Mark Hunter knew the Toronto Maple Leafs had a sleeper pick in Dmytro Timashov. Now the world knows it.
Timashov, who had two goals and five assists for Sweden's fourth-place team at the world junior hockey championship, was one of five Maple Leafs prospects who played at the tournament in Finland. He had been picked by Hunter – Toronto's director of player personnel – as a breakout player ahead of the event.
"I think people have noticed how good he is," Hunter said Tuesday on a conference call. "I don't think he was getting recognition. Now I think people see he's a good prospect for the Leafs. The sky is the limit. He's got more room to grow as a player. He sure showed his ability and talent in this tournament."
Timashov was selected by Toronto in the fifth round (125th overall) of last year's draft. He has 53 points (18-35) in 29 games for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season.
"He's a superb passer," Hunter said. "He made some elite passes in that tournament where you go, 'Wow, that is pretty special.' And I think he did that consistently, where sometimes [with] young players, consistency is a problem. Consistently, he was one of the better players for Sweden in this tournament."
Hunter also provided an update on the status of Sweden's William Nylander, who was knocked out of the tournament with a suspected concussion in the first game of the preliminary round.
"He's coming home to see our doctor and we can give a proper update on what's going on," said Hunter. "[Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello] is handling that."
Nylander scored on his first shot in Sweden's 8-3 rout of Switzerland on Dec. 26 before taking a hit to the upper body from Swiss forward Chris Egli later in the game. Nylander was leading the American Hockey League with 34 points (14-20) for the Toronto Marlies when he left for Helsinki.
Canada carried two Toronto prospects in forward Mitch Marner and defenceman Travis Dermott. Both, like the Canadian team, had underwhelming performances, though Marner led Canadian scorers with four goals and two assists. Dermott had two assists with a minus-2 rating.
"Travis has got to make sure he keeps his pace going and keep improving and make sure he's doing things faster," Hunter said. "Every amateur player coming out of junior hockey, you have to make sure your pace is there. It's so fast in the NHL and in the American league. I think Travis and all young players have to work at [it].
"We all see Mitch. We all know he needs strength. I said that before the tournament and I said that after the tournament. He's got to address getting stronger. He's a driven young man and he will."
The Maple Leafs have not had multiple prospects on Canada's junior team since 2003, when they had five.
Arguably the most successful Toronto prospect at the tournament has been Kasperi Kapanen, who had a goal and three assists to help Finland reach the championship game against Russia. He added the overtime winner to give the host team a 4-3 win and the gold medal.
"[Kapanen] playing against more players has advanced his play to be ready for this tournament," Hunter said before the final. "I think he's showing that. in the semi-final he got two assists. He was part of that team winning."
In terms of individual performances, two prospects stood out to Hunter: Timashov and Marner, who had two power-play goals in the third period of Canada's wild 6-5 quarter-final loss to Finland.
"Timashov was real good for Team Sweden," Hunter said. "When Mitch finally got his game to that level to be a star player, in that third period against Finland, I think he showed a lot of people how good he can be when he gets rolling."