Wednesday: The Maple Leafs have officially signed Duszak to a two-year entry-level contract, but notably the deal is termed a “future” contract likely meaning it doesn’t kick in until the 2019-20 season. That would afford the Maple Leafs another year under the inexpensive deal, but would prevent Duszak from suiting up for the NHL team this season. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports that Duszak will join the Toronto Marlies on a tryout contract for the rest of this season.
It’s not often that top college free agents agree to start their entry-level deals in the future, usually signing with the team that offers to burn that first season right away. The 21-year old apparently decided that the Maple Leafs were still the best option for his development, to the benefit of the team. He’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2021.
Tuesday: The Toronto Maple Leafs have had trouble finding long-term options for the right side of their defense, so they have taken a swing with a college free agent. College Hockey News’ Mike McMahon reports that the team has signed Mercyhurst University defenseman Joseph Duszak to an entry-level contract. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also indicated that the Leafs have been looking at Duszak for some time and now have their man. An official announcement with contract terms is expected soon.
Duszak, 21, just completed a stellar NCAA season by any metric. Not only did he lead all defenseman in scoring, but the talented blue liner finished third overall in scoring with 47 points in 37 games. He also led Mercyhurst across the board with goals, assists, and plus/minus. After three productive collegiate seasons, it was clear that there was little development left for Duszak at Mercyhurst. The standout junior has a veteran hockey sense and great vision and play-making ability. The Athletic’s prospect guru Scott Wheeler opined early this season that he “makes plays every time he’s on the ice” and encouraged an NHL team to sign him. The puck-moving defenseman clearly has some impressive skill on the offensive side, but plays a competent defensive game as well. His potential has caught the eye of several teams, writes McMahon, including Toronto’s division rival, the Boston Bruins.
The only concern for Duszak is how he will adjust to playing against much tougher competition. The Atlantic Hockey Conference is the NCAA’s weakest and Duszak has racked up his numbers while playing against underwhelming opposition. He’s also on the smaller side at 5’10”, 185 lbs. and that may become a bigger factor when he can’t simply skate circles around the other team. However, Duszak’s play also came on an equally weak Mercyhurst team and he has had to play in all situations for the Lakers. His production over the last few years is nothing to write off, but there is likely work to be done if he wants to replicate it in the pros. The Maple Leafs would love for Duszak to replace Sean Durzi, the small, right-handed possession defenseman they recently traded away to the Los Angeles Kings, but only time will tell if he can establish the same ceiling as the recent second-round pick.