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Weekend FTB: How do the Leafs rookies look?

Nick Robertson has always looked like the best one on the ice so far.

The Toronto Maple Leafs hold a Blue versus White scrimmage during their prospect development camp Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs have played two games at the Prospect Showcase tournament in Traverse City. They’ve had leads in both, blown leads in both, and wound up winning one and losing one each in overtime. So, about what you’d expect from a rookie exhibition tournament.

Here’s some quick thoughts on how various players of note have looked.

Their best players have largely looked like it. Nick Robertson has always looked like the best one on the ice, and I can’t help but think that he has not taken Hayley Wickenheiser’s advice to take a chill pill to heart. Dude has no chill, and is all out effort all the time. Mikhail Abramov, SDA and Gogolev have also looked good, but not at Robertson’s level.

Alex Steeves has been a pleasant surprise, and it’s sad that he had a shoulder injury and didn’t even finish the first game. Most college free agents sign an AHL deal, but the Leafs signed him to an ELC and he was reportedly coveted by other teams as well. So they clearly thought he wasn’t a regular old NCAA free agent, and he has looked like he belongs on their top lines with Robertson, Abramov, etc. He’ll form a fun top 6 line with a combination of the other three and Joey Anderson.

Some noteworthy newcomers include Ty Voit, one of their newer prospects. He played in the first game and looked quick and shifty, but was also completely taken out of the game by the very physical Columbus Blue Jackets team. He got rocked on a couple of big hits, and looks exactly like a young and small OHL prospect who hasn’t played in more than a year would.

Curtis Douglas looks very, hilariously big. He is not a fast skater but he’s so damn big and has such a massive reach it almost doesn’t matter. He’ll be a fun faceoff, defensive, PK specialist guy in the minors.

The most interesting camp invite that I’ve seen has been Braeden Kressler. He’s a small 5’9” sometimes winger, sometimes center in the OHL, but playing the wing in this tournament. He is a 2003 birthday, like Voit, so he was first-time eligible for the NHL draft this year. He wasn’t drafted, but the Leafs seem to like him. He was played with Roberson and Abramov in one of their rookie intersquad scrimmages. He was moved up to the top line yesterday with Robertson and SDA today, with Steeves out.

It’s hard to tell much from his stats. The last time he played, he was a 5’8” rookie in the OHL — Flint specifically — and had 9 goals and 9 assists in 46 games, as a 16 year old. By comparison, Ty Voit who has an offensive profile had 28 points in 49 games. So Voit may have the offensive edge, but Kressler has gotten rave reviews for his complete game even as a small, 16 year old.

Here’s a quote from Brock Otten (paywall), an OHL scout for McKeen’s on unheralded OHL prospects who didn’t get to play in any games this past year:

One thing that really impressed me about Kressler last year was his versatility. He was used in so many different roles by Flint and he found a way to excel in all of them. He showed great offensive instincts and a high compete level when playing the wing alongside a guy like Ty Dellandrea, working hard to retrieve dump ins, get open in the slot, and work the cycle down low. Kressler may not be large, but he is very elusive in the offensive zone because of how well he negotiates traffic thanks to his terrific edgework. His agility and lateral explosiveness really helps to create separation from defenders off the puck. He did struggle to finish on a lot of the chances he was afforded, so improving his shot will be an area to focus in on, but he definitely earned his fair share of them.

Here’s a quote from Elite Prospects’ Draft Guide, who also liked his complete-game:

“Kressler was one of the smarter players on the ice, always in an open lane to support the play, controlling his skating, pre-scanning for that next play.” Elite Prospects lead scout David StLouis wrote in a November report. “He is patient with the puck, looks for the best option, even if it is behind him.”

Kressler also brings a quick passing ability under pressure and above-average skating to the table. His speed is derived from a sound stride form, knees that bend to 90 degrees and advance past his toes, flexing his ankle for quickness and agility. His skating should remain an advantage even at the professional level and alleviate some of the weaknesses that come from a smaller size.

With these skills, he was said to generate a fair amount of chances for himself or his teammate, but he lacked the finishing to capitalize on them. Working on his shot would help. However, the other issue is that as a smaller forward it’s going to be a lot harder for him to have a real two-way impact at higher levels. He’s really going to have to show improved skills that could help him compensate for a lack of size and strength. Better skating, better stick work, better anticipation of the play, smart positioning, and so on. He’ll also need his offense to take good steps forward, and have the chances he creates turn into more actual goals.

It will be interesting to see where the Leafs play him in the lineup for the other two games, and how he deals with the opportunity he’s being given.

ONTO THE LINKS

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