3 Maple Leafs Prospects to Watch at Traverse City Tournament

We’ve officially reached the point of the offseason where we can say hockey is within reach. The start of the regular season is just under a month away, preseason kicks off on Sept 24, and before we can even think about either of those events, Toronto Maple Leafs prospects will be taking part in the Traverse City Prospect Tournament. They will compete against prospects from the Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, and St. Louis Blues, with the first game against Stars prospects happening tonight at 6:30 pm EST. 

While the tournament will be missing a few of the Maple Leafs’ top prospects in Matthew Knies and Topi Niemela, who are preparing for their NCAA and SM-Liiga seasons, respectively, there are still some interesting names to watch at the tournament this season. Some of the players have already seen NHL minutes, including Nick Robertson, Alex Steeves, and Nick Abbruzzese, while others are playing for an entry-level contract (ELC) with the organization. If you’re starving for hockey content and looking to familiarize yourself with some of the team’s top rookies, here are a couple of names to watch heading into this weekend’s event. 

Fraser Minten (C, 2nd Round, 38th Overall – 2022) 

The Maple Leafs originally had their first-round pick in the most recent draft but traded it along with Petr Mrazek’s contract to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for their second-round pick. General manager Kyle Dubas told the press ahead of Day 2 of the draft that the team felt confident they could get a prospect they had ranked in the top 15 in the second round, and that prospect would later appear to be Fraser Minten. The Vancouver native spent last season with the Western Hockey League (WHL)’s Kamloops Blazers, finishing the season with 55 points in 67 games along with 16 points in 17 playoff games. 

Fraser Minten Kamloops Blazers
Fraser Minten, Kamloops Blazers (Allen Douglas / Kamloops Blazers)

A centre standing at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, it’s been said that Minten is a “safe” player, somebody you could likely depend on as a middle-six forward down the line. Having said that, there’s reason to believe that he has more to give on offense. He was held behind older players in Kamloops, including Dallas Stars prospect Logan Stankoven, who finished third in league scoring in 2021-22. He will likely get more of an offensive opportunity this season, and evidently, the Maple Leafs’ development staff sees this potential as well, as he was skating on the top line in between Robertson and Steeves during their first practice.

On top of the hidden offensive potential, Minten’s physicality is a strong suit as well. He also has strong defensive skills and the kind of forechecking ability every coach longs to get out of their players. In terms of an NHL comparison, think a Ryan O’Reilly-type of player. Obviously, the Maple Leafs would be highway robbers if Minten turned out to be anywhere near O’Reilly’s skill, so it’s important to pump the brakes a little bit. But assuming he sticks with the linemates he had in practice, look for him to get lots of ice time in these games. 

Pano Fimis (C, Undrafted, 2nd Year Eligible) 

As stated earlier, not all of the players at the rookie tournament have entry-level contracts, and Pano Fimis is one of those players. In fact, he was one of the most surprising players to go undrafted in 2022. The Richmond Hill native was born in 2004 and this past draft was his first year of eligibility. Despite recording 44 points in 54 games on a poor Niagara IceDogs team, all 32 teams passed on him through seven rounds. If any non-roster invitee has a chance to walk out of this tournament with a contract, it will be him.

Pano Fimis, Niagara IceDogs
Pano Fimis, Niagara IceDogs (Josh Kim, The Hockey Writers)

Fimis was the second overall pick of the 2020 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection, taken after Seattle Kraken prospect defenseman Ty Nelson. Like many other prospects in the 2022 Draft class, Fimis was robbed of what would have been his first year of development due to the cancellation of the 2020-21 season caused by COVID-19. If he has a strong tournament, it might be wise for the Maple Leafs to sign him to an entry-level contract before he returns to the OHL and regains draft eligibility. There’s obviously some nice potential there given where the IceDogs drafted him, and signing him would ensure his rights without having to worry about another team selecting him in 2023. 

Kasper Larsen (D, Mississauga Steelheads, 3rd Year Eligible) 

We’re going to go right back into the pool of undrafted players for the final highlighted prospect in this article with a look at Kasper Larsen. The 19-year-old Danish defenseman stands at a hulking 6-foot-6 and 231 pounds, and, like Fimis, is eligible for a contract. While it’s unlikely that the Maple Leafs clear the space for more than one entry-level contract, Larsen could be in the running for a deal with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Toronto Marlies. He received votes as both the OHL’s most underrated player as well as the hardest slap shot in the league’s coaches poll and has an intimidating frame to go along with it.

After spending the first chapter of his career playing in his native Denmark, he made the switch to the OHL for the 2021-22 season and impressed with 43 points in 57 games. He also represented Denmark at the 2022 World Junior Division 1A Tournament and recorded four points in five games, good enough to tie for second on his team in scoring. The Maple Leafs have been known to use their ECHL team to develop talent for the Marlies, and if Larsen has a good tournament, he could be an intriguing piece to consider for the Newfoundland Growlers.

Other Maple Leafs Prospects to Watch 

On top of these three names, the Maple Leafs will have several players who are gunning to lock down spots with the Marlies, or perhaps throw their hats in the ring to be considered for call-ups in the event of injury. Some of these players include the aforementioned Robertson, Steeves, and Abruzzese, as well as Swedish 2018 sixth-round pick Pontus Holmberg. Among other players to watch include junior prospects Ty Voit and Brandon Lisowsky, and AHL goaltending hopeful Keith Petruzzelli. 

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As previously stated, the tournament begins at 6:30 PM EST tonight against the Dallas Stars prospects. Then, Maple Leafs prospects will face the youth of the St. Louis Blues on Friday, Sept. 16, Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, Sept. 18, and Detroit Red Wings Monday, Sept. 19. Training camp and preseason will soon follow the tournament, and before anybody knows it, the 2022-23 NHL season will be in full swing. If you’re looking for something to do this weekend, the tournament should be an exciting one, and you never know who could make an impact this season after a strong performance in Traverse City.

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