Easton Cowan’s elite athleticism provides insight on the Maple Leafs’ shifting values
Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
By Filipe Dimas2 months ago
With Kyle Dubas no longer the Toronto Maple Leafs’ General Manager, the team may be looking for insight from another MLSE executive on proper roster construction. In the NBA, the Toronto Raptors are known for their tendency to draft athletic standouts, and develop their skillset over time, teaching the players on how to best excel with their elite physical gifts. Sometimes the result is Bruno Caboclo, other times it’s Pascal Siakam.
For years, the Maple Leafs draft strategy has been selecting high-risk, high-upside players, often undersized forwards who have shown an ability to generate offense at an elite rate. While the thought of selecting the next Alex DeBrincat is an exciting one, the strategy has failed to pan out for Toronto, with players like Nick Robertson and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev struggling to adjust to the size and speed of pro hockey, often getting injured in the process.
During the 2023 NHL draft, the Maple Leafs surprised the league by selecting Easton Cowan 28th overall, despite many scouting lists projecting him to not be taken until the third round. While the selection appears to be an off the board one, a look at his NHL combine performance suddenly reveals a lot of the value found within the London Knights winger.
Cowan was one of the best performers at the NHL combine, and may have been the best overall in measures of agile fitness. He finished near the top in a number of combine tests and drills, including first overall in both the left and right pro agility shuttle runs, often referred to as the cone drill which measures a player’s speed, agility and ability to change direction.
Cowan also finished with the third best measured VO2max (a cardiovascular measure of the body’s ability to efficiently use oxygen), tied for tenth in most consecutive pull-ups, tenth lowest body fat percentage, 17th highest vertical jump, and 21st highest no-arms jump.
It can be easy to forget how young these draft prospects are, and remember that at 18 years old, they all still have a lot of growing and development left to do. Much like the Toronto Raptors have done with so many picks over the years, the Maple Leafs appear to see Easton Cowan as an unfinished project who could blossom into a star athlete with the right fine-tuning.
That premise is supported by Cowan’s development within the confines of last season. Despite scoring only 53 points in 68 games across the OHL’s regular season, Cowan exploded in the playoffs with a performance of 21 points in 20 games. Those 21 points were the tenth best across all OHL skaters in the playoffs, with teammate Oliver Bonk being the only other rookie to even get half as many playoff points, finishing with 11 himself.
The Easton Cowan that began the 2022/2023 OHL season, is not the same one that finished it. Over the course of a single season, the Ontario-born winger has excelled in his development, and his combine results suggest that there’s even more on the way. Toronto Maple Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting Wes Clark has suggested that they weren’t the only NHL franchise to take notice too, stating that part of his job is to gather intel and he had it on good authority that other teams had Cowan high on their lists.
If the Toronto Maple Leafs draft strategy is indeed shifting from going for pure skill to drafting for athleticism and developing the skill set in house, it could provide the extra depth the Maple Leafs need further down the lineup. Two years ago, Toronto selected another player whose physical gifts outweighed his raw skills when they drafted Matthew Knies. Now, entering the 2023/2024 season, Knies is already expected to be a middle-of-the-lineup regular for the Maple Leafs, while a number of young skill players selected years before him struggle to crack the lineup.
Easton Cowan being only 5’11 may suggest that he’s yet another diminutive forward the Maple Leafs are taking a risk on. However, his athletic profile and the workhorse mentality that a number of coaches and scouts have praised him for suggest that he’s less of the next Nick Robertson and more of the next Nazem Kadri (who is only an inch taller than Cowan).
With the Maple Leafs’ development camp set to begin next week, we’ll get our first look at how Cowan handles himself while wearing the blue and white. First impressions mean everything, and he’ll want to prove that he wasn’t an off-the-board pick, but instead a shift in direction towards athletic prowess for the Maple Leafs’ scouting department.
Tune into the The Daily Faceoff Live Free Agent Special on July 1st from 11am – 1pm EST hosted by Tyler Yaremchuk, featuring NHL insider Frank Seravalli, serving you all the up to the minute details!
Then, check out The Leafs Morning Take at 4pm EST where Nick Alberga and Jay Rosehill will break down the frenzy of Free Agency.
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