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Final Thoughts On The Leafs' Rookie Tournament

The Leafs' prospects had a very impressive camp. Here are a few highlights to take away.

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Kasperi Kapanen is good.

The Phil Kessel trade is likely to always be remembered as something of a dud, but Kapanen showed this past weekend why scouts are so keen on his skill set, and certainly made me feel better about the deal. He skates well, passes well, shoots well, and seems to have great chemistry already with William Nylander. Oh yeah, and his puck handling looks pretty darn good, too. Apparently, he and Nylander got to know each other a bit from playing internationally, and at the tournament, they didn't go anywhere without one another. Is this the next "Bert and Ernie"?

Kapanen is probably going to need a bit of time to adjust to the North American game, since he only played 4 games last season in the AHL, but I would be surprised if he did not skate on Nylander's line this season with the Marlies, so I suspect his production will be fairly good. The thought of him and Nylander making the Leafs as a duo is pretty cool.

He probably still needs to get stronger before he makes the NHL, especially since the North American game is much more physical, but he's no beanpole, either. He will also have to work on defensive zone coverage if this rookie tournament was any indication, but in interviews he pointed out his own mistakes and seemed to understand how he needs to be better, so I have hope that this will come with time.

William Nylander is going to kill the AHL this season.

Nylander has filled out quite a bit since the start of last season (his legs are massive), and looks like he'll be all the more capable of playing centre for the Marlies this season. He has yet to play a full season in North America, but it looks as though he will be better-built for the grind of a longer, more punishing season.

His skill level is obviously elite pretty much across the board. His puck handling, passing, skating, playmaking, and his wrist shot all looked a level above what was on display at the rookie tournament. These attributes will stand out less at the NHL level of course, but he isn't finished getting better, either. I think that his defensive awareness as a centreman in this tournament showed some good growth.

Mitch Marner is just getting started.

Once Marner shook the jitters off from playing his first game in a Leafs' uniform, he did all the things you hoped he would, like hanging on to the puck and creating well in the offensive zone, for example. It seemed like his lines were always on the attack. Like Kapanen, Marner understands that he needs to work on his defensive game, and mentioned that he is going to try to add a substantial amount of muscle weight. Later, he also mentioned that he wants his first three strides to be quicker. In a year's time, I feel confident that he will impress at this tournament every bit as much as Nylander did this year.

Travis Dermott showed us why the Leafs wanted him.

Dermott is an very effective passer anywhere on the ice. His breakout passes, for example, were great even when he had less time to make them. This bodes well for his ability to play at higher levels of competition, because time will certainly be tighter in the AHL and NHL. Of course, he also looked good tossing the puck around on the power play, which suggests that he was still an important contributor on an Erie Otters team that had Connor McDavid on the first unit and OHL scoring champion Dylan Strome on the second. I bring this up because Dermott scored close to half his points last season on the power play, so it's good to see him do well in that capacity. He can shoot the puck quite well from the point, too.

Dermott will need to work on his skating a bit, but certainly holds a lot of potential for a second round pick.

Rinat Valiev is an impressive 2-way defenceman.

Although not one to run around the ice, he absolutely lowered the boom on a couple of occasions in the rookie tournament, and is only going to get stronger. On the flip side, he jumped into the rush very well on a few occasions and was effective on the power play. This coming season will be a very interesting one to watch for him.

Frederik Gauthier has some game.

I think it would be wrong to raise expectations too high for Gauthier, but an NHL career as a third or fourth liner shouldn't be ruled out at this point. He skates well for a big man, doesn't try to hit everything that moves, causes havoc in front of the opponent's net both on the power play and at 5-on-5, and rarely make any defensive errors. It's unlikely that he lights up the scoreboard very much, but it seems that he something to contribute at the next level.

Skill is coming to the fore.

Martins Dzierkals, Nikita Soshnikov, and Dmytro Timashov all spent a lot of time in the offensive zone during this tournament and showed a lot of creativity there. In fact, Timashov and Soshnikov aren't afraid to go to the net, either.

Although the Leafs were probably the smallest team in the tournament, it didn't seem to matter much, as they passed circles around some of the bigger teams - particular the Sens' rookies, who were massive. That Soshnikov spent some time in the KHL showed over the course of the weekend. His passes were at a level that most of his linemates were unprepared to deal with, and his skating is great, too.

In short, not only with the Leafs have a highly-skilled top line in a few years, but they will also have some depth that also has skill. There is relief on the way for beleaguered Leafs fans.

Competition for jobs is heating up.

Michael Joly, Brady Vail, Jack Rodewald, Nikolas Brouillard, and Nikolai Skladnichenko all looked good for the Leafs while they made the best of their amateur/pro tryout offers. These players may not have the elite skills that Nylander or Marner possess, but they were very effective in each game they played.

Jack Rodewald, Michael Joly and Brady Vail were three names that I found myself saying a lot this past weekend. If memory serves (and I'll be honest, mine often doesn't), all three players had points in each game of the tournament as they got a long look from the Leafs' management. They were strong on the forecheck, showed some flashes of good stick-handling, they can both skate well, and were so effective that they both earned a Leafs' camp invite.

Skladnichenko had perhaps the quietest tournament, but absolutely ripped a shot home in the final game that caught a lot of attention. He skates well, and has some play-making ability.

Brouillard jumped into the rush well, showing flashes of good stick-handling. He scored a beauty of a goal and certainly earned his invite to the Leafs' camp.

All in all, it's going to be difficult to crack even the Marlies.

Matt Finn and Carter Verhaeghe represent question marks.

After a disappointing season last year, I was curious to watch Finn. He was used in the first two games as the Leafs' number one defenceman, and he didn't look out of place. He was certainly more filled-out and stronger than many of the other players, and he was very responsible in his own end, but I didn't see him jump into the rush as often as I expected, and I don't think he stood out enough at this tournament, considering that he was playing with players who were mostly younger than he was.

For a lot of players at this rookie tournament, it was the firs time they had played in ages, so some rust is to be expected. I can't and won't write off Finn based on his performance this past weekend, but I was rather hoping that he could stand out a bit more. This is a critical year for Finn.

Carter Verhaeghe is a year younger than Finn, and also said that he was shaking off some rust. His play improved the longer he was on the ice (he didn't play in the first game). It is likely to be tough for him to show off his skill on the Marlies this coming season with so many other forwards ahead of him on the depth chart, but he is going to have to find a way to show that, despite his scoring, last season wasn't one of developmental stagnation.