Toronto Maple Leafs: Rookie Tournament Recap
By: David Morassutti
The young prospects for the Toronto Maple Leafs got their moment in the spotlight at the annual rookie tournament in London, Ontario this past weekend. For some of these prospects this tournament was their audition for the Leafs training camp roster which gets underway on Thursday September 17th at the MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke.
The Leafs rookies posted a 1-1-1 record during the tournament in which the team scored an average of 4.66 goals per game and allowed 4.33 goals per game.
While the team results do not matter as much when evaluating prospects, it is important to see which young players are able to develop chemistry with their teammates quickly and which players could stand out with their individual performances. There was no shortage of players who made a positive impression over the past three games. However it should be noted that this is a rookie tournament and these prospects will have to show that they are capable of producing at the NHL level down the line.
Two players coming into the tournament that many people had their eyes on were William Nylander and Mitch Marner as both were picked in the top 10 by the Leafs in the past two drafts. Nylander was without a doubt Toronto’s best forward which is what you want to see for a player that many have criticized for his lack of size and not being accountable defensively. That is why many believe that he would be better suited to play the wing but watching him play at center may change that opinion. One thing that Nylander hopes that playing at center would allow him to have the puck more. He said in an interview with TSN that he is a player that would want to puck on his stuck as often as possible.
“Of course I like having the puck more,” said Nylander. “And I think as a centre you’re skating more and when you’re skating more you’re into the game. Centre’s a position where you’ve got to be all over the ice; that helps me get into the game.”
Nylander gave a nice preview of what can happen when he has the puck scoring two goals in the first game against the Ottawa Senators and scoring a nice goal in the final game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His vision and ability to move the puck is what sets him apart from other prospects there. There was a reason why Nylander was sent back to Sweden this past season because playing against older players instead of junior players would have been better for his development. Seeing him play at a high level against younger players basically reconfirms that Nylander is their top prospect and this season will be crucial for his development which is why the Leafs have taken the approach they have with their coaching and development staff.
For those wondering who made a great impression at the tournament, those players were the ones who received an invitation to the Leafs main camp. After the tournament the Leafs announced that the following players were invited to camp.
Forwards: Martins Dzierkals, T.J. Foster, Frederik Gauthier, Michael Joly, Kasperi Kapanen, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Jack Rodewald, Nikolai Skladnichenko, Nikita Soshnikov, Dmytro Timashov, Brady Vail and Carter Verhaeghe
Goaltender: Lucas Peressini.
Soshnikov and Timashov were impressive at the tournament because they were always active in the offensive zone. They were aggressive and showed great chemistry together which is good to see. Dermott earned a lot of praise for his poise, skating, offensive ability, and desire to separate a player from the puck by being physical. There were people who scratched their heads when the Leafs took Dermott however the early return could be favourable if he can continue to work on his defensive game. Expect to see Dermott play on the Team Canada World Junior team where he could be one of the top four defencemen. Another player that stood out was Valiev who has the size, puck handling and skating that can make him a dominant defenceman one day moving forward. He will most likely be an essential part of the Marlies defence which should be encouraging since hitting the Leafs radar at the World Juniors in Toronto.
The work that Mark Hunter and Kyle Dubas have done this past year has made a big difference for the Leafs future considering the team’s inability to properly develop prospects in the past. No wonder many people had high hopes for both men when the Leafs hired them out of the OHL. Hopefully this can continue for the next five to ten years because even though things are looking up right now this is a process that will take years to get right as the team continues to build its prospect pool.