Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Minten on the move, Cowan’s WJC case, Grebyonkin fighting through it: Leafs Prospect Roundup
By Nick Richard2 months ago
When the Leafs opted to send Fraser Minten back to junior after he dressed in four NHL games to begin the season, the expectation was that he would be named captain and become a go-to-guy for the Kamloops Blazers before eventually being moved to a contender ahead of the WHL trade deadline. That’s exactly what happened, although the trade came sooner than many expected.
Minten played in just seven games for the Blazers before a deal with Saskatoon was finalized last Friday, with his final game for Kamloops being his most productive of the season. The Leafs’ 2022 second-rounder notched a pair of goals and added an assist, but the Blazers ultimately fell to the Lethbridge Hurricanes by a score of 7-3. The loss brought Kamloops’ record on the season to 6-12-3-2, making it easier for the club to accept moving on from their best player and newly appointed captain in order to restock for the future.
The Blades paid a handsome price for Minten, sending 2005-born forward Jordan Keller, two first-round draft picks, and a third-round pick to the Blazers in exchange for the two-way pivot. It was a price that Saskatoon was happy to pay, however, in order to fortify their centre depth as they pursue the first WHL Championship in franchise history.
“Fraser brings all the elements we’ve been looking for; passion, compete, high skill level, size, Memorial Cup experience, not to mention four games of NHL regular season action with Toronto. Everyone we spoke to over the last month has raved about his character, his desire to win, and the leadership he brought as captain of the Blazers. We targeted him as our number one priority to acquire this year.”– Saskatoon Blades President and General Manager, Colin Priestner via CHL.ca
Things can change quickly in junior hockey, and after competing in the Memorial Cup just a few months ago, the Blazers found themselves floundering near the bottom of the WHL standings. Minten was being asked to do a lot with very little help around him, but the move to Saskatoon should help set him up for success and provide him with the opportunity to go on another deep playoff run.
It was a quick turnaround for Minten as he made his Blades debut on Saturday night, centering the second line flanked by Vaughn Watterodt and fellow Leafs prospect Brandon Lisowsky. Saskatoon was defeated in overtime by a score of 4-3, but Minten made a solid impression with his first goal as a Blade in the losing effort. The goal was his fourth of the season and brought him to 11 points in eight games between Kamloops and Saskatoon.
Minten has now played for three different teams already this season, and a fourth seems like a safe bet with the World Juniors around the corner. His combination of big-game experience, versatility, and leadership could make him a valuable piece of Canada’s roster as they aim to make it three straight gold medal finishes.
World Junior gold and a deep playoff run with the Blades are the ultimate goals for Minten this season, but for now, he’ll just be looking to find his place and get comfortable with his new club. Saturday’s debut was a good start.
Brandon Lisowsky, Fraser Minten being united makes Saskatoon Blades must-watch for Toronto Maple Leafs fans
Notes from the rest of the prospect pool:
- Speaking of Lisowsky, he’s a player who probably hasn’t gotten enough attention this season. After receiving a fair amount of pre-draft buzz, the undersized sniper fell all the way to the seventh round in 2022 before the Leafs decided to take a swing on his ability as a pure scorer. He notched 38 goals and 33 assists in 65 games last season, and he is on his way to surpassing those totals in 2023-24. With a goal and an assist in Saturday’s overtime loss, Lisowsky is up to 15 goals and 14 assists in 25 games – a pace of 41 goals and 38 assists over a full 68-game schedule. His exclusive signing rights expire next June, but continuing to produce at his current pace while developing some chemistry with Minten along the way should put him in a good position to earn an entry-level deal.
- Easton Cowan continued his stellar start to the OHL season this past week, and he may be playing his way into consideration for the Canadian World Juniors roster as well. Cowan scored a goal in Thursday’s 6-3 win over North Bay, was held scoreless in a blowout loss to Sudbury on Friday, and notched three points in a 9-3 rout over the Barrie Colts on Saturday. His goal in Saturday’s contest was his 10th of the season and his third shorthanded marker already. Cowan now has 31 points, including six shorthanded points, in just 19 games for London on the season. The competition for depth roles on Canada’s roster will be stiff, but Cowan has certainly made a strong case for himself through the first two months of the season. Much like Minten, his versatility and defensive utility will be enticing to Team Canada brass, but Cowan brings an element of speed and offensive pop that could give him a leg up on the field.
- The focus of last week’s prospect roundup, Alex Steeves, had his impressive start to the season rewarded this past week. He was recalled to the big club after John Klingberg’s move to LTIR opened up the cap space for the Leafs to bring in another forward. Steeves didn’t get into either game over the weekend, but he could make his season debut this week if Sheldon Keefe is looking to mix things up after two straight losses. With 11 goals and seven assists in just 14 games for the Marlies, he could help add some offensive punch alongside David Kämpf and Noah Gregor.
- Topi Niemelä is quietly putting together a solid first season in North America. After a record-setting season for a U20 defenceman in 2021-22 that saw him put up 32 points in 48 games, his production dipped to just 18 points in 58 games last season, but he is currently leading all Marlies blueliners with two goals and seven assists in 15 games. Niemelä is playing big minutes and holding his own defensively as well, but he still needs to get physically stronger in order to compete at the highest level. That will come in time, but for now, the Leafs’ 2020 third-rounder is adjusting well to the North American game.
- It has been a tough stretch for Nikita Grebyonkin as of late, with just a pair of assists in his last 10 games. He’s been stuck on eight goals for a while now, but he is still playing a significant role, and he found another way to make an impact in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Spartak. Following a questionable hit that left his teammate lying on the ice in pain, Grebyonkin wasted little time going after the opposing player and handled himself quite well despite only getting one glove off. Fighting certainly isn’t a focal point of Grebyonkin’s game, but he is a competitive player and deserves credit for stepping up to defend his teammate.
- Dennis Hildeby has been spectacular for the Marlies so far this season, and he was impressive in both of his starts last week. With a rash of injuries and a handful of players recalled to the Leafs, the Marlies have been struggling to generate offence, but Hildeby has given them a chance to win practically every time out. He was unable to add to his win total last week, but he stopped 53 of the 56 shots he faced in a pair of losses to Lehigh Valley and Cleveland. With only seven appearances so far this season, Hildeby hasn’t played enough games to qualify for the AHL leaderboard, but his 1.42 GAA and .943 SV% would both be tops in the league. He may not be an immediate option with Samsonov, Woll, and Jones ahead of him on the depth chart, but the Leafs have to be excited about the trajectory he is on.
- After an up-and-down start to his freshman season, Nick Moldenhauer is starting to settle in and contribute offensively on a more consistent basis for the Michigan Wolverines. With an assist in Saturday’s matchup against St. Cloud State, Moldenhauer now has five points in his last five games, bringing him to three goals and six assists in 16 games. He has been used all over the lineup in the early part of the season, but he could earn himself an extended run in the top six if he continues to produce.
- 2023 sixth-round pick Noah Chadwick has stepped into a prominent role on Lethbridge’s blue line this season, and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity. With a pair of assists in Wednesday’s win over Minten and the Blazers, Chadwick has now put up six goals and 13 assists in just 23 games – one fewer point than he had in 67 games a season ago. His combination of size and offensive vision has served him well so far this season, making him a player to watch in the Leafs’ system moving forward.
- Another 2023 pick, Hudson Malinoski, is quietly putting together a solid freshman season at Providence. He scored his fifth goal of the season in an overtime loss to Arizona State on Friday and now has eight points in his first 15 NCAA games. Malinoski has missed significant development time after a freak off-ice injury a few years ago, but he is acclimating himself well to the collegiate level.
Statistics from EliteProspects.com
Recent articles from Nick Richard