Another cruel twist of fate for Nick Robertson has opened the window of opportunity for other forwards in the organization. With Robertson on the shelf for the next couple of months as he recovers from a shoulder injury, and with Calle Järnkrok still out of action with a groin injury, it is Joey Anderson who is getting the first chance to carve out a place for himself in the Leafs’ lineup.
Anderson has toiled with the Marlies for the last couple of years after being acquired from New Jersey in the trade that saw the Leafs dump Andreas Johnsson’s salary but has struggled to make an impact in limited NHL appearances. Last season, he led the Marlies with 26 goals in 56 games and finished fourth in team scoring with 42 points. So far this season, he has once again been a top triggerman for the Marlies, currently sitting in second place on the team with 11 goals in 21 games.
A quality finisher at the AHL level, Anderson will likely have to find other ways to impress the coaching staff at the NHL level, but he got off to a good start in that regard in his first appearance with the Leafs this season against the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. Skating on a line with Alex Kerfoot and David Kämpf for most of the game, Anderson led the Leafs with a 94.74 xGF% and drew a pair of penalties, including one late in the third period off of a great net drive.
Joey Anderson drives the net and draws the call pic.twitter.com/pYwQzKUcrb
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) December 11, 2022
Anderson’s shot and skill in tight around the net should translate to the NHL, but he isn’t likely to see as many scoring opportunities or offensive situations as he has in the AHL. Instead, it will be his intelligence and tenacity that will help him be an effective bottom-six player for the Leafs. He isn’t the most fleet of foot but, theoretically speaking, should continue to fit nicely with a couple of strong transition players like Kerfoot and Kämpf.
It has been a bit of a longer road for Anderson, now 24, but it appears the organization has recognized his hard work and potential value to the big club, and they are ready to give him a chance to run with the opportunity in front of him.
Keefe on Joey Anderson: “It’s time for us to give him a little runway to see what he can do”
— Mike Stephens (@mikeystephens81) December 11, 2022
Alex Steeves | W | Toronto (AHL)
If Anderson is unable to grab hold of the job or if another injury occurs in the Leafs’ forward group, Alex Steeves should be near the front of the line as the next forward call-up. Steeves had an impressive first year of pro hockey in 2021-22, tallying 23 goals and 23 assists in 58 games with the Marlies, and has picked up where he left off.
Steeves scored a pair of goals and added an assist in Friday’s 5-2 victory over Syracuse and followed that up with another assist in Saturday’s shootout loss to Rochester. For the season, he is clipping along at a point-per-game pace with nine goals and 15 assists in 24 games thus far.
— Nick Barden (@nickbarden) December 10, 2022
Steeves is similar to Anderson in a lot of ways but is more capable of creating his own looks, at least at the AHL level, and is more of a threat to score from the outside with his wicked release and heavy one-timer. Steeves is also a bit more mobile, due in large part to improvements he made over the offseason, which gives him a bit of an edge in puck pursuit and forechecking ability.
One of the biggest differences between the two is their age and level of experience. Anderson turned 24 just before the season began and is now in his fifth season of professional hockey, whereas Steeves turned 23 this past weekend and is about a third of the way through his second professional campaign. Both players have earned the right to fight for a bottom-six job with the Leafs, given the current injury situation, and Steeves shouldn’t have to wait long for his opportunity if he continues playing the way he has.
Artur Akhtyamov | G | Neftyanik Almetievsk (VHL)
Aktyamov has been the best goaltender in the VHL this season, and he continued his stellar campaign this past week. He was beaten three times in the shootout during Friday’s loss but stopped 37 of the 38 shots he faced in regulation and overtime and followed that performance with a 36-save shutout – his fourth of the season – on Sunday.
#LeafsForever prospect Artur Akhtyamov with a 36 save shutout today. He's up to a .946 sv% with 4 shutouts in 23 games, tied for first in the league. In his last 9 games, his worst game was a .927 sv% — he is the platonic ideal of "dialed in" right now. pic.twitter.com/bmFrtBEeFe
— More like Nikita GREATbyonkin (@brigstew86) December 11, 2022
Akhtyamov has surrendered more than one goal just once in his last nine appearances and now has 1.60 GAA to go along with a league-leading .946 SV% through 24 games. He has done everything and more to earn a look at the KHL level, but Ak Bars’ goaltending has been solid enough to hold him off to this point.
It will be interesting to monitor Akhtyamov’s situation as the season continues to unfold. Ak Bars have struggled at times this season, and they are currently holding the second-last playoff spot in their conference. If the losses start to mount and their hold on a playoff spot begins to loosen, they could turn to Akhtyamov with the hope that his spectacular play in the VHL will carry over to the KHL. Akhtyamov has also expressed interest in crossing the pond, and his contract with Ak Bars expires at the end of this season, so they could also use KHL playing time as a negotiating tool if they are looking to keep him in their organization a bit longer.
However it plays out, Akhtyamov has checked off all the boxes at the VHL level this season, and he is looking more and more like a viable NHL prospect.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:
- Matt Knies had a solid weekend as Minnesota’s top line of Knies, Logan Cooley, and Jimmy Snuggerud has gotten progressively more dominant. The line combined for seven points in Friday’s 7-1 drubbing of the Wisconsin Badgers, with Knies assisting on both of Cooley’s goals in the contest. The trio would hook up one more time in the second period of Saturday’s 6-4 win, with Knies and Snuggerud setting up Cooley’s 10th of the season. Knies is now up to 11 goals and 11 assists in 20 games while being a driving force for the top line of one of the top-ranked teams in the NCAA.
Gorgeous goal by Coyotes prospect Logan Cooley set up by Leafs prospect Matt Knies pic.twitter.com/4oGxlSVRNP
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) December 10, 2022
- Fraser Minten picked up a pair of goals in four games with Kamloops this past week, and his powerplay tally on Saturday sparked the teddy bear toss from his home crowd. Minten now has 11 goals and 13 assists in 20 games so far this season but won’t be joining teammates Logan Stankoven and Caden Bankier at Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp. He won’t turn 19 until next summer so a strong season in 2022-23 could put him in the running for next year’s squad.
Fraser Minten scores the Teddy Bear goal only 10 minutes in 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/5w9xKAVHr9
— Kamloops Blazers (@blazerhockey) December 11, 2022
- Roni Hirvonen bumped a seven-game goalless drought on Friday, scoring his sixth of the season in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Jukurit. He has been playing bigger minutes as of late and has generated chances, but he and his linemates have failed to capitalize more often than not. Hirvonen is still a quality NHL prospect, and his tenacious style of play makes him more than a pure offensive player but it is a bit concerning that his production has taken a step back this season.
— Helsingin IFK (@HIFKHockey) December 9, 2022
- Nick Moldenhauer returned to Chicago’s lineup on Friday after missing three weeks with an injury. He picked up an assist in each of Chicago’s two victories over the weekend, bringing his season totals to 11 goals and 12 assists in 18 games. Moldenhauer has had more than his fair share of injury troubles and health scares so hopefully, this latest ailment was just a small bump in the road, and he can get back to the pace that saw him leading the USHL in scoring through the early part of the season.
- Ho-hum weekend for Ty Voit with three assists in three games. He now has nine goals to go along with 42 assists in just 30 games, and his 51 points are nine more than the OHL’s second-leading scorer. Despite dominating the OHL this season, Voit was not named to Team USA’s preliminary roster for the World Juniors. It’s hard to imagine what else Voit could have done to at least earn an invitation to camp, but he is far from the first American playing in the CHL to find himself on the outside looking in when it comes time for international competition.
- Nikita Grebyonkin continues to impress in his first run with substantial playing time in the KHL and scored the overtime winner as Amur defeated Admiral 3-2 on Wednesday. He now has nine points in 26 games and is tied for the KHL scoring lead among 2022 draftees, but leads the way in points per game.
— Nick Richard (@_NickRichard) December 7, 2022
- Dennis Hildeby has erased his shaky start to the season. He registered a 23-save shutout on Thursday, raising his save percentage to .931 through seven SHL appearances. Matt Tomkins has still started twice as many games as Hildeby so far this season, despite inferior numbers. All Hildeby can do is take advantage of the opportunities he is given, and he has been doing just that as of late.
#LeafsForever prospect Dennis Hildeby with a 23 save shutout yesterday, his first of the season. He has raised his save percentage to .927 in 8 SHL games, which is 3rd best among all goalies in the league. pic.twitter.com/Ok7fVT1cfF
— More like Nikita GREATbyonkin (@brigstew86) December 9, 2022
- Keith Petruzzelli also had a strong start in the Marlies’ 5-2 win over Syracuse on Friday, stopping 34 of the 36 shots he faced. It was a strong bounce-back performance for Petruzzelli after a string of rough outings. He now has a .901 SV% in 12 games with the Marlies this season.
- It wasn’t as strong a week for Vyacheslav Peksa, despite starting the week with a 27-save effort in a 1-0 loss on Monday. He was then pulled after allowing two goals on five shots in Wednesday’s contest and surrendered four goals on 25 shots in Friday’s overtime loss. Even after a couple of poor showings, Peksa’s season-long save percentage of .922 is still quite respectable.
- Veeti Miettinen had a big game for St. Cloud State on Friday, notching a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win over Miami of Ohio. That performance brought him to nine points in his last four games before he was held off the scoresheet on Saturday. Miettinen now has five goals and 14 assists in 18 games this season.
- The Saskatoon Blades demolished Prince Albert by a score of 9-0 on Saturday, and Brandon Lisowsky played a big role in the lopsided affair. He registered his first hat trick of the season and added an assist, bringing him to 14 goals and 15 assists through 26 games so far in 2022-23.
Lisowsky wastes NO time for his 12th of the season😤 pic.twitter.com/3bCFQuJjW0
— Saskatoon Blades (@BladesHockey) December 11, 2022
- 2019 fifth-rounder Mikey Koster found his way onto the scoresheet in Minnesota’s high-scoring weekend tilt with Wisconsin as well. He tallied three assists in the two games and now has seven assists in his last 10 games.
- Defenseman John Fusco scored a goal and an assist in Dartmouth’s 3-2 loss to UMass-Lowell on Friday. The 2020 seventh-round pick is a longshot prospect but he has been productive at the college level this season with two goals and four assists in 12 games.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com & Evolving-Hockey.com)