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Easton Cowan's remarkable season came to an end last night. It was a tragic, last second loss that cut short an incredible comeback – a comeback that Cowan himself helped more than anyone else. He had a point on all three of London's goals. He took a big hit in the neutral zone to spring Kasper Halttunen for their first goal, took a big hit in the offensive zone but got up and scored seconds later, and poked a loose puck to his teammate to start the rush that led to the tying goal.

Saginaw played at a super intense level all game, which included going after Cowan whenever they could. Cowan, to his credit, did not wilt or shy away. He continued to play his game and took the hits he needed to take to make a play, at a time when his team was rarely making plays. Honestly, Saginaw did deserve to win. They played incredible for most of it, and it was only the effort of Cowan and a small handful of his teammates that kept them in it.

With the season finally over for Cowan, it's time to look at his draft+1 season and put it into context – for now, and for his future.


Cowan was one of the biggest surprise picks at the 2023 draft when Toronto selected him 28th overall. All but one scouting outlet that I saw at the time had him ranked at the end of the second round, or later. My initial reaction at the time was one of controlled disappointment, I would say. There was another player I really liked on the board, and considering Cowan's rankings I thought Toronto could have traded down to get more picks and still get him if he's who they really wanted.

I spent the next while digging into him and watching as many games and highlights as I could. I won't rehash the full profile I wrote on him, because it got so big that Cathy made me cut it down or split it into multiple posts. So if you feel like remembering what the skinny on Cowan was at the time, you can re-read the three posts here:

The TL;DR of it is that I was still kinda disappointed, but I could see more of it. The reason why I say I had "controlled disappointment" is because I remember going through the same things when Toronto drafted Matt Knies and Fraser Minten, but I wound up loving them, and I was open to being proven wrong with Cowan too.

Cowan had a few chances to start winning all of us over before the season even started. At their prospect development camp, Cowan was one of the best players while playing with Moldenhauer and Voit. I said: "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." After the development camp, we had our T25U25 series and Cowan wound up at 10th. Many, including myself, were still being conservative with him. A couple, including Cathy, were having none of that and they are who look smart in hindsight.

2023 Top 25 Under 25: Easton Cowan is 10th
Say hello to Easton Cowan, the Leafs first round pick from the 2023 NHL Draft. And as is inevitably the case, he’s not simply allowed to be a prospect, but a foil for arguments about the NHL team today. Let’s begin his T25U25 profile with what Easton Cowan is, and

Then, at the Traverse City prospect tournament with other NHL teams, Cowan was by far Toronto's best prospect. He was used as one of their top centers, and was very impressive given he was one of the youngest players in every game as a just drafted teenager, playing a position he rarely did in the OHL.

Cowan was invited to Toronto's NHL pre-season camp, and got into four games. The Leafs actually kept him up to the very end instead of sending him back to junior partway through, like most freshly drafted prospects did. Cowan did not look fully out of place, and had 3 points in 4 games. He acquitted himself very well, and joined London a few weeks into the season on a high note.

When Cowan joined London, he was first being played as a center. While he was used mostly as a winger in the pre-season, Toronto did test him out there a bit. That experiment continued to start the year on London. He started the season picking up where he left off the pre-season, with 9 points in his first 4 games. He never really slowed down. He had 39 points in 23 games before the World Juniors came, and was one of the 'surprise' players to make Team Canada. He entered the tournament on a five game point streak in the OHL.

At the World Juniors, he played between 13 and 16 minutes in each game, was used a lot on the penalty kill and in the bottom six, and did pretty well in an energy/supporting role. He had two points in five games, but his tracking data for the tournament was quite strong. Canada as a whole was disappointing and lost to Czechia in the quarter finals, but it was still a good tournament for Cowan as one of the younger players on the team.

From Mitch Brown and Lassi Alanen's WJC tracking project:

Disappointing result aside, Cowan came back to the OHL and was a man possessed. He continued that point streak he had going into the tournament, and wound up setting a London record with one of the longest point streaks in the OHL in decades – it was 36 games to finish the regular season, then continued for another six games in the playoffs to total 42. In that time, he had 27 goals and 48 assists for 75 points.

Cowan finished the regular season with 96 points in 54 games, good for 7th in the entire OHL in total points and second in points-per-game pace – a pace of 1.78 per game that would have led the QMJHL, and been 6th in the WHL. This is for players of all ages, including very top prospects drafted well ahead of him and some a year older. He also led the league in short-handed points with 7 goals and 7 assists. If you want a full report on the season, you can read it here:

Maple Leafs Prospect Report: Playoffs Primer (and Update)
Get a quick update on 15 of Toronto’s prospects who finished their regular seasons this weekend or whose playoffs have already started.

Come the playoffs, Cowan was ultimately awarded the OHL's most outstanding player or MVP award. A big honour that he carried through the playoffs, where he took his game to another level. He had a very good first round and a pretty meh second round before absolutely exploding in the final two rounds. Against Saginaw, the only team to beat London in the playoffs and the ultimate Memorial Cup champions, Cowan had 11 points in 6 games, with multi-point games in all but one game in the series.

Then against Oshawa in the OHL finals, London as a whole were just playing with their food and Cowan feasted on them. He had four games of 3+ points, and finished the playoffs on a 7 game multi-point streak (7 goals, 22 points). He was named the playoff MVP – the first player to win the regular season and playoff MVP in the same season since Mitch Marner's London Knights days.

Cowan finished leading the OHL playoffs in points with 34 in 18 games. Those 34 points also would have led the QMJHL and WHL, despite him playing fewer games than both of the champions in those leagues. If you want a full breakdown, you can check here:

Maple Leafs Prospect Report: Easton Cowan is a monster
Easton Cowan is a monster underneath the OHL’s bed, and they’re begging for him to play in the NHL next season.

And then we got to the Memorial Cup, where London was the top team and played like it until the final game. But Cowan finished yet again leading everyone in points, with 8 in 4 games. He didn't get the MVP award or the championship trophy, like Marner did, but he still finished with a remarkable season.

Cowan finished as the OHL's MVP, the playoff MVP, and was named to the CHL first all-star team.


So what was driving Cowan's amazing season? What did he improve on from the previous year, when he did finish strong but wasn't at the level he reached this year?

Honestly, he just... got better. At everything. All the things he was already good at – the high effort, high pace, aggressive forechecking, smarts and physical, attacking style reached new heights. He didn't just play aggressively at a high pace, he never seemed to get tired even on games or shifts when he never left the ice. No matter how much he got hit, no matter how big the opponent(s) were, no matter how long he had already been on the ice, he just seemed to have inexhaustible energy. So when he needed a burst of speed to take off on a rush chance, or energy to fight through checkers, he could do it.

But Cowan also got better at everything else as well. His shot got better – he could fire a wrist shot quickly, while still having enough velocity and accuracy to beat goalies. He'll never be a sniper that can rip it past goalies inside the blueline, or clap a one timer to blast it through them, but having that helps him a lot. He also started to be a lot more creative and skilled in his playmaking. Last year, from what I saw he'd create chances and make passes that were more simple – but still very effective because of the chaos and turnovers he could create. This year, he would be dangling guys, going backhand to reach around a defender then saucer a pass to an open teammate. He was breaking down defenses more to create better passing opportunities. Again, he'll never be the most dynamic puck handler or passer, but he's just so smart and focused on making effective plays he doesn't need to be flashy.

Cowan's skating got faster, more explosive, and he refined his edgework even further. That helps him create separation from defenders, and be stronger on his feet if someone ever makes contact with him. Usually, he's the one initiating contact first, to make sure he collides with players on his terms so he can put them off balance first.

Cowan also got better defensively. He was always a terror shorthanded, but he got even better in all situations at reading the play, being in the right position, and being ready to pounce on mistakes, turnovers, or errant passes to start an immediate counter attack. He created a lot of offense through rush chances from within the defensive zone.


Best I can say is... maybe. I think he'll have a shot at it.

There's just the question of fit and impact. The advantage Cowan has is that he is not a player whose sole impact can be found on the scoresheet. It's more that he does so many good things to impact the play on the ice for his team, and that leads to chances for his team and points for himself. He can drive transitions, play smart defense, kill penalties, all those things you want from a bottom six guy. Bring energy to the lineup, don't be a liability. He can fit and work in a bottom six role in that manner, this isn't a guy where he's all offensive skill and if he's not good enough at that he has nothing else to do and no other role to play. Cowan is very much pro ready in terms of his playing style and his strengths.

The problems Cowan will have are twofold. First, Toronto is going to be going for it. They will not have a lot of time for prospects to "figure it out" and develop while in the NHL. They'd rather do that with the AHL, but Cowan cannot play there next season. It's the NHL or OHL, no other options. So if he can't be an impact guy right away, to enough of an extent that he is a better option than Depth Player B he's competing with for that roster spot, they're not going to keep him. They went through the same thing with Minten last year. Roster flexibility with the contracts, who's waiver eligible and who isn't, will also factor into that like it ultimately did with Minten once they had some injuries.

The second problem is that 'liability' thing. Cowan limits it in some ways, but he can absolutely be a liability at times in other ways. He has a propensity for taking dumb penalties that did not really go away this year. And he does turn the puck over a lot at times because he's trying some crazy shit. He could, potentially, limit both of those issues greatly in the NHL so they won't be issues. He could be being a little shit because that's the London Knights way, and they had such a good penalty kill even without him that he and/or his coaches didn't mind that much. Same thing with him trying crazy shit and turning the puck over at times. But he could come to the NHL and play it more safe, in both regards.

Cowan's production for his age put himself at a level for guys that made the jump at 19 to the NHL. Wyatt Johnston did it a couple of years ago after being the best OHL player in his D+1 season, and even "smaller" players have done it – Cowan need only look down the bench to see Mitch Marner as an example to follow.

In the end, I think there's a very good chance that, as long as Cowan is healthy and looking good in pre-season, that he will get in a few NHL games to start the season. It's a (temporary) spot that will be his to lose, basically. Toronto has a lot of incentive to see if he can work as an NHLer, given how cheap his cap hit will be and the promise he has. It will be up to Cowan and how much better still he can get between now and the time that Toronto has to make that decision to convince them to keep him around for the year.

Would I count him out for that? Not anymore. He's proven me wrong many times already.

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