After the initial report yesterday on twitter from Elliott Friedman it has officially been confirmed by the Toronto Maple Leafs PR team today that they have inked Joseph Duszak.
The 2-year entry level contact won’t officially kick in until the start of the 2019-2020 NHL season, but Duszak will join the Maple Leafs affiliate, Toronto Marlies on an ATO (Amateur try-out) for the remainder of the 2018-2019 season. This is a great deal for the Maple Leafs. They will get to take a good look at Duszak, get him use to the systems and evaluate what they have talent wise on the pro level before his deal kicks in.
Duszak was born in Franklin Square, NY, USA on July 22nd, 1997 making him 22-years old once his 2-year contract kicks in. He is an under sized (5’10-185 lbs) right shot defensemen who played in the NCAA for Mercyhurst Univ. over the past three seasons.
In 101 career NCAA games, Duszak has 30 goals (16 this season) and 69 assists (31 this season) for 99 points (47 this season). Pretty exceptional numbers for a defensemen on a below average team (13-20-5) overall in the Atlantic Hockey Association conference which is typically known to be a weaker conference.
To make a broad comparison. The Colorado Avalanche selected Cale Makar 4th overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and like Duszak, Makar is a smaller sized right shot defensemen with similar NCAA production this season, albeit Duszak is a year older and his third NCAA season while Makar is in his second.
Makar through 34 games with UMass (Amherst) in the Hockey East Association conference registered 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points in 34 contests. Duszak in 37 games picked up 16 goals and 31 assists for 47 points on a much weaker team, outscoring his next teammate by 10 points.
Joseph Duszak is best known as a productive offensive defensemen. The first thing that grabs your attention is his stick skills and hockey IQ. He simply as Mike Babcock puts it, “can make plays”. Duszak has the ability to make plays at a high pace which is encouraging as he makes the transition to pro hockey. Duszak may never be an elite matchup or shutdown type defender that Leaf fans have been crying for over recent years but like other notable rearguard prospects: Timothy Liljegren, Mac Hollowell, Jesper Lingren and Rasmus Sandin, Duszak can transport the puck, close gaps defensively using his speed and make plays with pace. This type of defensemen seems to be the trend in the Maple Leafs organization.
The bonus with Duszak is you’re not drafting an 18-year old defensemen and asking him to develop in Europe or Canadian junior hockey. You already have a player who has grown through the early stages of development in the NCAA, now it become evaluation if this kid can play professionally. Mercyhurst Univ. head coach, Rick Gotkin believes that Duszak has the ability to make plays in all three zones, especially the offensive zone. His weaknesses are on the penalty kill (a role he’s had to play in NCAA but might avoid initially while transitioning to pro) and net front battles. Duszak will need to get stronger in order to have success in the Maple Leafs organization. I suspect that he will play at least the 2019-2020 season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies before even getting a sniff in the NHL. 1-2 growth years are definitely needed but the type of skill set that Duszak possesses doesn’t come around everyday.
In my opinion this is a great low risk- high reward type signing for the Maple Leafs. Toronto has truly become an attractive organization for young players to chose. With the recent success of the Toronto Marlies, the development seen with young players over recent seasons and the coaching staff throughout the organization the Maple Leafs are finally drawing interest from amateur level free agents. I believe that the signing of Joseph Duszak not only addresses the lack of depth on the right side within the organization but it potentially gives the Maple Leafs a player who can develop into a top-4 NHL defensemen.