Cowan keeps producing, Robertson comes up clutch: Leafs Prospect Roundup

Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
8 months ago
When the Leafs stepped up to the podium to make the 28th overall selection in the 2023 draft, there were still plenty of highly touted prospects like Gavin Brindley, Theo Lindstein, Andrew Cristall, and Ethan Gauthier, just to name a few, left on the board.
With a handful of players available who had received first-round buzz, it came as a surprise when Wes Clark called the lesser-known Easton Cowan’s name. The pick was immediately labelled a “reach” or “off the board” selection, but despite being projected by most draft prognosticators to be a late-second or third-round pick, Cowan sat atop the only draft board that mattered to the Leafs when it came time for their pick.
All Cowan has done since then is reward the Leafs and their scouting staff for the faith they placed in him.
Cowan’s outstanding rookie camp and preseason have been well-documented by now, and he has carried that momentum back to London, where he has been a driving force for the Knights through the early part of the OHL season. His best outing of the season came in a 5-1 victory over the Brantford Bulldogs on Wednesday when he tallied his second short-handed goal of the campaign, potted the eventual game-winner, and added a pair of assists. He was held off the score sheet for the first time on Friday but still entered Sunday’s contest against Saginaw with the third-best points per game mark in the OHL.
Cowan’s production has been impressive, but it’s the result of his overall level of play on both sides of the puck. He spent the majority of his draft year playing on the wing, and while he has shifted back there at times this season, he is also playing down the middle more frequently after playing centre exclusively in his time with the Leafs. He more than held his own there during the NHL exhibition schedule, and his mobility, work rate, and ability to process the game at a high rate have made him an impactful player in all facets of the game at the OHL level.
The Leafs’ newest top prospect has thrived in a more prominent role with the Knights so far this season, showing versatility and tenacity in the process. Whether it’s eventually in a top-six role, as an energetic third-liner, down the middle, or on the wing, Cowan appears destined to be a contributor for the Leafs in the coming years and is already showing why they were all too happy to go “off the board” with their first-round pick last June.

Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:

  • After building chemistry and starring alongside each other throughout the preseason, Matthew Knies and Fraser Minten have been trending in opposite directions since the real games began. Knies has been generating chances all along but broke out in a big way against Tampa Bay on Saturday, powering the Leafs’ comeback with his first two goals of the season late in the third period after picking up an assist on William Nylander’s opening tally. While Knies was piling up points, Minten was watching from the press box while serving as a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Minten is unlike most other young players in that his defensive game is probably more NHL-ready than his offensive game is at this point, and that is what has kept him around this long, but he hasn’t done much in the offensive end. Pontus Holmberg stepped into the lineup for Minten on Saturday, with David Kämpf sliding up to the third line, providing plenty of defensive utility in the bottom six. Minten should get another opportunity to prove himself at the NHL level, but if he isn’t able to contribute discernably more than Holmberg, it’s looking more and more apparent that the WHL is the best place for him to be right now.
  • The Marlies split a weekend set with the Charlotte Checkers, and a pair of the Leafs’ top prospects were instrumental in Sunday’s 4-2 win. Topi Niemelä opened the scoring with a bullet from the slot for his first of the season, and Nick Robertson scored the eventual game-winning goal off a great feed from Nick Abruzzese on a late third-period power play. For Robertson, it was his third goal and sixth point in just four games to start the season, and Niemelä is also off to a hot start with a goal and two assists from the back end.
  • Roni Hirvonen sat out both Marlies’ games over the weekend with what is being called an upper-body injury, and there is currently no timeline for his return. Bobby McMann also missed both games with a lower-body injury, but he is listed as day-to-day and could be back in time for the Marlies’ next game against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
  • Ryan Tverberg has gotten off to a strong start in his first full season of professional hockey. He has provided energy in the bottom six while chipping in at the offensive end, now with three points through four games after picking up an assist on Sunday. It’s early, but Tverberg is already proving to be a valuable contributor and a trusted piece in John Gruden’s lineup. He played on the wing early on but lined up down the middle on Saturday and Sunday, showcasing his versatility and two-way game. Tverberg’s ceiling may not be as high as some of the other names in the Leafs’ prospect pool, but that versatility and his energetic style of play could help him push for a depth role in the NHL sooner than many might expect.
  • The points haven’t come as easily for Nick Moldenhauer in college as they did for him in the USHL, but he got on the board with the first goal of his NCAA career in Michigan’s 7-1 blowout win over Ohio State on Friday. Through six games in a middle-six role, the Leafs’ 2022 third-rounder has two points.
  • Artur Akhtyamov’s poorest outing of the KHL season coincided with the return of Bars Kazan’s starting netminder Timur Bilyalov. Akhtyamov allowed three goals on 21 shots in an overtime loss to Sibir on Friday, and on Sunday, he watched from the bench as Bilyalov made 28 saves in a 4-1 victory. Akhtyamov has played well enough to withstand one poor showing, but his hold on the starter’s job may be suspended for the time being.
  • Dennis Hildeby and Vyacheslav Peksa made their first starts of the season this past week in the AHL and ECHL, respectively. Hildeby struggled, allowing three goals on just 18 shots in a losing effort against Charlotte, while Peksa stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced to pick up the win over Reading.
  • Hudson Malinoski’s freshman season at Providence is off to a great start. Toronto’s fifth-round pick in last summer’s draft scored in back-t0-back games on Friday and Saturday, bringing him to three goals for the season and a share of the team lead through five games. Malinoski is a player to watch this season as he looks to get his developmental path back on track after a freak off-ice injury put his career in jeopardy a couple of years ago.
  • Veeti Miettinen put together a big weekend for St. Cloud State as they split a weekend series with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He tallied a goal and an assist in each game, and is now up to seven points through the Huskies’ first six games. Miettenen has become a bit of an afterthought in the Leafs’ prospect pool, with his play levelling off in the last couple of years, but he is on his way toward putting on a late push for an entry-level contract with the Leafs before his rights expire next summer.
  • There wasn’t much fanfare when the Leafs selected Noah Chadwick in the sixth round of the 2023 draft, but the talk around the 6’4″ blueliner is sure to pick up if he continues to play the way he has through the early part of the season. His mobility has improved since last year, and it has helped him on both sides of the puck. Chadwick has been able to shut down more plays in transition and win more footraces, providing him with more opportunities to move the puck up ice and join the offensive attack. He has impressive instincts in the offensive zone, and he has been productive in a larger role for Lethbridge this season. Chadwick is currently riding a three-game point streak after registering a goal and an assist on Wednesday and picking up assists in Friday and Saturday’s contests, bringing him to three goals and eight assists in 11 games.
Statistics from EliteProspects.com

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