The Toronto Maple Leafs only have four prospects playing in the USA, but there are still some intriguing players to keep your attention on.
Ever since using three of their seven selections on US-based prospects in the 2014 entry draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs have sparingly drafted American players in.
After drafting just three American players from 2015 to 2018, the Leafs jumped back in the pool this past summer in using two of their six picks on players out of the United States.
With the USHL and NCAA seasons now underway, here’s an update on everything going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects applying their trade in the USA.
Nick Abruzzese (Harvard, ECAC)
LW, 4th Round, 124th Overall in 2019
The top prospect the Maple Leafs have down south, Nick Abruzzese wasted no time in getting his account started in his NCAA career with a blistering five games so far for the Harvard Crimson.
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as a double overage forward out of the USHL, Abruzzese is an old freshman for Harvard. If he joined the NCAA in his first year of eligibility, Abruzzese would be in his junior season already. Instead, he took two more seasons to prepare himself in the USHL with the Chicago Steel, and it appears to be paying off already.
In the five games Harvard has played this season, Abruzzese has featured on the left-wing on the top line in each. Lining up with Jack Drury and Casey Dornbach, he’s been put in a prime position to be a top offensive contributor for the Crimson, and that’s exactly what he’s doing early this season.
Through five games, Abruzzese has two goals and eight points, just behind the team lead in scoring.
Harvard has been dominant in their five games against Dartmouth, Princeton, Quinnipiac, Brown, and Yale, scoring seven goals twice and shutting out Princeton. It’s a promising start for the Crimson, a team that will need Abruzzese’s offence to continue throughout the season if they are to be contenders come seasons end.
James Greenway (Maine, H-East)
LD, 3rd Round, 72nd Overall in 2016
After a one-season absence, there’s a fringe Toronto Maple Leafs prospect playing for the Maine Black Bears once again.
James Greenway has made his return back to NCAA hockey, appearing in all 12 of Maine’s games this season. Transferring from Wisconsin, Greenway spent his transfer season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, where he played top minutes as an overage player.
This season, Greenway should be getting similar treatment. He is already featuring on the top pairing alongside fellow junior Cameron Spicer on a fairly weak Maine defence, where Greenway is the only NHL drafted prospect.
Through 12 games, the six-foot-four blueliner has a respectable five points. Playing on a Maine team with minimal expectations, Greenway is in a great position to adjust back to the NCAA and find the game he lost over his two lacklustre seasons with Wisconsin.
Just three years ago, Greenway was an intriguing third-round selection out of the USNTDP. A big man who has decent skating and solid hands, Greenway was one of the monster defencemen drafted by Mark Hunter that had a shot at becoming an interesting piece at the NHL level, but it simply hasn’t materialized to this point.
With under two seasons to go before his rights expire, James Greenway needs a very good season with Maine to just get into the conversation in regards to an entry-level contract.
Mike Koster (Tri-City, USHL)
LD, 5th Round, 146th Overall in 2019
If James Greenway is on one side of a spectrum, Mike Koster is on the opposite end.
The diminutive, smooth-skating fifth-round selection has begun his first and only full season in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm after playing in the Minnesota high school ranks in his draft year.
It’s been a moderately slow start for Koster, where he has just four points in 10 games. The production is in line with his previous stints in the USHL, where he played 21 games in 2017-18 and 15 games at the end of last season.
Tri-City lost two of the top defencemen in the USHL to the NCAA in Ronnie Attard and Zachary Jones, which in theory would leave tons of minutes for the taking, but Koster has failed to jump in immediately and become a point-per-game blueliner.
Despite the slow start, Koster was still named to the USA’s World Junior A Challenge roster, which will compete in Dawson Creek, British Columbia beginning on December 7.
Ryan O’Connell (Ohio State, Big 10)
LD, 7th Round, 203rd Overall in 2017
The final Toronto Maple Leafs prospect playing south of the border is Ohio State Buckeye Ryan O’Connell.
After two disappointing seasons as a Leafs prospect, O’Connell has had a promising start to his sophomore season with the Buckeyes. O’Connell accumulated just two points in his freshman campaign with Ohio State and has already passed that mark with three assists in six games to this point of the year.
O’Connell was a sixth or seventh blueliner for the Buckeyes last season and has taken a step into the Ohio State rotation in a larger capacity this season, but is still receiving bottom pairing minutes with minimal special teams time.
Though O’Connell has had a hot start, he will need to continue it into a significant 2019-20 season to get back on the Leafs radar after two forgettable seasons since being drafted.
The Toronto Maple Leafs don’t have much in terms of prospects playing in the US circuit, but a player to keep a special eye on this season is Nick Abruzzese. The Leafs took a risk on him as a double overager, so a good freshman season with Harvard will go a long way to justifying the selection.
Next month be sure to check out Mike Koster at the WJAC, which will be one of the few opportunities to see these US-based Leafs prospects in action on TV.