In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at three Maple Leafs prospects (Matthew Knies, Fraser Minten, and Easton Cowan) who will be part of the Maple Leafs’ roster for the Traverse City Prospect Tournament. It should be fun to follow, and I was interested that Knies would be part of the tournament. It means that (somehow) I see him as already settled into a regular NHL spot this season.
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Second, I will examine what might be Nick Robertson’s role and challenges with the Maple Leafs this season. I would be sad again if he made the roster out of training camp but was dropped to the American Hockey League (AHL) Toronto Marlies just because he was easy to move. However, that isn’t out of the realm of possibility.
Third, I’ll take a look at why I believe Calle Jarnkrok’s versatility and adaptability have made him a valuable player with this Maple Leafs’ squad. While he showed chemistry last season with the team’s top-line talent, including Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, it’s just hard for me to see that happening again this season. There are too many newcomers for top-six roles.
Item One: Knies, Minton, and Cowan Will Play in Traverse City Tournament
Maple Leafs fans should be interested in the upcoming Traverse City Prospect Tournament in Michigan. That’s because the team will have its three most promising young talents at center ice there (as well as a number of other young players). These three – Matthew Knies, Fraser Minten, and Easton Cowan – seem to be the team’s most exciting young prospects and will be showing what they can do on the ice.
Marlies’ new head coach John Gruden will be in charge of this talented roster of 14 young forwards, nine defensemen, and three goalies. It’s a great event actually, which gives several NHL teams a chance to see their youngsters in action.
Given that the Maple Leafs always seem to be contending for the Stanley Cup, they have had a tendency to trade away some of their prospect pool every trade deadline. This season seems a bit different, with the kind of high-end talent the young Maple Leafs can put on the ice. To me, this season’s prospects seem to be more promising than ever.
Of the three, Knies was a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. He’s already shown his potential in the NHL when he made his debut at the end of last season. Although the Maple Leafs’ roster has limited spots, fans are expecting Knies to take his place somewhere at the top end of the team’s regular-season lineup.
Fraser Minten was a second-round draftee in 2022. He seems to be on a positive trajectory to become a key player for the Western Hockey League (WHL) Kamloops Blazers this season. He’s also been named as a possible player for Team Canada at the 2024 World Junior Championship. He’s projected to become a strong middle-six forward sometime in the Maple Leafs’ future — perhaps sooner than later? He’s quite mature.
Easton Cowan might be the most fun prospect to watch. He seems to have a ton of motor and heart. He was the team’s first-round draft pick in 2023, and he came to the team as part of the Rasmus Sandin trade deadline deal. Cowan is a dynamic playmaker who’s entering his second season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
These three prospects, as well as others, will be part of the Traverse City experience. Their tournament play will offer a glimpse into the Maple Leafs’ future.
Item Two: What About Nick Robertson This Season?
So, as this season gets underway, Nick Robertson seems to have taken on the role of the Maple Leafs’ forgotten prospect. Yet, he could become one of the most intriguing storylines of the training camp. His path to a regular spot in the Maple Leafs’ lineup has been fraught with complexities and still remains uncertain.
There are so many questions with Robertson. Where might he ultimately land? He clearly, at least to me, has the talent and potential to make an impact in the NHL. Yet, he faces a ton of competition within his own organization. Bringing in a player such as Max Domi wasn’t a bad decision, but it might move Robertson, yet again, to the periphery. Does that mean he’s likely to start the season with the Marlies?
The word on Robertson is that he’s more fitted for a top-six position than one on the team’s fourth line. How would playing down the lineup affect his developmental path? Could he flourish by playing limited ice time? Would a fourth-line role be conducive to his growth? While it might be disappointing, the Marlies could serve as his most valuable developmental path.
Item Three: Why Calle Jarnkrok Is So Valuable for the Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have found a valuable asset in Calle Jarnkrok. He seems capable of playing everywhere. Why is he so valuable? I see at least three reasons.
First, his versatility makes him a go-to player for head coach Sheldon Keefe. Using Jarnkrok allows Keefe to fill a variety of different roles and positions, which makes the Swedish winger a key player in the team’s strategy. Jarnkrok also meshed well with top-line talent, and his chemistry with Matthews and Marner added an offensive dimension that significantly enhanced the team’s scoring last season.
Additionally, Jarnkrok is reasonably paid (with an average annual value of $2.1 million) for the services he provides. Given the team’s constant flirtation with the salary cap, having cost-effective flexibility within the team’s salary structure is a huge bonus.
In short, Jarnkrok’s well-rounded contributions and team-friendly contract make him a great value and an essential part of the Maple Leafs’ lineup for the foreseeable future.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
In looking at the team’s goalie situation, I have to wonder if Joseph Woll has the potential to challenge Ilya Samsonov for more playing time in the NHL. Woll was a 2016 third-round draft pick, but in a small sample size he’s put up an impressive record. In his 11 career regular-season NHL games, he’s put up a 9-2-0 record, a 2.38 goals-against average, and a 0.924 save percentage.
If Woll is ready to be a full-time NHL goalie, platooning the twosome would give the team a chance to keep everyone fresh over the long haul of the regular season. And if, by any chance, Woll has the potential to challenge to become the Maple Leafs’ starting goalie of the future, that might change how the team works with Samsonov after the season is completed. He’s only signed on a one-year contract.
Fans should keep a close eye on both goalies’ performances.