Who is this year’s Easton Cowan?

Photo credit:X.com/London Knights
Eric Cruikshank
15 days ago
While no team in the NHL has the same internal draft rankings, absolutely nobody expected Easton Cowan to be taken 28th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.
Most writers and analysts considered the 5-foot-8 winger to be a low-end second round pick with the competitive motor to potentially develop into a third-t0-fourth line player in the NHL some day, and there were many players considered to be much safer bets to make an impact at the NHL level.
But the Maple Leafs didn’t want to play it safe.
There were 125 players that were going to be selected before their next pick, and Cowan was their guy. Considering the history and relationship between the London Knights and the Maple Leafs, it made sense that Director of Amateur Scouting Wes Clark had his eye on Cowan, but drafting him that high did feel like a reach at the time.
Could the Leafs have traded down, built up a bigger pool of prospects, and maybe even still have gotten Cowan? Sure, but I don’t think anyone would argue almost a year later that he’s proven his worth as a first round pick.
The 19-year-old finished with 130 points over 72 combined regular season and playoff games with the Knights this season and became the first player since Mitch Marner to capture the OHL’s regular season and Playoff MVP awards in the same year.
The Maple Leafs are in a similar position heading into the 2024 draft, retaining their first round pick (23rd) and not having a selection until much later on (4th round, 120th). They’ll have plans for a variety of scenarios that could play out in the first 22 picks, and could potentially take a shot on a player they really like as they did with Cowan.

This Year’s Easton Cowan

Finding a player similar to Cowan in this draft class comes with a certain set of criteria. In terms of play style, he’s a relentless forechecker, a creative and intelligent playmaker, and doesn’t rely on advantages that he won’t have at the next level.
While Cowan’s skating has improved since his draft year, his offense doesn’t come from blowing by defenders or dangling through them like typical undersized forwards do in the CHL. He’s a much more patient player, delaying on the rush to survey the offensive zone, find his teammates, or create more favourable positions for himself. That’s the type of offense that is much more translatable to the NHL level.
The other obvious factor in picking this year’s Cowan is the element of surprise — finding a player that could be drafted significantly higher than they are projected to be.
Looking at the 2024 draft class, one player who stands out as a potential match for this set of criteria is Jacob Battaglia of the Kingston Frontenacs. In his second season in the OHL, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound winger led the Frontenacs with 31 goals and finished with 65 points in 67 games, and is believed by most scouts to be taken in the third round this year.
The biggest reason Battaglia is projected much lower than players with equal or even lesser offensive tools than him is his skating ability. His mechanics at this stage are far below the NHL standard, he doesn’t have the straight line speed to make him a scoring threat on the rush, and he doesn’t possess the quick first step that can create separation while being pressured by defenders.
While his foot speed is a huge factor that has prevented him him from becoming a more dynamic offensive threat, Battaglia is aware of these limitations and has adapted his game, becoming a much more intelligent playmaker.
Much like Cowan, Battaglia is inclined to slow down the game and draw defenders towards him in order to create space for his teammates. With his remarkable vision and passing ability, this is a style of play that is much better suited for him. He’s great at putting pucks through sticks, skates, and high traffic areas while stationary or at full speed, and set up numerous high danger chances for his line mate and Chicago Blackhawks 2022 second-rounder Paul Ludwinski.
Battaglia also has great instincts in the offensive zone. He’s got good off-puck habits, spending a lot of time around the net where he finished off rebounds and re-directed point shots many times this season. Battaglia is also a physical forechecker who can pry opponents off of the puck with ease and can identify the right moments when he should drive to the middle of the ice.
While it’s unlikely that Battaglia will be taken as high as Cowan, he has the puck skills and hockey sense that suggest he’ll be a difference-maker at the NHL level beyond what scouts currently project him to be. If his skating can improve, there’s not much stopping him from becoming a productive top-six winger on most rosters someday.
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