Sep 01, 2023

Top prospects for Toronto Maple Leafs is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 32 teams from Aug. 1-Sept. 1. Today, the top five prospects for the Toronto Maple Leafs, according to

Maple Leafs 32 in 32: Season preview | 3 Questions | Fantasy projections

How acquired: Selected with No. 57 pick in 2021 NHL Draft

2022-23 season: Toronto (NHL): 3 GP, 0-1-1; University of Minnesota (NCAA): 40 GP, 21-21-42

In his brief body of work at the NHL level, the 20-year-old has shown the combination of size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and speed that could see him vie for a spot on the Maple Leafs' top two lines alongside either Auston Matthews or John Tavares.

After signing with Toronto after his college season ended, he played three NHL games. But it was during the Stanley Cup Playoffs where he exhibited a glimpse of his potential, creating havoc at times offensively while not backing down from the physical play.

"He's shown he's a guy who can play and be a difference maker," coach Sheldon Keefe said.

As far as mentorship goes, Knies couldn't ask for better: He has spent the summer training in Arizona with Matthews and will spend the season living with Tavares and his family, something he did after joining Toronto late last season.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: FLA@TOR, Gm1: Knies scores his 1st career goal

How acquired: Selected with No. 62 pick in 2016 NHL Draft

2022-23 season: Toronto (NHL): 7 GP, 6-1-0, 2.16 GAA, .932 save percentage; Toronto (AHL), 21 GP, 16-4-1, 2.37 GAA, .941 save percentage.

The Maple Leafs have been patient during the process of the 25-year-old's development. Now it finally appears to be paying off.

All signs point to Woll (6-3, 203) starting the regular season as the backup and, potentially, battling Ilya Samsonov for the starting job. Veteran Martin Jones was brought in for depth, but that should not affect Woll's opportunity heading into training camp, especially with the steps he took last season.

First, he set a Toronto American Hockey League mark by winning 11 consecutive games midway through the season. After Samsonov was injured in the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Florida Panthers, Woll played the final two games of the series, going 1-1 and stopping 64 of 68 shots.

"Joe Woll is a guy we're really excited about," Keefe said. "He has been tremendous."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

Video: TOR@SJS: Woll denies Couture of certain goal

How acquired: Selected with No. 53 pick in 2019 NHL Draft

Last season: Toronto (NHL): 15 GP, 2-3-5; Toronto (AHL): 2 GP, 1-1-2

The 21-year-old still is full of potential with an offensive arsenal highlighted by a lethal shot, but his inability to stay healthy is a concern. A variety of injuries has limited Robertson (5-9, 183) to 31 NHL games (seven points; three goals, four assists) since he was drafted four years ago.

The latest setback was season-ending shoulder surgery in January that sidelined him for six months after being injured by a hit from Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Roy in a 5-0 win Dec. 8.

Despite such adversity, the Maple Leafs are hopeful Robertson can get back up to speed quickly.

"We saw what type of training camp he had this year, he came in and gave us some good minutes at the NHL level," Keefe said. "So he's been in this situation before. You can never question his work ethic and commitment."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

How acquired: Selected with No. 64th pick in 2020 NHL Draft

2022-23 season: Karpat (Liiga): 58 GP, 8-10-18; Toronto (AHL): 6 GP, 1-1-2

The 21-year-old (5-11, 156) could use some beefing up, but he showed in his brief AHL stint at the end of last season he's a solid two-way player who is willing to take and deliver hits.

The organization hopes his arrival in North America after honing his skills in Finland will take his development to the next stage, on the ice and off. Niemela said he needs to get stronger, and the Maple Leafs' development staff is poised to help him do that. Meanwhile, he'll get a prime opportunity to quarterback the AHL power play with the chance to prove his offensive skills are better than his recent numbers indicate.

"The next step (will be) physical conditioning and strength, to be able to win retrievals on pucks and handle the contact and physical play that comes with the American Hockey League level," said Hayley Wickenheiser, Maple Leafs assistant GM, player development.

Projected NHL arrival: 2025-26

How acquired: Selected with No. 59 pick in 2020 NHL Draft

2022-23 season: HIFK (Liiga): 57 GP, 15-13-28

There are plenty of similarities between Hirvonen and Niemela. They were selected five spots from each other in the 2020 NHL Draft; each is a Finland-born player who honed his skills in Liiga, the country's top professional league; and each needs to get stronger to handle the physicality of the North American game, complete with the smaller ice surfaces.

Having said that, they potentially could become be the future backbone of the Maple Leafs defense two or three years down the road. Maybe they'll end up being partners too; Hirvonen being a left shot, Niemela a right shot.

"He's a competitor, he's got a good head on him, and sees the ice very well," Wickenheiser said of Hirvonen.

Projected NHL arrival: 2025-26