Artur Akhtyamov is in Toronto, but that doesn’t mean a signing is imminent

You know it’s June because we’re scrambling to report on the sighting of a late-round goaltending prospect visiting Toronto with his agent.

Keep Calm and Be-Leaf… Toronto meet your goaltending prospect of the future Artur Akhtyamov! #WeAreGoldStar! pic.twitter.com/mxRXY87XCR
— Dan Milstein-Hockey (@HockeyAgent1) June 26, 2022

Now, this is wonderfully vague and noncommittal. This could be a player (who last time we checked) is under contract in the KHL next season just visiting the city of the team that holds his NHL rights. He could be laying down the groundwork for coming over to Toronto next season and wants to visit the Leafs facilities, meet with player development folks, and probably visit Canada’s Wonderland. It stands to reason that he’d be doing a lot of that with his agent, who is also likely acting as his interpreter a lot of time. (Also Dan Milstein looks like he’d be fun to spend a day with at an amusement park.)
There is of course the other option, the one that we all had our minds go to first, and that is the possibility of Akhtyamov signing. That’s tougher because of the whole KHL contract things, but to say the state of communication between the NHL and KHL is strained at the moment is an understatement. Here’s basically where they are at for honouring contracts:
“We will have only limited contractual information regarding players who are currently or last played in the KHL,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly wrote in the memo.
In order to sign a player from the KHL, the interested NHL team must inquire with Central Registry to inquire if the last information available from the KHL demonstrates that the player is on an expiring K …

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Author: Jon Steitzer / The Leafs Nation

Here’s why a Raptors-Pacers Malcolm Brogdon trade won’t happen

Here’s why a Raptors-Pacers Malcolm Brogdon trade won’t happen

The Toronto Raptors know that they need to establish themselves as contenders by bringing in one or two noteworthy names in the offseason. Given the needs this team has, making a big move for Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon sounds like a promising fit on paper. Brogdon, who will turn 30 during his seventh NBA […]
Here’s why a Raptors-Pacers Malcolm Brogdon trade won’t happen – Raptors Rapture – Raptors Rapture – A Toronto Raptors Fan Site – News, Blogs, Opinion and More

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Author: Mike Luciano / Raptors HQ

Maple Leafs vs. Lightning: Who has the advantage on the blueline?

We know the opponent, it’s time to start diving into the matchups. The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking on the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Today, we begin breaking down the individual matchups in the upcoming series, beginning on defence. In past seasons, the defence has been a major criticism of the Maple Leafs, but enter the 2022 edition of the postseason with a very deep group. With as many as eight legitimate NHL options if everyone is healthy, Toronto will have some tough decisions to make for Game 1 and beyond.
On the Lightning side, the defence will consist of the clear group of seven that they have used almost exclusively all season long. How those players line up, and who is on the outside looking in, remains to be seen. In the final week of the season, Tampa Bay experimented with different pairings from their usual lineup construction and even dressed seven defencemen, as did Toronto.
The 1st Pair
Both Tampa Bay and Toronto broke up their most-used defence pairings late in the season. Fo …

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Author: Kyle Cushman / The Leafs Nation

Jack Campbell’s improved play is a necessity not a luxury for the Leafs come playoff time

Goaltending in the playoffs is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.
When the Maple Leafs began their season, the plan was to have two healthy goalies in Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek for the playoffs. But, that unfortunately hasn’t been the case this year.
Each goaltender has battled significant injuries this season. Mrazek has endured multiple groin injuries and is sidelined for the foreseeable future while Campbell has his fair share of bumps and bruises too.
So, Toronto is entering the playoffs, likely against the Tampa Bay Lightning with Jack Campbell and Erik Kallgren as their two netminders.
You can look at that from a ton of different sides, really.
The first side is, well, if Campbell gets hurt, then Kallgren has to come into replace him. Looking at Kallgren’s numbers since joining the Maple Leafs back in March, he’s got an .886 save percentage over the span of 13 games. Realistically, you’d hope he’s not needed to come in for any games, especially after giving up eight goals to the team they’re likely going to face in the first round just the other night.
But like I said at the beginning of the article, you never know what you’re going to get. Goaltending is voodoo and any …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Gabriel Moreno impresses, Orelvis Martinez goes yard + other minor league standouts

You know them, you love them. Gabriel Moreno and Orelvis Martinez both had great nights at the plate.

Let’s go over how they did:
Gabriel Moreno:
Starting with the Jays #1 prospect, Gabriel Moreno made his season debut in the Buffalo Bisons’ win on Tuesday night.
In his first at bat, he flared the ball to shallow centre field. At one point, the 22-year-old catcher was down 0-2 in the count, but he battled back to 2-2 before the hit.

Gabriel Moreno’s first hit of the season.#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/hJgmyv11YT
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 12, 2022

In the defending half of the inning, Moreno made a nice sliding grab on a popup behind home plate, showing off his quick speed and athleticism.

Pretty nice catch here by Moreno.#NextLevel #BlueJays pic.twitter.com/umV3cOLO8q
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 12, 2022

In the same half of the inning, he threw out a runner, showing off his plus plus arm.

As I post this, he threw out his first runner of the season.
I don’t know why people run on him.#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/dLtvjwhiMa
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 12, 2022

The catcher then hit his second single of the game, driving in another run to make it 3-0.

Moreno is now 2-2, now with an RBI.#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/YGYdhwXKy5
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 12, 2022

In Moreno’s following three at bats, he flew out twice and grounded into a fielder’s choice.
Orelvis Martinez:
How could you ever forget about the #2 prospect, Orelvis Martinez. The 20-year-old went DEEP in his first at bat of the game, giving the New Hampshire Fisher Cats a 3-0 lead.

All the Moreno hype, but let’s not forget about Orelvis Martinez…. Who just hit his second Double A dinger.#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/L5z3RFjCl1
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 12, 2022

Of course, he followed that up with a single, showing his quick bat speed to get a ball on the other side of the plate.

Martinez single!!#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/7AYTc535uo
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 13, 2022

Not just that, but Martinez also rocketed a double down the third baseline, meaning he was just a triple away from the cycle.

Orelvis Martinez double.
Very fast off the bat.#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/wiZmkHe6tO
— Brennan Delaney (@Brennan_L_D) April 13, 2022

Elsewhere for top prospects:
Sebastian Espino ranks as my 13th best Blue Jays prospect. He went DEEP to put the game out of reach.

My #13 prospect, Sebastian Espino, just went yard for his first Double A homer!#BlueJays #NextLevel pic.twitter.com/rbHWg89efI
— Brennan Delaney (@Bre …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Breaking down five of the best goals from Matthews’ historic season with the Maple Leafs

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve left them.” -Andy Bernard, The Office
When Auston Matthews entered the 2021-22 season, many could feel that something special was about to happen. A full 82-game season ahead of him meant anything is possible, really.
I think there was always optimism that the 24-year-old would break the Maple Leafs’ goal record in a single-season, but you really can’t feel that energy until he’s close. As he approached the record, the hype around it became larger and larger. When Matthews finally did it, he blew by the record, scoring three goals in the next two periods (one in overtime vs. Dallas and two in the first period vs. Montreal).
He scores goals like it’s nobodies business.
That’s why I referenced the quote at the beginning of this article. We are witnessing history in the making and when that happens, some get caught up in it all (including myself) and don’t take in what’s really going on.
Make sure at some point throughout this historic season for both Matthews and the Maple Leafs to take a step back, look around, and just appreciate the greatness that we’re watching because this era will end as fast as it began.
Being mindful is what …

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

WATCH: Reviewing Justin Bieber and the Maple Leafs’ Next Gen jersey

As you may already know, the Maple Leafs teamed up with Justin Bieber to create their latest Next Gen jersey.
Earlier on Wednesday, I took a trip to Real Sports Apparel to pick up the jersey and see if the hype was really worth it. Spoiler: it is.
In today’s video, I review the Bieber/Maple Leafs collaboration, look at all the little things the jersey brings, and tell you whether or not you should buy it.
I hope you enjoy the video!

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Author: Nick Barden / The Leafs Nation

Pre-2022 Blue Jays Top Prospects Countdown – No. 8: Samad Taylor

Did you know that Samad Taylor was pulled over for speeding once?

That’s not unusual, except for the fact that the 23-year-old wasn’t in a car. The versatile player is that fast. Taylor broke out in the 2021 season, therefore, he ranks as my eighth best Blue Jays prospect.
Background:
During his breakout 2021 season, I wrote an article on Taylor; however, one may ask how did the Blue Jays acquire the 23-year-old?
Drafted by Cleveland in the 2016 draft, the Jays traded an expiring reliever, Joe Smith, for Taylor and another prospect named Travis Pannone. Pannone, a pitcher, spent parts of the 2018 and 2019 seasons on the Jays; however, Samad was the main prospect that the Jays wanted.
Prior to the 2021 season, Samad lacked power, as the utility player only had 23 home runs in a combined 1,277 plate appearances. In 2018, he had a slash line of .228/.319/.706 in 530 plate appearances with the Jays A level affiliate. This was the first time he had over 135 plate appearances at any level, not to mention this was the first time he played above Low A.
He earned a promotion to High A the next season, where his slash line decreased to .216/.325/.689. At this point, it’s fair to see why most Blue Jays prospect rankings didn’t include the young utility player. So how did he improve so much?
As you know, the global pandemic started in 2020 which eventually canceled the 2020 minor league season. This didn’t stop Samad from playing baseball, as he joined the Canberra Cavalry in the Australian Baseball League. …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Pre-2022 Blue Jays Top Prospects Countdown – No. 9: Manuel Beltre

You probably know the Blue Jays’ eleventh best prospect, Manuel Beltre.

The 17-year-old is incredibly friendly, a leader in the locker room, and hardworking. The Blue Jays have a very good, young prospect in one of the two Rookie Leagues. Fellow Jays Nation writer Doug Doucette wrote a phenomenal article about Beltre back in February if you’d like to check it out. 
Background:
The 17-year-old shortstop was signed in the 2021 International Free Agency (IFA) period for a bonus of $2,350,000. To some scouts, the teenager was considered the most experienced player available in the class  as he played for traveling ball teams in Florida. Beltre also has played intentionally for the Dominican Republic. With not a lot of information on his background, what did his 2021 stats look like.
Beltre in 2021:
As you know, while potential and tools factor into my valuation of a prospect, statistics and MLB readiness also matter quite a lot. So when you look at Beltre’s .225/.391/.737 slash line with two home runs, you may ask why he lands so high on my list. Well dear reader, there are quite a few factors that come into play. 
Subpar statistics for a college drafted player in his third season is worrisome, subpar statistics for a 17-year-old in his first professional season is much different. 2021 was the first season that Beltre played professionally, meaning that there is an adjustment period for the teenager.
Not just that, but once you take away his first 11 games of the season, his slash line jumps up to .25 …

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Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation

Pre-2022 Blue Jays Top Prospects Countdown – No. 11: Manuel Beltre

You probably know the Blue Jays’ eleventh best prospect, Manuel Beltre.

The 17-year-old is incredibly friendly, a leader in the locker room, and hardworking. The Blue Jays have a very good, young prospect in one of the two Rookie Leagues. Fellow Jays Nation writer Doug Doucette wrote a phenomenal article about Beltre back in February if you’d like to check it out. 
Background:
The 17-year-old shortstop was signed in the 2021 International Free Agency (IFA) period for a bonus of $2,350,000. To some scouts, the teenager was considered the most experienced player available in the class  as he played for traveling ball teams in Florida. Beltre also has played intentionally for the Dominican Republic. With not a lot of information on his background, what did his 2021 stats look like.
Beltre in 2021:
As you know, while potential and tools factor into my valuation of a prospect, statistics and MLB readiness also matter quite a lot. So when you look at Beltre’s .225/.391/.737 slash line with two home runs, you may ask why he lands so high on my list. Well dear reader, there are quite a few factors that come into play. 
Subpar statistics for a college drafted player in his third season is worrisome, subpar statistics for a 17-year-old in his first professional season is much different. 2021 was the first season that Beltre played professionally, meaning that there is an adjustment period for the teenager.
Not just that, but once you take away his first 11 games of the season, his slash line jumps up to .25 …

Read More

Author: Brennan Delaney / Blue Jays Nation