Cowan claims Knights record, Niemelä’s nasty side, goaltenders shining: Leafs Prospect Roundup

Photo credit:twitter.com/londonknights
Nick Richard
1 month ago
It has been a remarkable season for Leafs 2023 first-rounder Easton Cowan, and now it is one that will go down in the London Knights’ history books.
Cowan extended his point streak to 26 games by burying a perfect feed from Ruslan Gazizov in the second period of Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over Ottawa, breaking the previous franchise record of 25 games held by Sergei Kostitsyn, but the streak nearly came to an end the night prior.
Sitting on 24 straight games with a point, Cowan was held off the scoresheet through the first two periods against Kingston on Friday. After a couple of close calls, a strong forecheck forced a turnover that landed on Gazizov’s stick with less than 10 minutes remaining in the third, and he was laser-focused on getting the puck to Cowan to continue the streak. Cowan backed off to the side of the net, and Gazizov put the puck on a pillow for him to one-time it home and tie Kostitsyn’s record.
While he inched his way to the new franchise record with a goal in each of the last two games, it has been an eye-popping 26 games for Cowan. Over that stretch, he has piled up 20 goals and 29 assists – a pace that has propelled him to the top of the OHL leaderboard with a mark of 1.75 points per game on the season. If he hadn’t missed so much time hanging around late into Leafs training camp and then suiting up for Canada at the World Juniors, Cowan would be chasing an OHL scoring title to go along with his new franchise record point streak.
With the Leafs hunting for immediate upgrades to their roster ahead of the March 8th trade deadline, Cowan is sure to be the first name brought up by opposing teams in negotiations, but it seems unlikely that there will be anything on the table that would justify the Leafs moving their most prized prospect.
Examining the Leafs’ prospect capital ahead of the trade deadline
In just a few short months, Cowan has gone from being considered by many as a reach in the first round to being practically untouchable, even for a team that is fully in win-now mode. Sure, he has built up considerable value as a trade chip that could help improve the Leafs in the short term, but Cowan is also starting to look like a player who can help keep Toronto’s window of contention open for years to come.

Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:

  • Topi Niemelä has put together an impressive rookie season for the Marlies, playing big minutes and driving offence from the back end. With an assist in Saturday’s 5-1 win over Laval, he is now up to six goals and 22 assists in 47 games – the fifth most points among U22 AHL defenders. Niemelä’s intelligence and ability to read the game at both ends of the ice have been evident, but the biggest thing for him has been the adjustment to the strength and physicality of the opposing players in the AHL. Standing at 6’0″ and weighing just 179 pounds, there is still room for Niemelä to grow into his frame, but he has always had a bit of an edge to his game, and it was on display in a couple of chippy affairs against the Rocket this weekend. There were net-front scrums, an incident where Niemelä took exception to a shot after the whistle, and this nice open-ice hit:
  • After Joe Woll earned an impressive victory over Laval to kick off his conditioning assignment with the Marlies on Friday, Dennis Hildeby was back between the pipes for Saturday’s rematch. Hildeby picked up where Woll left off, stopping 22 of the 23 shots he faced on his way to a 5-1 win. After a brief rough patch following his first stint with the Leafs, Hildeby has been rock solid for the Marlies in his last seven appearances, owning a .929 SV% over that span.
  • The VHL playoffs got underway this past week, and Artur Akhtyamov continued his stellar play after another impressive regular season. Matching up against Dynamo St. Petersburg, Akhtyamov stopped 53 of the 57 shots he faced in a thrilling double-overtime win in game one and followed that up with a 31-save performance in a 7-1 blowout win for Neftyanik in game two. Akhtyamov was spectacular in the postseason a year ago, posting a .952 SV% through six games, and he is well on his way to another impressive run with a .944 SV% through the first two games of the opening round this year.
  • The Lethbridge Hurricanes destroyed the Calgary Hitmen by a score of 9-2 on Sunday evening, and Leafs prospect Noah Chadwick was a big part of Lethbridge’s attack. He opened the scoring just 14 seconds into the game and added another goal to go along with an assist before the night was out. Chadwick is now tied for 10th in scoring among WHL defencemen with 11 goals and 35 assists in 55 games so far this season.
  • Nick Abruzzese played a key role in the Marlies securing back-to-back wins over Laval on the weekend, notching an assist on Friday night before tallying the winning goal and another helper on Saturday. Abruzzese had gone five games without a point before that, and getting him back on track will be crucial for the Marlies the rest of the way. Following his three-point weekend, Abruzzese is now fifth in team scoring with nine goals and 26 assists in 49 games.
  • It was also a productive weekend for William Villeneuve, who piled up three assists over two games. Villeneuve started slow offensively this season, but he has been on a bit of a heater with 13 points in his last 13 games. Now with two goals and 19 assists in 38 games, he ranks second in scoring among Marlies blueliners behind Niemelä.
  • Vyacheslav Peksa is another player who didn’t have the start to the season that he had hoped for, but he has turned things around in a big way, with the exclamation point coming in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout win over Trois-Rivières. Peksa set a new Growlers record, stopping 49 of the 52 shots he faced in regulation and overtime, and he is now sporting a .931 SV% over his last five games.
  • Veeti Miettinen added to his career-high with his 14th goal of the season on Saturday, adding an assist in a 3-0 victory over Western Michigan. Despite being held off the scoresheet in Friday’s contest, Miettinen has registered three goals and seven assists in his last 10 games, bringing him to within a point of the team lead in scoring with 26 points in 29 games.
Statistics from EliteProspects.com & CHL.ca

Check out these posts...