LEAF NOTES: Easton Cowan, Fraser Minten set for future chemistry

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If Easton Cowan and Fraser Minten ever cause a chain reaction as Maple Leaf linemates, they’ll look at these past two development camps as providing their chemical compound. 

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The two first picks the past two years each scored in Sunday’s scrimmage game finale of the week-long skill bonding exercise, all eyes on them since last year when both made a strong bid to break into the NHL, Minten playing four games. Putting Cowan on Minten’s right side with NCAA left winger Nicholas Moldenhauer was an easy call Sunday for Hayley Wickenheiser, the Leafs’ assistant general manager. 

“We know those two will come to main camp (in September) with the goal of making the team,” Wickenheiser said after they popped up all over the Ford Centre ice. “Having them together is a little familiarity, allows them to show leadership by driving the play and dominating offensively.” 

At times during the week, the duo also competed against each other in drills and were also matched against the biggest defence pairings as a further test. 

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The work doesn’t stop for either, OHL player of the year Cowan is planning just to take Monday off before resuming training at a gym near his London-area home. Saskatoon Blade Minten is squeezing in a vacation in Greece with his brother before he gets into a July routine. Both will be at the Ford Centre working out with Leaf veterans before long. 

“Easton’s one of my really good friends now,” Minten said. “He does all the things right out there, he’s fast and tenacious, which makes it easy for me.” 

Cowan’s goal against Russian Artur Akhtyamov came off a clean Minten draw. 

“He’s elite, he just said, ‘Be ready, I’m gonna win this’, and I was able to pick my spot,” Cowan said. “He was second in the WHL (in faceoffs). It’s just fun, he has a hockey IQ, he played in the NHL last year and works hard. 

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“As this camp went on, I felt I got better and I’m going to take that back to London. I have a goal I’m sticking to it, I want to make the team. I’m feeling very confident and want to be a reliable player that the coach (Craig Berube) can trust. I just have to learn game management a bit better, opening my body up toward the check instead of turning my back, having a head on a swivel at times, getting in at the blueline, getting out.” 

Fraser Minten
Saskatoon Blades forward Fraser Minten (16) scores the winning goal in overtime in round 3, game 5 against the Moose Jaw Warriors at SaskTel Centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Friday, May 3, 2024. Photo by Michelle Berg /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

HOL TOGETHER NOW

A few among the 47 at this camp were being seen live for the first time by Wickenheiser’s staff and GM Brad Treliving.

They included the most recent draft class from last week, 31st overall defenceman Ben Danford from the Oshawa Generals and another offensive star on Sunday, Czechia centre Miroslav Holinka. Danford set up one of his two goals and he almost had a hat trick. 

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While Holinka doesn’t yet have enough English for an interview, others were glad to speak on his behalf. 

“Nice hands,” Wickenheiser said of the 6-foot-1 fifth-rounder. “You can really tell he played men’s hockey (promoted to Trinec Ocelari’s senior team last year) with his habits and details of the game. He didn’t struggle with the pace at all, a real bright spot at camp.” 

Danford, who was drafted a bit higher than some expected, was trying to take in everything at his first camp to enhance his coming season with the Gens. That included a great seminar on home cooking. 

“We’re getting to the age where we might be living on our own,” he said of the craft. “I wouldn’t say I’m a master chef, but I’m going in the right direction, that’s for sure.”

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HOOPS, THERE IT IS

One of the most interesting parts of the camp turned out to be Saturday’s visit to the Raptors OVO practice facility for a game among the prospects.

“I found this group of players to be the most intense we’ve had,” Wickenheiser said with a laugh. “They were quiet and reserved – until we took them to OVO. In hindsight, that seemed to (trigger them) I should have done that first (on Monday) to get them more relaxed and loose.” 

Apparently, the smaller players didn’t like getting schooled by the larger prospects, especially those who played some basketball in their time. 

“It’s a competitive situation,” Wickenheiser said. ‘You want them to be teammates, not kill each other on the ice, but players also want to make an impression.” 

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Golf was another pastime they tried, many of the Europeans swinging a club for the first time. 

LOOSE LEAFS

Next up for Wickenheiser and her staff is meeting to assess the camp, check that fitness and nutrition plans are in place for the summer and decide who outside of the draft picks that impressed here will get invites to the rookie camp in September, which includes two games against Montreal Canadiens prospects … Wickenheiser was not concerned about 2024 draft defenceman Victor Johansson. Six-feet-one who came in with a purported weight of 147 pounds that has been challenged for accuracy. “We make a lot about his weight, but he’s a great mover and reminds me a bit of John Klingberg when he started out (in the NHL), about the same weight, but has those Swedish long levers. He doesn’t seem to have any difficulty with the physical play today, it’s more just the shift to the bigger ice here.” Wickenheiser will be visiting him in the summer as part of keeping tabs on all the Europeans … Sunday’s game format before a large number of family and a small army of Leaf scouts and staffers, saw each 30-minute half start at 5-on-5 play, reduced to 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 with ‘pursuit’ on penalty shots. In the 7-3 win for the Blues over the Whites, other goals from the winners came from Quinn Hutson, Michael Hagens and Ryan McLeary … Saskatoon’s Brandon Lisowsky, the 2022 pick who didn’t sign by last month’s NHL deadline but came back to this camp anyway and did well, scored one for the Whites … Cowan was stopped on a breakaway by Dawson Cowan (no relation) a free agent Spokane goalie and teammate of Nathan Mayes, the big defenceman Toronto took with the last pick of the draft a week ago … Free agent Cameron Rowe of Western Michigan wasn’t just the winning goalie in regulation, he stopped every member of the Whites in the exhibition shootout. 

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