Easton Cowan squares off against the potential future of the NHL

Photo credit:twitter.com/londonknights
Arun Srinivasan
16 days ago
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Easton Cowan was relatively anonymous when the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him with the No. 28 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, sending the NHL’s largest and arguably most vocal fan base into a tailspin. How could Toronto use its scarce, precious draft capital on an undersized forward that graded out as a third-round pick by the vast majority of round-the-clock prospects evaluators? A year can change everything as Cowan is viewed as the future of the Maple Leafs.
At the 2024 Memorial Cup, Cowan’s London Knights may be squaring off against one of the future faces of the NHL: Saginaw Spirit star forward Michael Misa, who is projected to be selected second overall in the 2025 NHL Draft. Cowan may be the most important prospect for the NHL’s most valuable franchise but Misa has the potential to be a household name across North America. This year’s Memorial Cup is the most relevant to Maple Leafs fans since the 2016 event where Mitch Marner — Cowan’s idol, for what it’s worth — and friends led the Knights to the title. We could be in for a redux, eight years removed from the preceding event.
Cowan’s speed and opportunism impressed from the opening minutes of Maple Leafs’ summer development camp. The 19-year-old dominated against his peers and his confidence carried over to training camp against NHL regulars. Cowan displayed an NHL-level skill set and relentless tenacity on the forecheck, so you could argue that he was Toronto’s most difficult cut ahead of opening night. He didn’t view a return to London as a demotion but he tore up the competition, recording 34 goals and 96 points in 54 games, winning OHL MVP honours, then followed up with 10 goals and 34 points in 18 games en route to the OHL title. Cowan has shattered expectations of what Toronto could reasonably expect from the No. 28 overall pick and he could be ready to contribute meaningfully by 2025-26, if not sooner.
Misa is playing for something entirely different: the attention surrounding him transcends a singular fan base’s particular interest in a prospect. The 5-foot-11 forward became the eighth player to receive the exceptional status designation, entering the Ontario Hockey League a year before his age cohort — although Misa balked at the suggestion that his minor hockey teammates would advance to the next stage of their careers without him. Misa broke Connor McDavid’s scoring record at the OHL Cup, posting 20 points in a tour-de-force tournament, leading his Mississauga Senators to the title — a feat that McDavid couldn’t accomplish, for what it’s worth. He was on pace to break John Tavares’ underage scoring record in the OHL prior to a knee injury that ended his 2022-23 campaign and you don’t have to look hard to see why he could be on billboards across the country in no time.
Misa is slightly undersized but that’s not really a drawback against him, especially when you consider that the similarly diminutive, exceptionally skilled U.S. National Development Team forward James Hagens is projected to go first overall in 2025. This year’s NHL Draft class isn’t nearly as weak as its NBA counterpart, but it’s also true that much like the NBA, the 2025 class is considered to be far superior than the 2024 offering. At the time of this filing, prior to London’s game against the Moose Jaw Warriors, Misa is tied for the tournament scoring lead and his star profile could ascend to new heights if he wins Memorial Cup MVP 12 months before he can stroll onto a podium with Gary Bettman. Misa or Hagens would very likely be taken first overall if they were eligible this summer.
Saginaw is off to a 2-0 start and Misa submitted a brilliant, three-assist performance in a 4-3 comeback victory over the Drummondville Voltigeurs on Sunday. He boasts exceptional spatial awareness and playmaking ability, he’s fearless, he’s a phenomenal skater with incredible lateral balance and ability to shift his weight through traffic, skills that he’s proficient in beyond his years. This is just the beginning of Misa’s story.
Misa and Cowan in some ways represent opposites within hockey’s scouting community. Cowan was a second-round pick of the Knights in the 2021 OHL Draft before surprising the hockey intelligentsia with a draft day ascension. Misa, on the other hand, has been considered the best Canadian player in his age cohort for several years, while being accustomed to playing a year up. Cowan may be the Maple Leafs’ brightest prospect, while Misa could potentially end up as one of the faces of the NHL.
This year’s Memorial Cup in many ways isn’t dissimilar from other years, a rote tribute to Canadiana while four of the best major hockey teams in the nation come together for national bragging rights in a small sample. Unless you’re a fan of the major junior squads in this tournament, the games may end up as footnotes in Cowan and Misa’s burgeoning career. This is what’s at stake Wednesday morning, and for the rest of the week. Cowan could continue to emerge as the Maple Leafs’ prized prospects, while Misa could shake the entire hockey economy with another excellent performance. The summer may be dreary and full of change but the future is a promising canvas that Cowan and Misa are eager to paint.

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