August 32-in-32: Toronto Maple Leafs

Nick Richard

2022-08-27

The 32-in-32 Series is an annual event here at DobberProspects! Every day in August we will be bringing you a complete breakdown of a team’s Draft, and insights into their off-season movements thus far. Following this up in September, we will dive into every team’s prospect depth charts with fantasy insights and implications for the upcoming seasons. Check back often, because we plan on filling your hockey withdrawal needs all off-season long!

It was another stellar regular season for the Maple Leafs – in fact, they established a new franchise record for most points in a season – but once again, they failed to find any playoff success. While it was another disappointing finish, it felt different this time around as the Leafs took the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning to the limit in the first round before ultimately coming up short and bowing out in seven games.

Heading into what is likely the most pivotal offseason of Kyle Dubas’ tenure as general manager, the Leafs were tasked with retooling around their star-studded core to take another run at ending the franchise’s drought of postseason glory. The first order of business was reshaping the goaltending depth chart, and with Jack Campbell already on the way out, the Leafs also used their first-round pick to shed Petr Mrázek’s burdensome contract and completely clear the deck.

Campbell and Mrázek weren’t the only departures, however, and the Leafs had multiple holes to fill during the offseason with limited cap space. Dubas and his staff made a number of moves to change the makeup of the roster, and they’ll be hoping that they have landed on the correct mix to finally get over that first-round hump.

The Draft

The Leafs entered the 2022 NHL Draft with just three selections, including a first-round pick, a third-round pick, and a seventh-round pick. They dealt their first-rounder to Chicago in the Mrázek trade but received a second-rounder in return, sliding down just 13 spots to move off of his contract that carried a $3.8 million cap hit for the next two seasons. They also opted to trade down from their original slot in the third round, acquiring an additional pick in the fifth-round in the process and shipped out a 2023 fourth-round pick in exchange for Nashville’s fourth-rounder in the 2022 draft.

Round Two, 38th overall – Fraser Minten, C

After moving out of the first round, the Leafs selected Kamloops center Fraser Minten with their first pick of the 2022 draft at 38th overall. Typically known for swinging on upside above all else, the Leafs’ selection of Minten struck a balance between potential and projectability.

The addition of Minten to the Leafs’ system helped to diversify the organizational pipeline. He is a well-rounded two-way center with good size who doesn’t shy away from the physical part of the game. His shot is a weapon, he has good instincts away from the puck, he is strong down low and along the wall, and he takes intelligent routes in transition. As the season wore on, Minten began putting all of those tools together more consistently and grew into a prominent role on a strong Blazers team.

The Leafs are high on Minten’s character as well as his ultimate upside, and he is expected to take on more of a leadership role when he returns to Kamloops this coming season. One of the youngest players from the 2022 draft, he already possesses a solid base of skills with plenty of runway ahead of him to improve. Minten projects pretty safely as an effective bottom-six NHL player, but he also has the potential to become more than that with proper development over the next few seasons.

Round Three, 95th overall – Nicholas Moldenhauer, C/W

The Leafs once again traded down from their original slot in the third round, but it appears they still ended up with their preferred target in that range when they selected hometown boy Nicholas Moldenhauer of the Chicago Steel with the 95th pick.

Moldenhauer had an extremely difficult draft year that was derailed by an illness to begin the season, followed by a scary injury in his first game back that caused him to miss more time. The Leafs’ relationship with the Chicago Steel has been well documented, however, and their level of comfort and familiarity with the player likely played a huge role in selecting him despite his tumultuous draft season.

Moldenhauer is a highly skilled offensive player who displays creativity and intelligence in the way he attacks opposing defenses. He has slick hands and the ability to execute skilled moves at full speed. He can string plays together, transitioning quickly from a pass reception into a deke or a return pass, and he consistently hunts space in the offensive zone. Moldenhauer isn’t the biggest player, but he is strong on his feet and can play through contact – a skill that should only improve as he continues to mature physically.

Expected to return to Chicago for the 2022-23 season, Moldenhauer will be thrust into a larger role and should be in line for a breakout year, provided his string of bad luck is behind him. He is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Leafs’ system with the skill and potential to develop into a middle-six offensive contributor at the NHL level someday.

Round Four, 122nd overall – Dennis Hildeby, G

Following another trade on the draft floor to move into the fourth round, the Leafs selected towering netminder Dennis Hildeby out of Färjestad in the SHL. Having already passed through the draft a couple of times, Hildeby was something of an unknown but he put up impressive numbers in limited action during the 2021-22 season.

The first thing that stands out about Hildeby is his size, standing at 6-6 and weighing in at over 230 pounds. He uses that size effectively to leave little room for opposing shooters, and there is a composure to his game that helps him to effectively track the play unfolding around him. Hildeby displays good athleticism for such a large goaltender and has the ability to recover to make difficult saves on the rare occasions that he is caught out of position. There is room for improvement in how he manages angles and his depth of positioning but he presents an enticing package of size and technical ability that could someday translate to the NHL.

The Leafs clearly believe in that potential and not only did they trade up to select him, but they wasted little time in getting him signed to an entry level contract – a rare occurrence for someone just drafted in the fourth round. Already 20-years-old, Hildeby is a bit further along in his development which helps to mitigate the inherent risk that comes along with drafting any goaltender. He is expected to return to Färjestad on loan this coming season and a strong campaign could put him on the fast track to beginning his North American career.

Round Five, 135th overall – Nikita Grebenkin, W

With the pick acquired from trading down in the third round, the Leafs once again dipped into the re-entry pool and selected 19-year-old Russian winger Nikita Grebenkin out of Magnitogorsk. He got into just a single game at the KHL level in 2021-22 but was a big-time producer at the junior level.

Grebenkin is a versatile offensive threat who can generate offense for himself or his teammates in a number of different ways. He is a skilled playmaker with great vision who is constantly scanning the ice to identify his options in a timely fashion, he has great puck skills to beat defenders one on one, he can create and finish his own chances, and he has the size and strength to play an effective board game as well.

Grebenkin will have to clean up his skating stride and continue to improve his play on the defensive side of the puck but he should get an opportunity to do so in the KHL in 2022-23. He has had a strong preseason for Magnitogorsk so far and appears to be in line for a spot on the big club. It remains to be seen if Grebenkin’s offensive talents can translate against more difficult competition but he his raw skill was worthy of the swing the Leafs took on him in the fifth round.

Round Seven, 218th overall – Brandon Lisowsky, W

With their final pick of the 2022 draft, the Leafs landed a player in Brandon Lisowsky who many expected to go off the board much earlier. His average skating ability combined with his lack of size likely led to him sliding down the draft board but he showed in Saskatoon last season that he has legitimate goal scoring potential.

Lisowsky’s calling card is his ability as a shooter. He gets into scoring areas and can beat netminders cleanly from a wide variety of stances or hand positions, adding a layer of deception to an already heavy release. He can release the puck in stride off of either foot, will change the angle on his shot at the last second to fool goaltenders, and he has a big one-timer from his off wing. Lisowsky doesn’t have blazing speed but he does have a quick first step and good agility that allows him to make quick cuts into the middle of the ice where he doesn’t need much time to get a quality shot off. He is a bit straight-line oriented at this point in his development, however, and learning to better utilize his teammates could help to unlock even more goal scoring potential.

As is the case with any late-round pick, Lisowky is a project who will require time and proper development in order to maximize his potential. He will return to Saskatoon this season and look to build upon his impressive draft year as he works toward eventually earning an entry level contract.

The Offseason

The biggest moves for the Leafs this offseason came in goal where they replaced the outgoing Jack Campbell and Petr Mrázek with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. While Campbell had a stellar first half in 2021-22, his play fell off in a big way down the stretch and the Leafs didn’t feel comfortable committing the term and dollars it would have required to keep him in the fold. The Mrázek signing was an abject disaster and the Leafs did well to move off of his contract at the cost of just 13 spots in the draft.

The Leafs acquired Murray along with a third-round pick from Ottawa with the Senators retaining 25% of his remaining salary in exchange for future considerations and signed Samsonov as an unrestricted free agent after the Washington Capitals opted not to extend him a qualifying offer.

Murray and Samsonov don’t represent much more certainty in terms of the quality of play they will provide in the Leafs’ net but they both bring with them varying levels of pedigree, and perhaps more importantly, the organization isn’t locked into either player beyond 2023-24. The Leafs managed the best regular season in franchise history with goaltending that ranked well below-average when all was said and done so betting on a pair of guys who have the potential to give them more than that could pay off.

The Leafs will also look a little bit different up front, particularly in their bottom-six, following the departures of Ilya Mikheyev, Ondřej Kaše, Jason Spezza, and Colin Blackwell. Mikheyev, Kaše, and Blackwell all moved on in free agency while Spezza closed the book on an illustrious playing career to step into a front office role with the club. To mitigate against those losses, the Leafs brought in Calle Järnkrok on a four-year deal, as well as Nicolas Aubé-Kubel and Adam Gaudette on one-year pacts. They also reached an agreement with restricted free agent Pierre Engvall on a one-year extension that will keep him in the fold for the 2022-23 season and brought back restricted free agent Denis Malgin who will be looking to rekindle his NHL career.

On the back end, the Leafs moved on from midseason acquisition Ilya Lyubushkin who signed on with the Buffalo Sabres as an unrestricted free agent. They did, however, manage to re-sign veteran blueliner Mark Giordano to a two-year deal that carries an extremely team-friendly cap hit of just $800k, and they also locked up Timothy Liljgren on a two-year extension following a strong first full season in the NHL for their first-rounder from the 2017 draft. To help shore up the organizational depth, they also brought in veterans Jordie Benn and Victor Mete on one-year, league minimum contracts.

There is still more to come for the Leafs before the season gets rolling, with the biggest piece of outstanding business being restricted free agent defender Rasmus Sandin. Like many teams around the league, the club is right up against the salary cap and another move to clear out money appears imminent with Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl being the most likely candidates.

Incoming

Matt Murray (G), Ilya Samsonov (G), Calle Järnkrok (C/W), Nicolas Aubé-Kubel (W), Adam Gaudette (C/W), Jordie Benn (D), Victor Mete (D), Denis Malgin (C/W)

Outgoing

Jack Campbell (G), Petr Mrázek (G), Ilya Mikheyev (W), Ondřej Kaše (W), Jason Spezza (C/W), Ilya Lyubushkin (D), Colin Blackwell (C/W), Michael Hutchinson (G), Alex Biega (D), Kristiāns Rubīns (D), Brett Seney (W), Joseph Duszak (D), Chad Krys (D), Teemu Kivihalme (D),

Re-Signed

Mark Giordano (D), Pierre Engvall (W), Timothy Liljegren (D)

Unsigned RFA

Rasmus Sandin (D)

 

Check back next month as we dive into the organizational depth chart, identifying risers and fallers as well as projected roles for the 2022-23 season.

Thanks for reading and be sure to follow me on twitter @_NickRichard to stay up to date on Leafs prospects throughout the season.

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