Toronto Maple Leafs: Are College Players Really the Answer?

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 16: Nick Abruzzese #16 of Team United States (Toronto Maple Leafs) skates with the puck during the Men’s Ice Hockey Quarterfinal match between Team United States and Team Slovakia on Day 12 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Indoor Stadium on February 16, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 16: Nick Abruzzese #16 of Team United States (Toronto Maple Leafs) skates with the puck during the Men’s Ice Hockey Quarterfinal match between Team United States and Team Slovakia on Day 12 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Indoor Stadium on February 16, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) /
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The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t shied away from floating their college prospects as potential signings heading towards the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Of course, this is by no means a new approach, albeit one that the Toronto Maple Leafs themselves haven’t employed in recent memory.

Most recently of course, the Montreal Canadiens with Cole Caulfield, Colorado Avalanche with Cale Makar and Boston Bruins with Ryan Donato have all headed from college to the NHL in the latter part of the season.

While that list may suggest it’s only the high-end talents, it’s clear that some players have it within their abilities to jump from the NCAA to the NHL and succeed.

Who are the Toronto Maple Leafs really talking about here?

The key Toronto Maple Leafs prospects currently playing in the NCAA are Nick Abruzzese and Matthew Knies.

Knies, as of March 25th, is still active in the NCAA playoffs while Abruzzese saw his Harvard team knocked out by Minnesota State on March 24th, thus making him available to sign a Toronto Maple Leafs contract.

The Maple Leafs have also been making some personnel moves that align with the idea they’re trying to make room to add new contracts. Dealing Brennan Menell to Philadelphia post-deadline certainly links into that.

When you look at the two players and what difference they might make to the Leafs line-up, it’s really hard to see a role beyond injury depth or part of a revamped fourth line group. Even then, Matthew Knies is the stand-out option as opposed to Nick Abruzzese.

Where the two players find their names connected is the fact they were both on the same line for the United States Olympic team this February in Beijing.

A deeper dive though suggests Abruzzese may eventually have a place on the team; he’s a smaller guy that is seen equally as both a playmaker or goal scorer that also has a decent amount of speed.

This profile obviously doesn’t necessarily speak to being ready to step straight into the rough-and-ready style that typifies the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Knies plays a different kind of game, with a stronger focus on the forecheck. To look at him, he matches the type of power forward style you might expect to fit immediately in the playoffs.

The biggest challenge lies in where these players might actually fit onto the Toronto Maple Leafs roster. It’s not like this is a roster short on depth.

Certainly, you could slot either onto the fourth line, but then you’re talking about sitting veterans like Jason Spezza or Wayne Simmonds.

Beyond that, it seems very unlikely that you would bring a fresh young player into the system directly from college and push them into a top-six role unless they are truly elite.

While both players certainly look to be decent, neither is quite screaming elite enough to realistically push Alex Kerfoot off the second line.

In answering the initial question, college kids aren’t necessarily the answer for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the upcoming playoffs. However, they could add some very interesting depth to a roster that already has strong options available to it.

If nothing else, both will grow from interacting on a day-to-day basis with a roster of NHL players. The challenge lies in the fact that their ongoing development will be fully on the Leafs the moment a contract is inked.

Next. Kyle Dubas Has Earned an Extension. dark

Are the Toronto Maple Leafs ready to end the college career of a player like Matthew Knies after just one year?