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Examining the Leafs’ prospect capital ahead of the trade deadline

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Photo credit:© Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
1 month ago
The debate surrounding how the Leafs should operate ahead of this year’s trade deadline continues to rage on, and it has as much to do with the team’s performance on the ice as it does with their limited pool of trade assets. They have significantly depleted their draft capital through trade over the last few seasons, and they don’t have a top-tier prospect pool, but there are still some young players in the organization who should draw interest from potential sellers before March 8th.
General manager Brad Treliving finds himself in a tough spot. The Leafs have underperformed for most of the season, leading to questions about how much sense it makes to expend their limited assets to make a push this season, but they have been rattling off wins over the last couple of weeks, and it is difficult to justify standing pat when with star players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly all in the prime years of their NHL careers. Fans can rest assured that Treliving is doing his due diligence in talking to other teams around the league, but given the state of his team on the ice and what he has to work with in terms of tradeable assets, he will have to spend wisely.
The Leafs still have some picks to work with, and young roster pieces like Matthew Knies and Nick Robertson are sure to draw interest, but they will likely have to draw from their pool of upcoming talent if they are going to make any significant additions to their roster. Their pipeline is built more upon depth than high-end talent, but they do have two prospects who stand above the rest in terms of value on the trade market.
If Easton Cowan isn’t untouchable, he’s the closest thing the Leafs have to an untouchable prospect. He has arguably been the best player in the OHL this season, and he has been on a steady upward trajectory going back to last year’s OHL playoffs. Currently riding a 24-game point streak and leading the league in points per game with 27 goals and 48 assists through just 42 contests, Cowan has established himself as a legitimate grade-A prospect in his draft+1 season.
For a team that desperately needs an injection of cheap, young talent, it would take a lot for Treliving to consider including Cowan in a trade. We’re talking about a legitimate game-changer with team control beyond this season, and even then, the Leafs would likely hesitate to cash out on their most recent first-round pick. If such a player is made available before the deadline, Treliving will have to consider everything, but moving Cowan seems unlikely at this point.
If the Leafs are big game hunting for a significant addition under team control, opposing teams will likely be pushing for Cowan to be included in the deal. While the Leafs clearly value Minten, they’d probably prefer to move him because of the offensive upside that Cowan represents. That’s not to say Minten is bereft of offensive talent, but he projects more safely as a middle-six, two-way forward, whereas Cowan represents a bit of a higher ceiling.
Minten’s proximity to the NHL at just 19 years of age makes him an enticing young piece, and he should only be considered in trades that would bring the Leafs a legitimate upgrade this season and beyond. Even then, the Leafs will be hesitant to move on from a player who could conceivably fill a role for them as early as next season.
Beyond Cowan and Minten, the Leafs have a collection of mid-level prospects who could help push a deal over the line, with Topi Niemelä and Dennis Hildeby representing the upper tier of that group. Given how thin the Leafs’ group of defensive prospects is, they’ll be hesitant to include Niemelä in any deal for a pure rental, but he could be included alongside a package of draft picks to bring in a more ready-made piece that helps the team in the immediate future. With Hildeby, it’s tough to gauge how teams will value a goaltender who has shown great potential in a limited sample size, and he probably holds more value to the Leafs than he does on the trade market, but it only takes one team with interest and the right piece on the block for conversations to get serious.
Another netminder in the Leafs’ system, Artur Akhtyamov, could also draw interest with how he has performed in the KHL and VHL over the last two seasons. He doesn’t have the standout physical traits that Hildeby has, and he has yet to debut in North America, so that will limit his value on the trade market, but his numbers are difficult to ignore, and the Leafs could be open to moving him because of how Hildeby has progressed with the Marlies this season. Akhtyamov is unlikely to fetch a significant return on his own, but he could be of interest to sellers as part of a package deal.
Nikita Grebyonkin holds a similar position to Akhtyamov as a player who has excelled in Russia over the last couple of seasons, but there is still some uncertainty regarding his NHL potential. Unlike Akhtyamov, he is not yet signed to an NHL contract and that will hurt his value, but he is still without a contract in the KHL for next season as well, and there is a belief that he is ready to make the jump to North America. With assurances that they’ll be able to sign the player, Grebyonkin could be an interesting piece for opposing teams looking to accumulate pieces for expiring contracts.
It gets a little murkier from there, with players like Ryan Tverberg, Nick Moldenhauer, Roni Hirvonen, Ty Voit, and Noah Chadwick representing varying levels of NHL potential. Tverberg has been a great story this season, going from being a seventh-round pick back in 2020 to becoming an impactful player for the Marlies as a rookie. His ceiling is likely that of a third liner, but his relatively high floor as a prospect adds to his value. Moldenhauer is still a year or two away from turning pro and probably doesn’t hold a ton of value on the trade market today, but he had some buzz in his draft year and could still be of interest as a secondary piece in a trade.
It’s been a nightmare season for Hirvonen and Voit, with Hirvonen suffering a scary eye injury that kept him out for the first half of the campaign, while Voit was limited to just one AHL appearance before a shoulder injury ended his first professional season. Both players are probably at a low point in terms of their trade value, and the Leafs are probably better off waiting to see if they can re-establish themselves moving forward.
As for Chadwick, he is enjoying a breakout season in the WHL and has already been signed to an ELC just a few months after being drafted in the sixth round. A player with his physical tools and offensive ability on the backend should carry some value, but he is still very early in his development and won’t be a focal point in any significant trade.
Outside of upgrades to their NHL roster, the Leafs could also look to improve their stock of defensive prospects with minor deals. Players like Alex Steeves and Nick Abruzzese still hold some level of NHL potential, but they are unlikely to carve out roles on a team that fancies themselves a contender. If the Leafs are looking to provide them with a change of scenery, bringing back a defenceman of comparable age and upside will likely be the focus.
The Leafs will certainly have to get creative if they are going to improve their roster in a meaningful way ahead of the March 8th trade deadline. They have two high-end assets in Cowan and Minten who could be primary pieces of big trades should the Leafs be willing to take that plunge, but after that, it will come down to how each individual team values their mid-level pieces. Toronto’s prospect pool is more about quantity than quality, and that isn’t always conducive to making trades happen, but they do have the ability to put together a package of assets that could bring in some immediate help.
 
Statistics from EliteProspects.com

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