As we quickly approach the start of the 2022-23 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospects once again took part in the rookie tournament showcase in Traverse City, Michigan.
It was a great opportunity for fans to get a glimpse of the team’s prospects showcase their value in hopes of catching the eye of the Maple Leafs coaching and scouting staff. Especially for those who have a chance to fight and battle for a roster spot with the big club.
Even though the Maple Leafs had a 1-2-1 record, there were many players that made an impact at the tournament. Here are the ones that stood out.
After missing the tournament last year due to an injury, Steeves made the most of it this time around. Upon returning after his short stint at that tournament, he had a stellar rookie campaign with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League with 46 points in 58 games.
Last season, Steeves’ speed and aggressive mindset in the offensive zone was always consistent in every game that he played. At the early start of this season with this tournament, he appeared to have found another gear with his speed and work ethic. I didn’t think he could get quicker than he already is, yet he did as he was flying out on the ice. He was at the centre of everything as he was always willing to go into the corners or along the boards, battle and protect the puck very well. Steeves mentioned that this was one aspect that he wanted to work on.
Steeves’ offensive vision and playmaking albitites was on full display as he finished with a goal and three assists. In a game against the St. Louis Blues, he made a slick assist as he made a move at the blueline, then cuts down and spots Max Ellis for a goal. Steeves was quick, relentless and always engaging as the play unfolded. There was no quit to his game as he was determined to get the advantage over opponents when pursuing or trying to gain possession of the puck. He even had a nice deflection goal with great hand-eye coordination where he was alone in front of the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s a reason why Nick Abruzzese earned an entry-level contract when his NCAA season came to an end and even earned some ice time with the Maple Leafs last season.
Throughout the tournament, he displayed the high-end competitive nature and work ethic that makes him such an intriguing prospect. He was quick, agile and was always in control whenever the puck was on his stick. He was making plays and he wasn’t afraid of driving hard to the middle of the ice for a high-danger shot.
He even had a couple of highlight reel plays. He displayed great hands and patience in tight of the net to set up Semyon Der-Arguchintsev for his first goal of the game against the Dallas Stars and even scored a pretty snipe on a bad angle in the game against the Blues to tie the game up in the second period. He came close again when looking to setup Pontus Holmberg against the Blue Jackets. Although it didn’t result in a goal, the patience and vision to spot Holmberg was still evident.
Already with NHL experience under his belt, Abruzzese will be another player to keep an eye on in camp. Even if he starts in the AHL, it won’t be long before he gets called up.
Robertson didn’t have a great start to the tournament after he created a turnover leading to Logan Stankoven’s goal in the first game. However, he was able to bounce back and get back to the Robertson we know with his high-octane offensive style of play.
His quick bursts of speed allowed him to be elusive in the offensive zone always driving hard to the middle of the ice and push defenders back when entering the zone to create more space. He showcased his wicked shot and release with a goal of his own in his first game against the Stars and more after that.
Whenever he was alone, he was already in shooting mode as he had quality looks at the net. There were times where he was a little too patient and held onto the puck and was a little late getting a shot off. For the most part, he was able to utilize his quick release and made those shots count. There were also times where he tried to do a little too much with the puck and could’ve simplified things, but there was still a lot to like with his play at the tournament. He was determined every shift and in every play.
Robertson is looking for a spot in the top-six this time as he’s looking to have success after his development has seen some ups and downs. The tournament was a good start and the hope is that he can build off it.
Holmberg finished the tournament with three assists as he was very quiet, yet effective. His smarts and situational awareness were definitely great to see as he was always in position when establishing a forecheck and separating players from the puck in order to regain possession.
That awareness and positioning was evident on his assist where he set up Der-Arguchintsev for his second goal against the Stars. He was aggressive on the attack, applied pressure on the defender and was able to get the loose puck to Der-Arguchintsev for an easy shot and goal. Holmberg was always a part of plays that led to quality chances and offensive zone time.
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Holmberg had a nice short stint with the Marlies last season with four points in six games. Given his ability to already play with pro players, he definitely has an edge in order to try and make the roster during training camp. The smarts and aggressive tendencies with his developing speed is a major asset and one that could benefit the Maple Leafs.
Honourable Mentions and Notes
- Pavel Gogolev generated a lot of quality chances with his heavy shot and displayed great puck protection skills throughout the tournament. He scored in the first game against the Stars but remained an offensive presence in and around the net. He showed great power and puck protection when getting by opposing players and had an extra burst of speed to his game.
- Signed to a two-year entry level contract back in April, Max Ellis was a very nice surprise at this tournament. What stood out the most was his speed and relentless energy to challenge and pressure the opposition. Even though he is 5-foot-9, that was not a factor at all to hinder his play.
- Marshall Rifai was another big surprise as well. Signed to an AHL contract with the Marlies last season, Rifai displayed great speed, physicality and work ethic as he was a standout defensively with his decision making. Considering he was great at development camp and at the tournament, he could earn an NHL contract from the Maple Leafs.
Who impressed you the most at the rookie tournament? Have your say in the comment section below.
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