Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Minten & Cowan at WJC camp, Tverberg returns, Voit keeps making a case: Leafs Prospect Roundup
By Alex Hobson2 months ago
For the first time since 2019, it looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to have representation on Team Canada at the World Juniors.
World Junior selection camp kicked off on Sunday in Oakville, and the Leafs have not one, but two prospects looking to crack their country’s roster for this year’s tournament. 2022 second round pick Fraser Minten and 2023 first round pick Easton Cowan are both in attendance at camp, part of a roster that’s highlighted by 2024 projected top pick Macklin Celebrini. It’s the first time in five years since the Leafs had any prospects don the red Maple Leaf, with goaltender Ian Scott being the last to do so in 2019.
Minten took a surprising and frankly unexpected step forward this past fall, where he played well enough in training camp to force the Leafs’ hand and include him on the opening night roster. While his stay in the big league only lasted four games, he displayed his potential and above-average hockey IQ for his age, and if nothing else, pencilled himself for a longer look next season. He’s also fresh off a trade in junior, with the Kamloops Blazers shipping him to the Saskatoon Blades in a deal that saw him join fellow Leafs prospect Brandon Lisowsky. He has five points in six games since the trade.
Cowan on the other hand has been a man possessed to start the season. His selection by the Maple Leafs was initially met with some skepticism, given his projection to go in either the early third round or the late second round at most, but he’s done nothing but prove people wrong to start the year. After tallying 53 points in 68 OHL games in his draft year, Cowan’s on pace to crush his totals from last season in half the amount of games, currently sitting at 39 points in 23 games. That’s good for top-10 in league scoring despite having played eight fewer games than the league’s leading scorer. He came into selection camp riding a five-game point streak, with two multi-point efforts in those games.
Team Canada’s roster will be almost completely revamped from what they ran last season, with Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck being the only returning player. Lots of players who would have been considered, including some would-be returning players, were retained by their respective NHL teams. These players include Connor Bedard and Kevin Korchinski (CHI), Adam Fantilli (CBJ), Shane Wright (SEA), Matthew Poitras (BOS) and Zach Benson (BUF). Lucky for Canada, they’ve got a deep enough talent pool to keep them as one of the top teams regardless of how many returning players there are, and they’ll be looking to take the gold medal for a third straight tournament.
While I’d probably expect Minten and Cowan to start in bottom six roles with the team (assuming they both make it), both players have potential to rise in the lineup and emerge as surprise contributors, namely Cowan. I’d expect Minten to play a consistent role defensively, likely putting in work on the penalty kill, and while those two could potentially start on a line together due to their familiarity from Leafs’ training camp, Cowan strikes me as somebody who could sneak his way up the lineup as the games move along. Either way, the 2024 tournament will be one to keep tabs on for Leafs fans, especially those who typically don’t bother keeping up with the tournament.
News from the rest of the prospect pool:
- If not for an injury sustained at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament, Ty Voit probably would have walked onto the team barring a disastrous showing. The Leafs’ fifth round pick in 2021 took a massive step forward in his final OHL season, registering an absurd 81 assists and 105 points in 67 games. With the Marlies’ roster already in a rhythm by the time he was ready to return, he was assigned to the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers to start the year. The Pittsburgh native scored his first two professional goals in two games this past weekend, bringing him to two goals and six assists in five games on the year. Should he keep it up, he’ll force his way onto the Marlies’ roster sooner rather than later.
- Ryan Tverberg made his return to the Marlies’ lineup on Sunday afternoon for the first time since suffering a lower body injury on Oct 24. The Leafs’ seventh round pick from 2020 tallied an assist on Pontus Holmberg’s third period goal, giving him five points in six games on the season so far. While Alex Steeves and Nick Abruzzese probably have a stronger case to receive a call-up should the Leafs need one, Tverberg is someone who’s probably worth a look for a game or two this season. His game translates nicely into a bottom six role, and so far, the pace of pro hockey hasn’t seemed to be an issue for him.
- The KHL all-star game featured a pair of Leafs prospects, one new and one old. 2018 third round pick Semyon Der-Arguchinstev and 2022 fifth round pick Nikita Grebyonkin were on the same team at this year’s festivities in Russia, both tallying a goal. They also impressed in their own respective events at the skills competition, with SDA taking part in the fastest skater competition and Grebyonkin pulling off a familiar shootout move in the shootout challenge. SDA is a little bit of an afterthought in the Leafs’ organization, but Grebyonkin emerged as one of their more underrated prospects after a strong rookie KHL season in 2022-23. He’s kept it up for the league’s best team in 2023-24 with 17 points in 40 games for Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
- Topi Niemela is looking like the next big thing in the Leafs’ system from a defensive standpoint. When the team selected him in 2020, his calling hard was his hockey IQ and his sturdiness for his age. So, when he developed an offensive side of his game, he started to get some eyes on him more often than not. He has five points in his last five games for the Marlies, bringing him up to 13 points in 19 games on the season, and he’s started to really put that offensive side of his game on display. I wouldn’t expect to see him in a Leafs uniform at all this year, but he might start forcing their hand sooner rather than later if he keeps it up.
- Finally, it wouldn’t seem right for me to pack up this week’s edition of the prospect roundup without giving Dennis Hildeby his flowers. The Leafs’ giant goaltending prospect had a rare off-week for the Marlies, stopping 43 of 48 shots across two games for an .895 save percentage in those games. That said, it hardly put a dent in his body of work so far this season. He still carries a .927 sv% on the year along with a 1.80 GAA, and the 6-foot-7 goaltender is looking more and more like a prospect that a goalie-unlucky organization like the Leafs need to hold on to by the day.
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