Leafs Versus Penguins Prospect Game (London, Ontario)

Scott Harrington's development gave Pittsburgh confidence to trade Morrow. (CHL Images)
Scott Harrington’s development gave Pittsburgh confidence to trade Morrow. (CHL Images)

Last night, I had the chance to watch the best young players the Leafs and Penguins had to offer. It was an exciting and eventful game with plenty of goals and hits. The two teams were the definition of evenly matched, with neither team ever having more than a one goal lead. It would take 3 periods with overtime and shootout before a winner was decided.

The game started quickly, with two fights within a few minutes after the puck dropped. Toronto won both engagements, but it was Pittsburgh who would strike first. Scott Harrington, the former London Knights captained, got on the board first, and drew an ovation from a crowd. That was the last time any Penguin got support from an audience made up mostly of Leafs fans. Toronto forward Matt Rupert would tie the game up before the end of the period with a nice shot that eluded Pens goaltender Matt Murray on the powerplay. His brother Ryan got an assist on the play.

In the second, Jason Megna would put the Penguins up 2-1 before Toronto’s Fabrice Herzog would tie it up. Herzog’s goal was scored against Pens goaltender Eric Hartzell, who replaced Murray at the halfway point. Hartzell inadvertently contributed to the goal by poking the puck towards Herzog who scored on a shot while falling down. Besides that one bad goal however, Hartzell was very solid for the rest of the period, stopping several prime scoring opportunities.

The third period started off rather slow with both teams focusing primarily on defence. The Leafs would strike first off a one-timer by forward Andrew Crescenzi. In my opinion, it was the nicest goal of the game, and brought the whole crowd out of their seats. With time running out and Hartzell pulled, things looked bleak for the Penguins. However, Tom Kuhnhackl would beat Leafs goalie Christopher Gibson with less than 20 seconds to go with a bomb from the faceoff dot.

Overtime saw both teams exchange a few shots, before Toronto would win it off a goal by Brad Ross in the shootout.

Overall, I was shocked by how physically dominant the Leafs prospects were. The team hunted bodies all night long, and had more than a few cringe-worth hits. The referees were content to let the players play, and the Leafs took full advantage of the situation. Toronto was especially adept at throwing out a few bone-crunchers as the Penguins were trying to enter the offensive zone. Pittsburgh tried to get into the physical game as well, but not nearly with the same success as Toronto. If this physicality can be transferred to the NHL level, the Leafs will be extremely difficult to play in the next few seasons. Many of their prospects seem to fit the Brian Burke/Randy Carlyle system, and Leafs fans should be excited by this team’s potential.

The best player for Pittsburgh was their captain, Brian Dumoulin. He played in all situations with an air of patience and calmness, and was always in the right place at the right time. He successfully carried the puck into the Toronto zone several times with ease, and was defensively sound in his own end. This player was considered by many to be a throw-in player in the Jordan Staal trade with Carolina, but I believe that he could end up being the best player Pittsburgh received in the deal. The other piece from that trade, Derrick Pouliot, did not do anything particularly impressive, nor was he particularly bad. I didn’t really get to see any of the high-end skating that many have raved about, but then again, it’s only one game.

On the flip side, the best Leafs player was by far Brad Ross. He was an absolute beast on the ice, throwing around his body with incredible effectiveness. The 2nd rounder from 2010 also scored the decisive goal in the shootout, and was very good defensively. While other prospects like Morgan Reilly, Tyler Biggs and Jesse Blacker are thought of as the future of the Leafs, no one should forget Ross. If this game is any indication of his potential, then he could be an impact player at the NHL level. But then again, it was only one game.

Leafs defenceman Matt Finn left in the first period and is questionable for the rest of the tournament.

Here is the 6-minute game recap, courtesy of NHL.com.