Fraser Minten has played three games with the Leafs, and is about to join the team on a road trip to play five in a row away from home.
The schedule is:
Thursday, October 19 – Florida
Saturday , October 21 – Tampa Bay
Tuesday, October 24 – Washington
Thursday, October 26 – Dallas
Saturday, October 28 – Nashville
It's a mixed bag, with two division rivals, two weak, but not dreadful teams, and the Dallas Stars, who have ambitions in the Western Conference.
Five plus three is eight, and on the return to Toronto at the end of October to face the LA Kings, Minten will be one game away from the maximum he can play before he "burns a year" of his ELC.
This burning metaphor refers to that other metaphor where an Entry Level Contract is said to slide if the player is 18 or 19 when they signed the deal, and they don't play 10 NHL games of any kind in their first season. Key to remember here is that playoff games count.
The term "slide" means that the contract extends by a year. The player is paid their signing bonus, and the AAV of the contract is recalculated to be the average of the remaining salary owed. So not only does the slide kick the re-signing can down the road a year, it lowers the AAV slightly. Consider Easton Cowan. His ELC, in its first year, is going to slide unless something really unlikely happens with his development and he's in the playoffs for the Leafs. That means he's not going to be up for a new deal until the summer of 2027, which gives him ample time to get to the NHL while still on a very low AAV deal.
As of time of writing, there are only nine players in the NHL who are slide candidates. This is normal – for all the talk that the NHL is getting younger, the reality is that the age players enter and leave the NHL is pretty static, but the modern game will make exceptions for the exceptional. In other words, Connor Bedard is not going to be sent back to junior, so there's really only eight question marks:
- Kevin Korchinski - Chicago
- Zach Benson - Buffalo
- Logan Cooley - Arizona
- Adam Fantilli - Columbus
- David Jiricek - Columbus
- Pavel Mintyukov - Anaheim
- Matthew Poitras - Boston
- Fraser Minten - Toronto
Notice anything about that list? Almost everyone, naturally enough, is on a bad team that can choose to keep the player as a development project with no impact on the outcome of their season. I think Chicago might keep Korchinski, who looked up to the task to me. Fantilli and Cooley are unlikely to go anywhere, and the rest are open questions.
Matthew Poitras is playing as Boston's putative 2C, and is the only player on that list in the same category as Minten. They have the same time on ice – just under 12 minutes a game, very similar Expected Goals For and Against at five-on-five, and very different Corsi, driven by a lot of offensive action when Poitras is on the ice. One imagines Boston hasn't been flailing about in their own end so much in two games so far.
But for both of these players, they have to be better than alternatives while making the team better, or it's back to junior hockey they go.
When is the question. The nine-game limit is not considered all that important by most teams in the NHL these days. The question we should ask is this: if Minten is good enough to be playing now to prove himself, what is the probability he isn't going to be on the roster out of training camp next year? How valuable is that extra year on the ELC, when all it actually does is give his agent one more year of maturity and NHL results to use to negotiate the bigger deal that comes next.
And beyond that, what if Minten rolls up ready the playoffs next spring and burns this year anyway. Should the Leafs toss him back as too small a fish on some artificial deadline for no real gain?
For Minten, it will be mostly his own performance that determines his fate on Halloween. The knock on him right now is that his line is not generating offence. It's not a question precisely of how much time they spend in the offensive zone, it's what they're doing with it. He has the second best on-ice Corsi Against rate on the team, which is partly manufactured by his usage. But in the offensive zone, nothing much is happening.
He's not alone with this problem. Matt Knies, for all he looks Kniesian, is not on the ice for the amount of dangerous offence that is required.
So here's the demand that this context places on Minten: go out on the road and play two very tough teams who think every win against Toronto is the sweetest and best kind of win, and then go play three more games, and while you're at it – improve. Now. Measurably. Oh, and also in a way that makes the coach willing to trust you in a "just throw him over the boards" way.
And rightly so, because if he can't do that, then he is due to go back to Kamloops now, with a break for the WJC, and then in the spring... well, that's a long time from now, and no one knows who will even be on this team.
But if he can do some measure of this amazing trick of getting better before our eyes in the toughest possible situation, then the next artificial deadline is 40 regular season days on the roster which gives him a professional season that counts towards his UFA status, and the Leafs will be very hesitant to let him get that unless he is absolutely necessary to team success.
Good Luck, Fraser. You are actually going to need some, but mostly you need to just try your hardest to be your best.