On Saturday, Toronto wrapped up it's development camp with a scrimmage. They divided the roster into two, and if you want a refresher for all of the many names on the list you can catch up from the scouting reports I shared on everyone when the full camp roster was announced.
The dev camp consisted of a bunch of on-ice drills and the prospects working with Toronto's various development coaches, a couple of off-ice excursions together (such as cooking, go-karting and going up the CN Tower), and then finally the scrimmage to finish it all off.
While I was not in attendance for any of the practice days, some in the media were. Between that and the scrimmage which I was able to watch on Saturday, I can share a list of some standouts from the camp and what improvements (grain of salt for one week of practices) were seen or reported.
One note, however. If I do not mention anyone by name, it is not because I thought they did nothing or were bad. I am just keeping the list small enough so I can include more information about the players that I think stood out the most, between the reports and the scrimmage.
Chadwick is quite interesting to me as a late round pick. I am working on a full profile on him, and his background is one of a top scoring and small/average sized defenseman. Except the past two years he's shot up four inches from 6'0" to 6'4", and his body hasn't really started to fill out the bits in between with muscle yet. When asked about him in the post-scrimmage scrum, Hayley Wickenheiser had this to say:
Noah is a big, long, lanky defenseman. He seems to want to make plays out there, he moves pretty good, he's young in terms of his training age off the ice so that's exciting, because there's a lot of room to develop. He's a very intelligent person – he does very well in school and he's got a lot of good question. He's keen on his own development.
And that matches what I saw in the scrimmage. In fact, after rewatching it again I think Chadwick may have been the player that made the positive impression on me. He pretty much has everything I'd want in a defenseman, though maybe not necessarily at a high level. He is a good passer, he makes great decisions when jumping into the play offensively, he's got a good shot, he has good defensive instincts. He just needs to improve the skating, and I think there's a legit prospect there. He's not a burner in terms of speed, but he gets around with those long, lanky limbs and keeps moving and he has excellent reads of the play to compensate.
If he can just work on adding some speed and explosiveness, he'll be a very interesting one to watch because he already makes the right decisions and has good tools. I'm imagining him with average NHL speed and skating. It would unlock so much for him with what he can already do. With his skating as it is now, look at the way he defends this rush against Tverberg – who is a pretty fast guy. Look at how he makes Tverberg stutterstep and slow down a bit to go wider, then keeps pace with him the whole way around the net just because of his reach and keeping his feet moving. He may be a lot slower than Tverberg but he made that not matter. Now imagine him with better speed and skating?
Joshua Kloke from the Athletic mentioned that while observing Brad Treliving and seeing who "seemed to make Treliving's head turn", Joe Miller was apparently achieving that the most. Another small, late pick, Miller mentioned to the media that he has been adding more muscle and how that's helped his game:
“I really feel like my body is changing this year. I’m adding muscle. I can actually lean on guys and move guys around. I feel like I’ve always had that quickness. But getting out of those tight turns and being able to accelerate and beat guys, that’s been a big focus for me,” Miller said.
The added muscle will also help his shot, and all of this will be what Miller needs to help lead Harvard after all their other top scorers finished their NCAA careers this past season. Miller will be called on to be one of their leaders, and from the scrimmage he may be ready to do it. If there was a critique I had of his surprisingly productive freshman season, it's that he wasn't that impactful outside of that. But in this scrimmage he was quick, all over the place, skating hard on the forecheck, getting anywhere he needed to be on the ice, and was a big reason why Team White looked so much more dominant.
In the scrimmage, Miller centered a surprisingly dominant line for Team White with two camp invites: Matthew Sop, a D+2 winger from the OHL, and the 18 year old Swedish winger Isac Hedqvist – more on him below. Miller and Hedqvist each assisted on two of Team White's goals in the third period thanks to their work off the rush. They were also strong defensively in getting the puck back and pushing it up the ice, never letting Team Blue really get anything going against them. I think Miller may have impressed me the second most behind Chadwick, in terms of showing me surprising elements to their game I was not expecting to be that high level.
Moldenhauer got some rave reviews through the whole development camp from the get go. He was singled out for his creativity, intelligence shot, and "snot" to reference what Brad Treliving has said about the Leafs since taking over as GM. He mentioned in a scrum that he has been focusing on playing "like a pro", which is a good sign for him as he makes the jump to the NCAA and one of their top programs.
During the scrimmage, he centered the top line for Team White with Cowan and Voit as his wingers. They were by far the best line between both teams, as they should have been, and created most of their dangerous chances. He almost set up Voit for a nice goal, but the goalie (invite Samuel St-Hilaire) robbed him. He and Cowan were two little(ish) wrecking balls in the offensive zone, throwing their weight around, wrestling for positioning in front of the net, all those little things you know coaches love to see.
At Cowan's first development camp, he was one of the youngest players in attendance – but also was the highest draft pick of them all. He showed everything that you'd expect of him based on his scouting reports and reputation – he plays hard, never stops skating, and during the scrimmage I thought he made some nice passes on by far the best line of the game and was a little terror to the defensemen he forechecked against.
The one thing that stood out among other media people and scouts in this camp was his shot. As a teaser to a full profile on Cowan I have coming out very soon, his shot last year seemed average overall. He never had a lot of power on it, unless he really had a lot of time and space to wind up and pick his spot. But at camp some mentioned he was showing surprising pop, and may have had one of the harder shots in the whole camp. Adding a bigger threat with his shot will help his development a lot. He never really had a chance to show off any shot in the scrimmage, but boy did he look quick and he made some nice passes.
Niemelä has an argument to be the best player in the camp, and he likely should have been. He may not have been the top pick of the lot, but he is one of the older prospects and the most experienced in terms of professional hockey. By all accounts, he acquitted himself well and showed all of the puck moving and skating strengths we've come to expect of him.
The most noteworthy changes he flashed in the week at the dev camp was him seeming to add more of a physical edge. That's something he has mentioned he wanted to work on in combination with adding some muscle and bulking up. That is something I have mentioned numerous times would be important for him to improve his game all over the ice, so it's nice to see him using it in action.
Hirvonen is lockstep with Niemelä in terms of pro experience, and by all accounts he had a good camp as well. In the scrimmage, he played well as one of Team Blue's top forwards with Minten and Tverberg. He has the details you'd expect from a player who has been playing as a pro for four years already, cutting off his man trying to skate up the ice to slow him down immediately, and aggressively closing on puck carriers in the neutral zone to create turnovers. Showcased a nice shot, which I've always thought was his biggest offensive strength.
I unfortunately didn't get to see that much of him. I missed a chunk of the first period due to technical issues, then his team (Blue) were pretty thoroughly dominated by Team White for all of the second, and in the third period he was knocked out by a huge open ice hit. It was a scary moment as Hirvonen lay on the ice, unmoving, for a solid minute. He did leave the ice on his own power and was seen walking around the facility after, but Hayley Wickenheiser announced he had been diagnosed with a concussion. Hopefully it is not a serious one, and he can recover fully to join the Marlies for the start of their season.
Drafted as a small sniper very late in the draft, Lisowsky was seen this camp trying to become a more complete player – offensively, at least. He reportedly spoke with Tavares last September, who impressed on him the importance of controlling the puck for his size. He's been working on holding onto the puck more and being smarter with his decision making while it's on his stick.
He didn't really need to worry about that during the scrimmage though, as he scored two pretty nice goals in the first period to open up a 2-0 lead for Team White. He played with Braeden Kressler and camp invite Tyler Weiss, and though they were a bit more quiet later in the game they looked very good early on. Lisowsky will return to Saskatoon for another year as one of their offensive leaders, and him working in more offensive elements aside from his shot will help him have more of an impact on the ice even if he can't get his shot off.
I really wanted to watch Malinoski this game – him and Chadwick – since he's a newer prospect in a league where it's tough to come by highlights. Unfortunately he missed most of the first period and a bunch of the second, I'm not sure why because he eventually returned and looked just fine.
One the main flaws of Malinoski's game that I read about (in the few scouting reports I could find on him) is his skating, but honestly watching the scrimmage I don't think it's as much of a problem. Or at least he's made some improvements since the bulk of the season. He looked like he had a good speed and was pretty agile. There's some refinement that could be done there for sure.
Sundin played on the second pairing for Team Blue and was under siege a lot through the game, but he made some nice plays. He had some good humour being asked if he was related in anyway to THE Sundin in Toronto (no, he is not). He was also the only camp invite to get specifically mentioned by Hayley Wickenheiser. She had been asked if any of the camp invites impressed her, and she answered:
Albin Sundin is another player that we all liked. He's playing in the SHL, a big strong defender who moves pretty well, he's very fit, physically fit. His challenge is the speed, matching speed and being able to defend at the next levels. But he's a guy that came in and was impressive.
Sundin wound up being half of Team Blue's best defensive pairing with Spencer Sova for most of the game. They complimented each other well. Sundin made a few nice defensive plays with a good stick and positioning, but got burned from better skaters getting around him a couple of times. His biggest strength was moving the puck with smart passes.
This doesn't mean that Toronto will sign him, in fact I don't know if he can be or not like North American prospects. But he could be someone they keep an eye on for next year's draft if he improves his skating and has a breakout in the SHL.
I mentioned in the scouting breakdown of the camp roster that the most interesting invite going into this past week was Hedqvist. He had a bit of hype as a mid to late round pick by some scouting outlets, and he would be attending this camp as one of the youngest players. He never really got mentioned by anyone through this week, but I thought he looked like one of the better forwards in the scrimmage.
Hedvist played on the wing with Joe Miller and Matthew Sop, and he stood out to me just about every time he was on the ice. He was a quick skater and pretty aggressive in hunting down pucks to create turnovers, and made good passes on transition to move it up quickly. The biggest knock on him is he doesn't quite have a high level of skill (outside of perhaps his passing) to capitalize on the good work he does otherwise, but has a strong foundation as a two-way center/winger. He's another I wouldn't mind signing if Toronto does so with anyone, and someone to keep an eye on even if he doesn't.
Assadourian is an interesting guy. I believe he was the youngest player at the camp, being a July 24th, 2005 birthday. He was also the smallest, I believe, listed as 5'8" and 168 lbs. Despite that, I thought he was one of the best players on Team Blue outside of Toronto's actual top prospects. He is definitely the platonic ideal of a skilled, zippy forward and could really motor around. He almost got around Niemelä on a rush, which is no mean feat as a skater.
I also am pretty sure he must now be bigger than 5'8", as he looked very similar in height and size to anyone else on the ice. His linemates were 6'0" and 5'11" linemates, and he had a few one-on-one battles with the 5'11" Topi Niemelä and I could swear they are very close to the same height. He got rewarded later in the game with some time alongside Minten and Tverberg on that top line to replace the injured Hirvonen.
Elias was by far the best player on the ice in the second period, where Team White looked completely dominant. Team Blue struggled to generate any chances, while being hemmed in their own end a lot. Despite that, their goalie – Elias – made some very good saves and didn't let in a single goal, where Akhtyamov and St-Hilaire both let in two each. Then again, like I mentioned in the scouting list for the camp roster, Elias is likely used to dealing with that after playing on two terrible USHL teams the past two years. He's another to keep an eye on as he moves back to Europe this year.
Fraser Minten – It was clear in this game that Team Blue's top players were not at the same level as Team White's, but that's not necessarily down to pure ability. Minten reportedly just came back from a backpacking trip through Europe, after having a longer post-season run than anyone else at the camp. Despite that, he was the best player for Team Blue, and scored their only goal. A bit of rust for sure, and definitely still needs to work on his explosiveness and separation speed.
Ty Voit – Still a good skater and real nifty with the puck, his passing as always looked dangerous. He just still needs to add some muscle and avoid getting neutralized and pushed around when he's in tight quarters along the boards.
Ryan Tverberg – Showed his trademark speed on a breakaway chance he created after picking up a loose puck in his own end and just outskating the defensemen to the other end of the rink. Pretty quiet game, there's still a bit of a skill gap for him but his utility will be around that speed-physical combo.
Mike Koster – Had a real good game on Team White, skating and moving the puck well. He scored a goal where he started a breakout behind the net and got to the net as a trailer for a tap in goal off the rush. He's talked about adding more power to his shot and skating as well, and if he can it will help him a lot as a likely defensive leader for Minnesota in his senior season.
Akhtyamov & Peksa – Both the Russian goalies had good games, and by all accounts good camps. Hayley Wickenheiser confirmed that both of them will be loaned back to Russia to play this season. I'll be curious what that means as far as what teams/league they'll actually play for, because both of the goalies their KHL team had last season are returning from the looks of it. So it seems like both will be locked from getting regular KHL games barring a major injury or trades. They could still be traded, or loaned to another KHL team who needs a goalie – much like Grebyonkin did as a regular player last season.