TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #8 Easton Cowan

Photo credit:© Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
9 months ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honor the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
There was a lot of speculation surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2023 first round pick heading into draft day. The Maple Leafs were set to partake in their first draft without former general manager Kyle Dubas at the helm since 2017, and nobody really knew what to expect. When you have the same GM announcing picks for consecutive years, you tend to pick up on trends and what certain general managers prefer. But, with the combination of new GM Brad Treliving and the Maple Leafs’ scouting staff, who had presumably never worked together before, the possibilities were endless.
Ultimately, the Maple Leafs held onto their pick, which was 28th overall, and used it to select London Knights forward Easton Cowan. The pick was initially met with some skepticism given how much of a reach it was. The 2023 draft was one of the deeper ones in recent memory, and Cowan was projected to be a late second or an early third round pick. Heck, if you go back and watch the footage of the selection, he and his family are buried way at the top of the seating area at Bridgestone Arena, an indication that they didn’t expect to hear his name called that night. Little did they know that not only would his name be called on day one, but he’d be signing his entry-level contract with the team only months later.
While I myself was skeptical of the pick at the time, I’m also a firm believer of avoiding using the b-word until they’ve had a chance to get a few years of development under their belts. And even if Cowan is somebody who shouldn’t have been a first round pick, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the tools to be an NHLer someday. And not only does he have those tools, but he’s also got fan-favourite potential.
Born and raised in Mount Brydges, Ontario, a small town just west of London with a population of a little over 20 thousand, Cowan is a 5’11”, 170 pound forward who can play all three forward positions and has a never-ending motor. His work ethic stemmed from a childhood spent growing up and working on his family’s farm, and eventually earned him the nickname “Cowboy”. He’s a high-energy player who has a blue collar attitude that fans will fall in love with, and an offensive outburst in the second half of the 2022-23 season gave him a boost onto some teams’ draft boards. 
On paper, Cowan’s offensive stats aren’t bad by any means, but they don’t jump off the page at you. He tallied 20 goals and 33 assists for 53 points over 68 games in 2022-23, but the Cowan who started the season and the one who finished the season are two different players. In what was technically his rookie season in the OHL, he recorded 33 points in 37 games after January 1st and was one of the Knights’ strongest playoff performers as well (something Maple Leafs fans should be interested in) with nine goals and 20 points in 21 games. 

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Beyond the production on the stat sheet, Cowan is a hard-nosed 200-foot player who takes pride in his “hound dog” mentality (in his own words), and models his game after none other than former Knight and Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri. One thing about his game that also stuck out to me was how quick his release is. You don’t look at his play and immediately think “that kid is a pure goal scorer”, but when he uses his release effectively, you’d be shocked to learn that he isn’t. Dare I say, it sort of reminds me of a left-handed Phil Kessel release. 
He’s an incredibly athletic player, finishing with solid scores across the board at the 2023 NHL draft combine, and he shares that similarity with Matthew Knies; another player whose athleticism seemed to outweigh his skillset at the time of his draft selection. And, two years later, look where Knies is. Does that mean Cowan is going to have the exact same trajectory as Knies? No, but it bodes well for the notion that skill can be developed over time as long as the fitness aspect is there from the start. 
He’s a bit of a slippery player on the ice, making it tough for opposing defenders to contain him on the rush, and despite his smallish frame, he has a knack for dropping a shoulder and driving the net from the outside, and once he gets there, he has pretty slick hands in tight. I mentioned his release as a strength, but passing is his forte on the offensive side of the game, and the ability for him to incorporate those playmaking skills with his energetic play style is a nod at the type of player he could become someday.
A few weeks ago on my podcast (Sticks in the 6ix), I had the opportunity to chat with Kyle Grimard, a radio host in London who also happens to be the in-game host for the Knights. He’s watched Cowan closer than most other scouts and writers, and so naturally I had to ask him to give Leafs fans insight into what to expect from Cowan, and what he would tell people who were skeptical about the pick and worried that he was just going to be another small forward who can’t handle NHL hockey. Here’s what he had to say. (you can listen to the full interview here)
“It’s easy to look at those metrics and assume he doesn’t go into the corners, or isn’t physical, or doesn’t battle, but all you have to do is watch. The people who assume those things have probably never watched a single Easton Cowan shift. All he does is be an energy bug. He was on a line with Ryan Winterton (Seattle Kraken draft pick) and Denver Barkey, and they made up the “Twinterton” line. It was the best line in the OHL playoffs, and he was the guy who was getting the pucks, he was retrieving, he was battling, he was throwing his body around, he was driving to the front of the net. If those aren’t intangibles that you want in a first-round pick or a player in general, I don’t know what is. He has every element to be a regular NHLer.” -Kyle Grimard, London Knights In-Game Host
The unfortunate reality is that, because of how many higher-ranked players were still on the board when the Maple Leafs selected him, Cowan is going to have added pressure on him while he develops because of his draft slot. But, if his attitude and mindset have shown us anything since he was drafted, this will barely even be a bump in the road for him. When you grow up in a blue collar lifestyle like he did, these things tend to eat away at you less and you show up to work with a bit of a chip on your shoulder.
While Cowan might never be a point-per-game, top power play unit play driver, he is not a prospect to sleep on. Remember how much of an impact players like Blake Coleman and Artturi Lehkonen had on their respective teams’ playoff runs? That’s exactly what you can expect from Cowan. A high-energy, versatile top-nine forward who constantly brings the energy and infects his teammates with it too. That’s not to say his ceiling is the same as those players I mentioned, but it’s a good starting point comparison-wise. His development is going to be a fun one to track, and each time somebody doubts him, he’ll be looking to prove them wrong.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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