When Martins Dzierkals signed an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies this summer, many took it to be an admission that the youngster’s shot at the NHL was in danger. In reality, it was more contract savviness than anything; with a year remaining until the Leafs have to commit to an entry-level deal and their books nearly filled with 50 contracts, this was a way of getting Dzierkals to play against some better opponents without having to clear the way for him.

As such, this will be his first year of pro hockey, a season earlier than the Leafs were really forced to give it to him. Here’s what you need to know moving forward:

Age 20 (April 4, 1997) Birthplace Ogre, Latvia
Pos Right Wing (LH) Drafted 2015 (Rd 3, Pick 68)
Vitals 5’10, 172lbs Acquired Via Draft

Dzierkals was on a list of players considered to be “sleepers” in the 2015 draft, as Toronto drafted for point production and maximum upside while largely ignoring vintage hockey tropes like size and aggression. Certainly, while the young Latvian was a bit of a wildcard given where he had shown his ability to fill the net, he was certainly doing it, ripping apart his local leagues before getting the call to play in the MHL, where he scored at a near point-per-game pace as a 17-year-old.

Like I’ve mentioned in the bios for Vladislav Kara and Nikolai Chebykin, we don’t really know if the MHL is a success blueprint due to how new it is as a league. But it’s still the KHL’s junior feeder league, and he still looked great in it.

 AGE  SEASON TEAM LEAGUE GP G A TP NHLe PIM +/-
15  2012-13  SK Saga 18  Latvia U18 20 28 31 59 16
16  2013-14  SK Saga 18  Latvia U20 23 35 33 68 43
17  2014-15  HK Riga  MHL 32 10 18 28 12.9 49 3
18  2015-16  Rouyn-Noranda Huskies  QMJHL 59 24 43 67 23.3 42 23
19  2016-17  Rouyn-Noranda Huskies  QMJHL 47 21 28 49 21.4 44 26

The Leafs weren’t the only team to draft Dzierkals that summer, though; Rouyn-Noranda selected him with the 22nd overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, bringing him across the pond to play major junior for them. It was a wise decision, as he finished third in team scoring as they made their way to winning the QMJHL Championship and a runner-up performance at the Memorial Cup in 2016, in which Dzierkals underwent a bit of a cold streak.

This year was expected to be a big jump year for him as an individual but as the Huskies lost some talent, team production suffered, and Dzierkals’ point rates actually dropped. Part of that is due to an ankle injury that he suffered early in the season; while he took some time off to rest it, he did rush to make sure that he could play in the World Juniors in December.

Playing largely with Gabriel Fontaine and Mathieu Boucher, Dzierkals made a positive impact on goal differential and finished 3rd on the team in estimated points per 60 minutes at 5 on 5. Dzierkals also saw a decent powerplay workload and was used very sparingly on the penalty kill.

As referenced above, Dzierkals is also a staple in Latvia’s national program. Having played for them since his Age 15 season, he has already represented his country at the U17, U18, U20, and Men’s levels.

 

pGPSn pGPSs Exp. Success % Exp. P/82 Exp. Value
607 (2/31) 21 (12/31) 2.9% (29/31) 29.6 (18/31) 0.8 (29/31)

The above numbers are products of the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System (pGPS), created by Canucks Army to project a prospect’s odds of becoming an NHL regular. For a run-down on what each of these stats mean, head back to the introduction.

Small forwards who produce their share of pocket change in the QMJHL tend to get quick looks in the NHL, but as pGPS shows, they rarely come out with much-staying power. Most players of this type tend to peak as AHL call-up options, though those who do survive tend to hold their own. Because so few do, though, and because his production hasn’t quite been at gamebreaker standards, the metrics have him as a lower-rung prospect.

Dzierkals made himself plenty visible in this year’s rookie tournament weekend in Toronto, creating opportunities for himself and his teammates throughout. While he’s known as more of a skilled perimeter player, Dzierkals was more active than we’ve ever seen him along the boards and in front of the net. These usually aren’t safe spaces for skinny, 5’10 forwards, but adding the ability to battle for the puck to his game is going to be a necessity for him if he wants to have staying power in North America.

The Upcoming Year

This is going to be an interesting season for Dzierkals. I wouldn’t be shocked if he spends a fair bit of it with the Orlando Solar Bears, to get himself more accustomed to the professional game, more involved on the physical side of things, and to keep him from getting caught in the numbers game that is the Marlies’ winger logjam. I’d presume that he’ll get a call-up or two in the event of injuries, though, so you might get a chance to catch him at Ricoh along the way.

Long-Term Outlook

I’m really, really hoping that the grinder side to his game continues to grow. He might have enough talent to stick around at the NHL level, but it’s not enough to separate himself from the pack. To set himself apart, he’ll have to show that he can hold his own on a lower line as well; think similar to Nikita Soshnikov when he plays fourth line minutes for the Leafs. If he can do that, he might not necessarily get his shot with Toronto, but he’ll get one somewhere.

To see the other profiles in this year’s series, please reference the full list.

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