With the month of September continuing to roll on, each and every day brings us closer to the long awaited return of NHL hockey. Teams are beginning to chart their rosters and get everything prepared for their upcoming training camps. Before those start however, there is the matter of the annual rookie tournaments.
Teams throughout the league usually get together in groups of three or four and send their top rookies against each other. It’s an excellent opportunity for the young players, as they are able to showcases their skills, tenacity and how well they play with each other.
The Maple Leafs rookies are competitive every year. This current tournament will be no exception, as the Buds are preparing to send a mixture of retuning players and fresh blood. This time around they will be playing teams of prospects from Montreal, Ottawa and Pittsburgh.
Key Returning Players
The Maple Leafs have some big names who will be participating in this years tournament. The brightest of them is easily William Nylander, the Leafs first round election in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Nylander is one of the players being tabbed to help turn around the franchise. He spent time in the AHL last year and put up excellent numbers in the games he played.
The second returning forward comes in the form of Carter Verhaeghe of the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs. The slick skater put up 33 goals and 82 points this past campaign. He’s creative and works hard in the offensive zone.
Other familiar names include Frederik Gauthier, another Maple Leafs first rounder. He most recently competed for the Memorial Cup with his team, the Rimouski Oceanic.
Joining him from the QMJHL is Cody Donaghey of the Quebec Remparts. He is an offensively-oriented defenseman who is excellent with puck possession. Matt Finn and Rinat Valiev round out the returning defenders.
The New Recruits
Looking at the official list, there are a few names that jump right out at me. Mitch Marner, the prized fourth overall pick from the latest draft makes the cut. Kasperi Kapanen, the key prospect acquired in the Phil Kessel deal, will also suit up for the Blue and White. He’ll also have the pleasure of playing against the Penguins prospects in the final game.
Nikita Soshnikov and Zach Hyman will also be in attendance. The former is a Russian forward the Leafs signed to a deal earlier this year. He’s shifty, aggressive and has speed to burn. Hyman was acquired in a trade from the Florida Panthers. He’s good in all three zones and has a knack for upping his play when the game demands it.
There is also a large contingent of players from the most recent NHL Entry Draft that will make an appearance. The aforementioned Marner will join forwards Nikita Korostelev and Martins Dzierkals, all of whom were drafted by the Leafs for their speed and skill.
On the defensive side, the forwards will be joined by Travis Dermott, Andrew Neilsen and the big Stephen Desrocher. Dermott is a constant scoring threat with the puck and Nielsen and Derocher are solid, strong stay at home defennsemen.
The rookie showcase is an excellent opportunity for fans, media and the organization as a whole. It gives everyone the chance to see how the players are developing, who needs more work and if any are ready for the jump up to the big leagues. Keep an eye out, as you may be watching the future of the franchise play out before your eyes.