, but he had previously excelled in the CSKA Moscow’s development program at the junior level.
As 2019-20 suggests, Dubas seems correct in his assessment of Abramov’s potential. Every once in a while, he picks prospects who are coming off an down season but who seem to have potential. He drafted Timothy Liljegren in a similar way – based on Liljegren’s pre-draft seasons. Liljegren essentially missed his entire age-18 season when he caught mono, but because he had a strong age-17 season, Dubas was convinced he was a strong defensive prospect.
Although Abramov’s first season in junior in North America wasn’t strong, 2019-20 was appreciably stronger. There’s no question that Abramov is an up-and-comer. Following a big offensive season when he finished 15th in QMJHL scoring, he signed an entry-level contract at $810,000 through 2022-23. He might not be Alexis Lafreniere, but he looks like a strong prospect.
What’s Next with the Maple Leafs?
It’s that time of the year when NHL players can be bought out. If the Maple Leafs are considering moving on from Frederik Andersen, there might be a goalie or two the team can get cheaply. I’m thinking of two: One is the great Henrik Lundqvist, who probably has a couple of good seasons left, and is likely to be bought out by the New York Rangers; there’s also Devan Dubnyk, who’s also likely to be bought out by the Minnesota Wild.
Who knows? Given how well players whose contracts were previously bought out are performing in the Stanley Cup Final – Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian from the Tampa Bay Lightning – it’s possible that the team might see one of these goalies as an option.