— Penn State Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) March 21, 2015
Toronto Welcomes Two New Prospects to the Organization
After moving out a number of contracts before and at the March 2nd trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs used their roster flexibility to add two new prospects to the pipeline over the weekend.
On Friday, the Leafs announced the signing of 21-year old Nikita Soshnikov, an offensively-gifted winger out of Atlant Mytishchi of the KHL. The following day, Toronto made another splash in signing 23-year old centre, and prized college free agent Casey Bailey of Penn State.
Soshnikov signed a standard three-year entry level contract and will report to Toronto, either to the Leafs or Marlies, at the beginning of next season. Bailey, due to his age, signed a two-year contract. Though, since Bailey will report immediately to the Leafs and see some action before the season ends, he will burn the first year of his contract and become a restricted free agent at the end of next season.
There’s a chance, albeit not excellent, that both of these players could play significant minutes for the Toronto as early as next season – the lure of a rebuilding franchise and tremendous opportunity certainly played a large role in landing both Soshnikov and Bailey.
That being said, let’s pump the brakes a bit before we start talking about their on-ice impact. The Leafs, and specifically Mark Hunter, did an excellent job to add two young pieces to the organization, but they do not arrive in Toronto as must-see prospects.
William Nylander still headlines the Leafs prospect pool – he’s miles ahead of the rest of the group in terms of talent and potential. Next, there’s Andreas Johnson and Connor Brown; two late round boom-or-bust prospects that have been doing a whole lot of booming and not a lot of busting lately. It’s somewhere after those top three guys that Soshnikov and Bailey will fall, amongst the Greg McKegg’s and Josh Leivo’s of the organization – guys who certainly have a chance at being everyday NHLers, but still have a ways to go.
But hey, that’s not to get down on the kids. Again, there’s so little risk in picking up young free agents like this and taking a chance on their apparent talent. It’s exactly the kind of thing the Maple Leafs organization needs to be doing right now.
Gauthier, Rimouski Finish Atop the QMJHL
Frederik Gauthier closed out the season strong with two goals and an assist in three games, helping his Rimouski Oceanic finish first the the QMJHL with a 47-16-5 record. On the year, Gauthier contributed with 16 goals and 32 points in 37 games, having spent a good deal of time either injured or representing Canada at the World Juniors.
Rimouski will take on the Victoriaville Tigers in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs, starting Friday evening. Victoriaville, the 16th seed, finished the season with a 27-34-7 losing record, so I can’t imagine the series will last very long.
Verhaeghe Closes Out Regular Season on a High Note
It’s been a well-documented rough year of the Niagara IceDog’s Carter Verhaeghe. After blowing up in his first post-draft OHL season, the 19-year old centre looked sluggish out of the gate. Without his primary running mate in Brendan Perlini (sidelined with a hand injury), Verhaeghe scored only 19 points in his first 25 games – a scoring clip much lower than his average output.
But, as the team around him improved, so did Verhaeghe. Perlini would return and the IceDogs would acquire Josh Ho-Sang by trade, and Verhaeghe would start scoring like his usual self. Verhaeghe would be held pointless only once in his final 12 games and scored seven goals and 18 points during that span. On the season, Verhaeghe would match last season’s point total with 82 points in 68 games. You always hope that a prospect improves on his numbers year after year, but 82 points is a pretty decent outcome considering the slow start.
Niagara will face off against the Ottawa 67’s in the first round of the OHL playoffs starting Thursday.
Multiple Leafs Prospects Heading to the NCAA Tournament
Three Leafs prospects will be heading to the 2015 NCAA Tournament this year on behalf of University of Minnesota Duluth and Boston University. Unfortunately, they’re on a collision course if they make it out of the first round.
Tony Cameranesi and Dominic Toninato will represent UMD, facing off against cross-campus rival Minnesota in the first round on Friday. Cameranesi lead the Bulldogs with 28 points in 38 games this year, though Toninato certainly gave his teammate a run for his money with 25 points in 32 games. Both played big roles for UMD season, with the sophomore Toninato most often lining up at centre on the top line while Cameranesi, a junior, anchored the second line.
For Boston University, the Leafs will be represented by 2014 draft pick J.J. Piccinich. The freshman played only a minor role with the high-scoring Terriers, managing only three points in 24 games.