In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at a couple of the young prospects at the Traverse City Tournament that’s happening in Michigan this week. The young Maple Leafs have a record of 1-1 thus far, and a number of them have played well. I’ll look at two particularly – Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan.
Second, I’ll take a look at a couple of players on professional tryout contracts (PTOs). Noah Gregor has signed with the Blue & White, while Zach Aston-Reese has left the Maple Leafs and will join former Maple Leafs pest Michael Bunting with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Latest News & Highlights
Finally, I take a quick look at young goalie Dennis Hildeby, who showed well in the team’s 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars prospects yesterday. How well can he play this season with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Toronto Marlies? He has the size for it, and it seems he has the skills. We’ll see.
Item One: Fraser Minten Was Solid in Prospects Game
Although the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Maple Leafs 7-3 in Game 1 of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, Maple Leafs’ prospects head coach John Gruden praised Minten and Max Ellis for their solid play. Gruden, who is also the new AHL coach of the Marlies, had particularly positive comments about Minten.
Gruden liked Minten’s outstanding performance on the ice; however, he also commended the youngster for his leadership skills. He noted that Minten was not only effective in his on-ice play but also on the bench. His ability to maintain a positive attitude and keep his teammates engaged impressed his coach.
Item Two: Easton Cowan Looks Strong in Game 2
In Game 2 of the Traverse City Prospects Tournament, the Maple Leafs prospects came back with a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars prospects. In that game, 18-year-old Easton Cowan made a strong impression. Despite not being the center of attention like some of the other prospects (think Matthew Knies), Cowan’s performance was remarkable. The reports were that he had set personal goals over the summer to become bigger, stronger, and improve his first three strides. It was evident that he successfully accomplished these three objectives.
Cowan excelled in both offensive and defensive situations, particularly impressing on the penalty kill. What stood out about him was how big he played. He’s on the short side of 6-feet-0, but he plays much bigger. He’s fearless and fast.
He consistently hounded opponents, never stopped moving, and seemed to surprise the Stars’ prospects with his speed. Cowan’s performance in this tournament has made a great first impression on me. I’m hoping that he’ll improve even more in the third game. He should have a dominating season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and should be able to translate the success he’s seen in this Prospects Tournament into the Maple Leafs training camp.
No one expects him to emerge from training camp with a roster position, but could he? His blend of skill, speed, and never-say-stop determination bodes well for him with the Blue & White in the future.
Item Three: Noah Gregor, Yes or No as a Signing?
The team’s decision to sign Gregor to a PTO has both pros and cons. However, it is a sort of a no-lose proposition. He has speed and he could add an element of quickness to the team’s lineup. As well, his presence in the upcoming training camp offers depth and a dose of healthy competition among the forwards.
The question is whether he might have the potential for improved production given a change of scenery. It’s tough to know how becoming a part of a solid team like the Maple Leafs might benefit players who have played on teams with lesser talent previously. Obviously, PTOs are cost-effective, low-risk arrangements. In this case, it will allow the Maple Leafs to assess Gregor’s performance in camp before committing to anything further.
Gregor’s limited NHL production with around ten goals and 20 points might also be representative of his top-end production. He will face stiff competition from other forwards in camp. Furthermore, it’s unclear where he might fit into the Maple Leafs’ lineup. At best, a bottom-six role is possible.
That said, Gregor’s fate with the Maple Leafs will hinge on how he performs in camp and how well he fits into the team’s plans for the upcoming season.
Item Three: ZAR Joins Bunting in Carolina
This week, there was news that the Hurricanes had signed Aston-Reese to a PTO. Now 29 years of age, he will join the Hurricanes after playing a season with the Maple Leafs. Although he was a standout scorer in college hockey, he’s primarily settled into a role as a physical, fourth-line defensive player who’s good on the penalty kill. His offensive numbers haven’t matched his college success, but he’s valued for his defensive contributions.
Last season, he scored 10 goals and 14 points in 77 Maple Leafs games. He played about 11 minutes per night, including penalty-kill time. Given his physicality and his defensive skills, that he’s signed PTOs for two straight offseasons is surprising to me. I thought he gave the Blue & White solid value for the size of his contract. He will compete for a fourth-line role and an NHL contract in Carolina.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
One thing that I didn’t mention about the Traverse City Prospects Tournament was the play of goalie Dennis Hildeby. He’s big and looks solid. What is so surprising is that, even in a butterfly position, he seems to cover the entire net. The only goal against him came on a three-on-one breakaway.
It should be fun seeing him with the Marlies this season. He, like Cowan, has the look of a keeper (no pun intended with Hildeby).