Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Cowboy & Captain Canada, enter the Hildebeast, Chadwick signs: Leafs Prospect Roundup
By Nick Richard1 month ago
Fraser Minten had long been considered a lock for the 2024 Canadian World Junior roster due in large part to his refined two-way game, overall maturity, and leadership qualities. Those attributes were endorsed by Canada’s coaching staff when Minten was named team captain on the eve of the tournament.
After registering three goals and two assists in three pre-tournament games, Minten’s offensive production was limited to just a goal and two assists through four games in the group stage, but he has been relied upon more with each passing game. Somewhat surprisingly, the Leafs’ 2022 second-rounder has played exclusively on the wing, but he has adapted well, playing alongside Conor Geekie and Jordan Dumais to begin the tournament before star prospect Macklin Celebrini slid into Geekie’s spot for their final group stage contest against Germany.
Minten hasn’t been leading the offensive charge, but he currently sits in a tie for fifth in team scoring and with a bit more puck luck on the power play, his point totals could increase in the medal round. He hasn’t played his best hockey as of yet, and he’ll want to clean up some of his decision-making with the puck, but he is still doing a lot of little things right while acting as a defensive conscience alongside more offensively inclined players.
The transition to the international stage hasn’t been as smooth for Easton Cowan, who has only looked like the player we’ve seen in the OHL this season in small flashes thus far. It hasn’t been for lack of effort; it’s been quite the opposite, in fact. Oftentimes, Cowan has been trying to do too much, leading to poor decisions and turnovers, and he never seemed to gel on the second line with Matthew Poitras and Matt Savoie. The trio appeared mostly disjointed, struggling to string together passes or create space for one another off the rush or cycle. They were broken up in the third period of Canada’s third game, a loss against Sweden, and Cowan was moved onto a line with Owen Beck and Nate Danielson for the game against Germany, where he notched an empty-netter for his first point of the tournament.
Overall, Canada’s play has been somewhat underwhelming through the group stage. They lack much in the way of game-breaking offensive talent outside of Celebrini, and it’s going to be on players like Minten and Cowan to help generate momentum with their tenacity and strong two-way play.
The tournament hasn’t gone exactly the way that either Minten or Cowan had hoped to this point, but the team is still in a good spot heading into a quarterfinal matchup against Czechia. Minten, in particular, will be relied upon to bring more to the table in the medal round, but Cowan has stepped up in big games for his junior club in the past as well, and he is the kind of player who seems to get better as the temperature rises and the stakes get higher.
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:
- Following another poor outing that saw Ilya Samsonov’s save percentage plummet to .862% through 15 games this season, the Leafs had finally had enough. The club waived Samsonov on Sunday, signalling the arrival of Dennis Hildeby, who was officially called up to the NHL for the first time on Monday. Despite his impressive numbers (7-5-3, 2.20 GAA, .919 SV%) with the Marlies this season, there are still concerns that this could be too much, too soon for the young netminder. While those concerns are certainly valid, and it’s a bit of an unconventional path to the NHL, Hildeby is used to doing things differently. He passed through the draft multiple times before the Leafs traded into the fourth round of the 2022 draft in his final year of eligibility, toiled in Sweden’s junior league through his age-20 season, and even underwent double hip surgery in 2021 before breaking into the SHL. Hildeby got into 28 games at Sweden’s top level over the last two seasons, posting a .921 SV% in the process before making the jump to North America full-time for the 2023-24 season. Yes, he’s still young and relatively inexperienced, but he is older than Nick Robertson, and he has already excelled in two of the best professional leagues in the world – albeit in a limited sample size. It remains to be seen when he’ll make his NHL debut, and the team has been coy about their plans on the upcoming road trip, but Hildeby could be between the pipes for the Leafs as early as Wednesday night in Anaheim. The Leafs will obviously want to be careful with their young netminder, but it would also be a boon for the team if Hildeby proves capable of helping shoulder the load until Joseph Woll returns.
- Roni Hirvonen has been out with an undisclosed injury since taking a stick to the face in just the second game of the Marlies’ season. He returned to the ice this past week, skating on his own ahead of practice. He has yet to rejoin the team for a full practice, but just seeing him back out there is extremely encouraging, given the mysterious nature of his injury. There is still no timeline for Hirvonen’s return to full participation, but there is still a chance we could see him later this season.
- Nikita Grebyonkin finished off a strong month of December with a goal in a 4-1 win over Kunlun Red Star on Saturday. The tally was his 10th of the season, and his sixth point in his last six games. Grebyonkin is now up to 22 points through 45 games this season, and could be a candidate for an ELC with the Leafs in the spring if he doesn’t sign an extension with Magnitogorsk before then.
- It’s been a tough first pro season for Ty Voit. An injury back in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament delayed his professional debut until December 1st, when he suited up for the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL. Voit hit the ground running, posting eight points in just five ECHL games before being recalled to the Marlies, but he was injured once again in his AHL debut and was seen wearing a sling afterwards. Voit will likely miss a few more weeks at minimum and could once again see time with the Growlers to get him up to speed once he is healthy.
- Another player who has missed time with injury this season, Ryan Tverberg, has been productive since returning to the Marlies’ lineup after being on the shelf for a month and a half. In eight games since rejoining the team, he has tallied a goal and five assists, bringing him to a total of two goals and eight assists through 13 games in his first professional season. Tverberg has been playing top six minutes and generating offense in the process, but it is his tenacity and energetic style of play that could make him an option in the Leafs’ bottom six down the road.
- Following an impressive run to start the KHL season, Artur Akhtyamov is back playing regularly in the VHL, with Kazan’s top two netminders healthy once again. In five games since he was sent back down, he has posted a sparkling .939 SV% and a record of 3-0-2. Akhtyamov has already proven to be a star at the VHL level, so it would have been nice to see him continue his hot streak in the KHL, but having him play consistent minutes is preferable to having him sit on the bench at the top level.
- Noah Chadwick had another productive week in the WHL, racking up three assists in three games. The towering blueliner now has seven goals and 20 assists through 33 games after putting up five goals and 15 assists in 67 games during his draft year. He was rewarded with an entry-level contract from the Leafs just before Christmas, a big feather in the cap – and a big show of faith from the team – for a player who was selected in the sixth round just a few months ago.
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