The Toronto Maple Leafs 2016 development camp came to an end on Saturday after a week of learning, training, and bonding. While fans may have been focused on the results of the two Blue-White scrimmages, the Leafs’ management as well as the 41 players invited to the camp were much more keen on coming together as a team.
The Leafs set out a significant amount of time to teach the kids the everyday life of an NHL player, down to diet, training, and living situations. They also mentored the group on how to deal with the ever-present media in the city, how to become a better person by becoming involved in the community, and perhaps most importantly, how to maintain steady mental health during the ups and downs of a professional season.
As for the scrimmages, Team Blue had their way with Team White on consecutive days, coming out on top by a score of 4-1 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday. Mitch Marner (4th overall, 2015) was the star of the festivities, leading Team Blue with five points. Auston Matthews (1st overall, 2016) failed to register a win, but was a dominant force and visibly made his line mates comfortable on the ice. He finished with one assist.
Leafs Value Education Over Hockey
As Mike Babcock noted, “The education process is much more important than the hockey here in the summer,” The Leafs took the time to teach the young group of prospects on what to expect in the life of a professional hockey player and what adjustments they would likely need to make in order to have a smooth transition into the NHL. During the week, the group of 41 prospects attended team seminars on the topics of living the life of a pro athlete, media training, and maintaining mental health.
The mental health portion was a topic that everyone appreciated taking the time for. Matthews noted the message of the meetings was “Just not being afraid to share”, something that everyone could connect to. As many of the prospects are still in their teens, it is difficult to leave home and be able to perform to the best of your abilities without any worries setting in, especially in a hockey-crazed market like Toronto.
Marner also said that he noticed a drastic difference this year with 41 players invited as opposed to 57 at last year’s camp. “There’s less guys, and that kind of helps you get to know people better and build chemistry with them on the ice and off the ice. This camp, it seemed a lot closer of a group,” noted Marner who enjoyed much more success at this year’s camp.
Overall, it was a tremendous week for everyone involved. The Leafs did an excellent job in making everyone feel included and accepted, tying together a very tight-knit group of highly touted prospects. Perhaps most importantly, the team reminded the players that you as a person comes before you as a hockey player.
Players and Fans Get Glimpse Into Exciting Future
In the scrimmage portion of the development camp, the 41 players were split into two teams, blue and white. The full list of players invited to the camp can be found here. At the end of the weekend, Team Blue came out on top of both games, by scores of 4-1 and 5-2.
While Marner was the star of the show, leading the way with two goals and three assists, there were plenty of other players who stood out during the scrimmages. The following are notes on some of the better performances.
- Auston Matthews (1st overall, 2016)
Although Matthews came out on the losing side of both contests, the Arizona native proved his ability to take control of a game. He showed the skill to maintain possession of the puck and also make his teammates better players. Despite totalling just one assist, Matthews creates multiple scoring chances and was strong on the puck.
- Jeremy Bracco (61st overall, 2015)
Bracco used his speed and shifty skating to open up the ice for himself and his teammates. He also showed off an improving shot which earned him two goals over the course of the games. Bracco will likely return to Kitchener for 2016-17, but has become an intriguing prospect.
- Trevor Moore (Camp Invite)
Moore was invited to the camp as a member of the Denver Pioneers (NCAA). He used the opportunity very well playing alongside Marner, where he racked up a goal and three assists. The 21-year-old was excellent in using his hockey IQ to find passing lanes and create scoring chances.
- Joseph Woll (62nd overall, 2016)
After acquiring Frederik Andersen prior to the 2016 NHL Draft, the Leafs went out and drafted a promising goaltender in the third round. He showed off his athleticism and rebound control all week-long and used them on route to two victories for Team Blue. The 17-year-old was easily the most impressive of five goalies at the camp. He will spend 2016-17 at Boston College.
- Andrew Nielsen (65th overall, 2015)
Nielsen has an exceptional 2015-16 season and continues it at the Leafs camp. He is a tremendous all-around defenceman who was strong at both ends of the ice during both practices and scrimmages. If Nielsen could take his skating ability to the next level, he could be an elite defender. He can either return to Lethbridge (WHL) or play with Toronto (AHL) for 2016-17.
One thing that is glaringly obvious from this year’s development camp is that the Leafs have an exceptional amount of both top-end talent and depth in their prospect pool. They have a plan in place for the future and are remaining patient, making plenty of smart moves at the draft yet again. Toronto is set to have a boatload of talent to build a roster around in the coming years, and should they stick to the plan, it will be a loaded lineup.