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Four Maple Leafs prospects in the mix for the NCAA Championship

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Jon Steitzer
12 days ago
Last year about this time Leafs fans were divided on whether they wanted to see a quick exit for the University of Minnesota or if it was better that Matthew Knies take a legitimate run at the college national championship before joining the Leafs. In a sign that Knies was truly meant to be a Leaf, the Gophers went on a run long enough to cut into his potential time with the Leafs but made him come up short on the championship side of things. Still, it was a reason to pay attention to the tournament out of the corner of your eye even if you aren’t into NCAA hockey.
This year the Leafs lack the star power of Matthew Knies but there are still some players worth paying attention to. Nick Moldenhauer is a prospect worth following, and there are two players in the tournament that the Leafs will need to make decisions on signing before August 15th (Cade Webber and Mike Koster). Here’s a quick look at every Leafs prospect in the tournament:

Cade Webber – D – Boston University (Senior)

The acquisition of Cade Webber at the trade deadline seemed a little perplexing at first until you could begin to see what the Leafs were going for. Webber is a true stay-at-home defenceman and has been even before his college hockey days. Something that is a rarity but also a dream for plenty of coaches and development teams.
If there is a player the Leafs are wanting to get into their lineup sooner rather than later and potentially let him burn a year of contract via a tryout game in the NHL, it’s Webber.
Webber might not be available anytime soon though. Upsets happen in single elimination tournaments all the time but Boston University is a powerhouse that will make quick work of RIT in the first round and gets a pretty favourable match-up in the second round facing the winner of Minnesota and Omaha.
You can read about what the Leafs are getting in Webber here and a bit more detail on his intention to play in Toronto here.

Mike Koster – D – Minnesota (Senior)

Since I’ve already hinted at the likely second round matchup between Boston University and the University of Minnesota I might as well talk about the other senior the Leafs have in the tournament.
Koster had a strong junior year in the final powerhouse year for Minnesota which had a roster featuring Logan Cooley, Jimmy Snuggerud, Brock Faber, and of course, Matthew Knies. Playing with that talent certainly inflated Koster’s numbers and now with Snuggerud being the only remaining member of that group, Koster’s numbers have taken a dip.
That’s not a criticism of Koster, who has been made captain, but an acknowledgement that he’s not an offence generator just a good defenceman who has earned the opportunity to be on the ice with the best players on his team.
At 5’10 and not having standout characteristics it is unknown if the Leafs are eager to sign Koster and given that Koster is just a few months away from having a complete say over where he signs, there are no guarantees that the Minnesota native wants to come to Toronto.
Still, Koster is an interesting player to keep an eye on as the Leafs could always flip the rights to Koster for a late round draft pick as well if he stands out at the right time.

Nicholas Moldenhauer – F – Michigan (Freshman)

On the opposite end of the age spectrum from the seniors in the tournament, we have Nick Moldenhauer, an undersized winger who put up big numbers in the USHL and joined a strong program at the University of Michigan. Unfortunately for Nick, the Wolverines, like the Gophers, are in a bit of a reset mode this season and are no longer at the top of Division I. Michigan goes into the first round with a tough matchup against the favoured University of North Dakota and the tournament could be a short one for Moldenhauer.
As a freshman, Moldenhauer’s numbers have been solid with 8 goals and 21 points in 38 games. Seeing some immediate dominance would have been nice but going from the freewheeling USHL to a heavily structured program like what they have at Michigan is going to be beneficial for a player like Moldenhauer and it doesn’t seem like there is any chance of him being signed by the Leafs at the end of his season as he’s better off getting at least another year with a bigger role.

Wyatt Schingoethe – F – Western Michigan (Junior)

While not the last of the Leafs prospects in the NCAA, Schingoethe rounds on the list of Leafs prospects that are playing in the Frozen Four tournament.
In his third season in Western Michigan, Schingoethe is yet to establish himself as a lock for the lineup card but has been carving out a niche for himself as a defensive specialist. It’s an interesting path but not one that seems like it would lead to an NHL contract. Maybe an extended path through the ECHL/AHL would show if he has the tools that translate into 13F/4th line role in the NHL, but at best he’s a long term project for the Maple Leafs development program and one that would definitely need another look in his senior year.
Western Michigan faces Michigan State in the first round and it seems likely their tournament ends there.

Who won’t be at the tournament:

  • Joe Miller, a forward for Harvard, will not be attending the tournament and will likely return to the school for his junior year. I’m willing to bet that unless you are lock for a NHL career you probably settle for a Harvard degree with a smile on your face. Miller’s numbers have been good and is an interesting prospect that Marlies’ GM Ryan Hardy is very familiar with. I wouldn’t doubt the Leafs bring him into the fold, just not yet.
  • John Fusco, defenceman at Dartmouth, in his second season at Dartmouth, third in the NCAA after transferring from Harvard, Fusco seems to be benefitting from a bigger role. There are some similarities to Mike Koster in that he’s an undersized defenceman, but Fusco has the coveted right shot and a bit more offence to his game.
  • Hudson Malinoski had a strong freshman season as a forward at Providence College picking up 9 goals and 18 points. Again not numbers that say “sign him now” but numbers that make sure we keep an eye on him.
  • Veeti Miettinen’s college career has wrapped up as St. Cloud State didn’t qualify for the Frozen Four this season. He’s been remarkably consistent throughout his NCAA years and has had a career best 20 goals in 37 games this season. At 5’9, size will be an issue, but I wonder if the Leafs have interest in bringing him in to play alongside their other undersized Marlie Finn, Roni Hirvonen. The Leafs rights to Miettinen expire on August 15th and given that there hasn’t been much fanfare around him it seems like they might prefer to go the AHL contract route if any contract is offered at all.

Tournament details

Tonight is the opening night of play for the Frozen Four with Webber and Koster both playing tonight. Schingoethe and Moldenhauer will go tomorrow night, and the first two rounds of the tournament will be wrapped up by the end of the weekend. The actual “Frozen Four” will take place April 11-13 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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