The Toronto Maple Leafs have a bit of a recent history inviting players to their rookie development camp who they wind up signing or drafting later on. Both Mac Hollowell and Sean Durzi attended the Leafs’ 2017 rookie camp, and were both picked by the Leafs in the 2018 draft.
Sergei Sapego and Matt Bradley have both attended development camps and been signed to minor league deals. They’ve also invited Tyler Wong or Taro Hirose, two prospects who were later signed by other NHL teams — Hirose in fact has gotten into 33 NHL games for Detroit.
So because it’s the Leafs’ bye week and we need some #content to get us through a hockey-less week, let’s take a look back at the players the Leafs invited to their 2019 development camp. Specifically, players who were not signed or drafted who the Leafs might look at drafting as overagers or signing as free agents.
Here’s the full list of players if you want to look into any of them yourself, but I’ll focus on specific players who captured my interest with their seasons this year.
It’s worth noting that, for one reason or another, all of these guys are likely long-shots to ever make the NHL. What’s interesting about any of them is that the Leafs’ have a recent history of finding and/or making diamonds in the rough with their scouting and development (Trevor Moore, Mason Marchment, Justin Holl). Combine that with how the players are excelling to various extents in their respective leagues, and that’s basically how I made this list.
[Editor’s note: the author keeps using “overager” to generally mean someone who is past his first draft year, but actually it has a more technical meaning in the CHL. So when I use “overager” in this piece a lot, keep in mind the author’s wrongness so you don’t get confused]
FORWARDS OF INTEREST
James Hamblin (LW)
Age: 20 years old
League: WHL - Medicine Hat Tigers
Stats: 27 goals, 42 assists, 69 points (nice), 195 shots
James Hamblin is interesting for two reasons. First, he’s putting up a good amount of points (1.6 per game) and shots (4.4 per game) which is always good to see. In fact, he’s tied for 2nd in the entire WHL.
Second, he’s not being carried by a star prospect or even star overager. He leads the Medicine Hat Tigers in goals (27) and points (69) and his teammates are not exactly close.
The second best player on the team in both goals (22) and points (57) is Brett Kemp, and third on the team in goals (21) and points (48) is Ryan Chyzowski. Both Kemp and Chyzowski are 19 year old overagers who were not drafted either.
Basically, James Hamblin is carrying his team of other undrafted overagers. They seem to have one good young player with draft aspirations in Cole Sillinger, a 16 year old center with 46 points in 38 games.
For reference, Adam Brooks is now in the NHL and when he was a 20-year-old overager in the WHL he was playing with the likes of Sam Steel (1st round pick) and others who were at least good enough to be drafted in middle rounds (Connor Hobbs, Nick Henry, Austin Wagner).
Hamblin is the oldest skater I’ll mention on this list, and is no-longer draft-eligible. He will be 21 this year, and will have to sign as a free agent when his season is over.
Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (LW)
Fontaine became a bit of a meme during the development camp for the fantastic name, but he’s been putting up 1.4 points per game with the Chicago Steel in the USHL. If the Chicago Steel team is ringing bells for you, that’s because the Toronto Marlies just hired their coach, Greg Moore, to replace Sheldon Keefe.
At 19 years old, so also an overager, Fontaine is playing with a lot of prospects ranked in the top 3 rounds for this coming draft — Brendan Brisson, Sam Colangelo, and Sean Farrell.
Huh... just realized that two of those guys share a surname with either a former Blue Jays coach or Raptors president. Weird coincidence.
Anyways, Fontaine has been having a great season for the Chicago Steel. In fact, he’s at a current rate of basically doubling all his stats from last year:
- 2018/19: 0.33 goals per game, 0.72 points per game, and 1.2 shots per game.
- 2019/20: 0.61 goals per game, 1.41 points per game, and 3.3 shots per game./
He’s also played for Team USA in the World Junior A Challenge, where he played alongside Mike Koster... a defenseman who the Leafs just drafted in the 5th round.
So, Fontaine has a lot of connections to the Leafs’ organizations, the Leafs have people in their organization who have probably seen a lot of Fontaine, and he’s doubling his production in a breakout year of sorts. One note: Fontaine is, I believe, still draft eligible and also committed to the NCAA next year, so even if we do pick him we won’t see him actually playing with the Leafs organization for a while.
#WJAC: U.S. needed a spark and got one from Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, as he redirects a shot from @ChicagoSteel teammate Sean Farrell. U.S. and Canada-East are tied 1-1 early in the 3rd of Saturday's semifinal. LHD Mike Koster (#LeafsForever) with the secondary.@GoNUmhockey @USHL pic.twitter.com/PrAZReZ9vF— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) December 14, 2019
Xavier Simoneau (C/LW)
Simoneau was eligible for last year’s draft, where he was ranked at 79th overall by Scott Wheeler, former scout and writer for Future Considerations and current scout and writer for The Athletic. In fact, Scott had him ranked similarly to Mikhail Abramov, who the Leafs drafted in the 4th round.
Simoneau did not get drafted, but is eligible in the upcoming 2020 draft as an overager. Despite not being drafted, he is in fact ranked 90th overall by Future Considerations so there is a good chance he might get drafted this coming year.
Maybe because he’s put up 22 goals and 36 assists in 41 games, good for 1.41 points per game and 4th best in total points in the QMJHL. He’s already passed his goals and points total from last year in 14 fewer games, and he’s leading his team in points by 21(!) points.
So what’s Simoneau’s deal? How come he didn’t get drafted already? Well, if you’ve been clicking on all of these forwards’ Elite Prospects profiles, you might have noticed that none of them are taller than 5’10”. Xavier Simoneau out of the QMJHL is by far the shortest of the first three at 5’7”. He also didn’t have super special numbers last year, just good to okay numbers.
But now he’s scoring at a rate that might lead a team to take a chance on him despite his height. He’s also doing things like this against much bigger players:
Well hello 5'7" Xavier Simoneau. pic.twitter.com/azB6mA0vvF— Will Scouch (@Scouching) May 17, 2019
The Leafs are certainly not shy about going at smaller players, or overaged players. You need only look at Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Nick Robertson, Nick Abruzzese, or Michael Koster who are all 5’9” or shorter. They just look for smaller players who are smart, skilled, and through smarts and positioning are able to handle themselves against bigger peers.
And to finish it off, here's a few great plays from Xavier Simoneau in the third. pic.twitter.com/NglY1zJf1P— Andy Lehoux (@Andylehoux1) October 1, 2019
How did Xavier Simoneau go undrafted again? I clocked him at well over 35 km/h on this skate through the NZ.— Will Scouch (@Scouching) October 10, 2019
That's very fast. pic.twitter.com/KsV4YbEf8M
Honourary Mentions: Forwards
DEFENSE OF INTEREST
Marc-Antoine Pépin (LD)
Pépin being of interest to me should not come as a surprise. In fact, I wrote about him in the off-season after he wasn’t just invited to their development camp, but then to the Leafs Traverse City Rookie Tournament, and then to the NHL pre-season camp.
Since then, he hasn’t had a breakout year in terms of points like the others on this list. He’s averaging a slightly better point-per-game pace with 23 in 40 games. However, he’s been playing a lot on Shawinigan’s top defensive pairing and is getting some PP time unlike last year. He did also earn QMJHL “Team of the Week” honours earlier this year, so he’s had his streaks.
Pépin is still a tall and lanky kid at 6’3” and 168 pounds, and there still isn’t a lot out there about him that you can find that I didn’t already write in that profile linked above. Shawinigan is still a bad team but at least a bit better than last year with a record of 20-23-0-0 which is 6th last in the league. The Leafs thought pretty highly of him last off-season, so it will be interesting to see if Pépin gets drafted or invited to rookie camp again by the Leafs.
Sean Larochelle (RD)
Larochelle is interesting for two reasons:
- He’s a right shot defensemen and we know how much the Leafs need any kind of depth at that position.
- He plays for the Victoriaville Tigres, the same team as Leafs’ current prospect Mikhail Abramov.
Like Shawinigan, Victoriaville is a bad team. In fact, they’re worse — they’re 3rd last in the entire QMJHL. The fact that they’re so bad is what makes Abramov’s season so remarkable because he has almost double the amount of points as his next closest teammate, and the same amount of goals as the next best teammate has in total points!
But we’re talking about Larochelle here, who is a defenseman who is still just 18 years old and is tied for 5th on the team in points with 20 in 44 games. It’s worth noting that in Mac Hollowell’s 18-year-old season, he had 23 points in 63 games. What that tells you about Larochelle probably depends on what you think of Hollowell as a prospect. He was on the 2nd best team in the OHL where Larochelle is on a pretty bad team.
Like with Pépin, it isn’t easy to find a lot of information about him. There aren’t nearly the same quality or quantity of writers, scouts, or twitter people who gif and write about QMJHL prospects. Of course, it might also be because he just doesn’t have any hype as a prospect.
Pretty much the only scouting report I could find on him was from Bill Placzek at draftsite.com:
A small offensive player who has potential as a future push defender as he gets stronger and builds an all-around game. He is a really good skater with good jump, agility and very good edge work who is good transition out of his end with his breakouts. Has good hands and can circumvent pressure with his lateral mobility and be an offensive generator. Needs to improve in his own and get stronger.
The good news is that this all sounds like the kind of defensemen the Leafs want, and they clearly were interested in him enough to invite him to their development camp. Just because nothing is really written about a Quebec player doesn’t mean he can’t be interesting — Pépin is a good example of that. He might be hidden on a bad team in a league that doesn’t get nearly the same amount of interest as the other two CHL leagues.
We’ll find out this coming draft.
Honourable Mentions: Defensemen
Nathan Staios has the best points per game of any other defenseman invited to the Leafs’ development camp, is still 18 years old, and fits the undersized but maybe skilled sort of guy we all like to say the Leafs like. He’s also the son of Steve Staios, who was a part of the Leafs’ organization during the Burke era.
GOALIE OF INTEREST
Devin Cooley (G)
Last but not least, we have our oldest “prospect” of interest in goalie Devin Cooley. Cooley is 22 years old and finishing out his NCAA career with the powerhouse University of Denver, and at that age we might just be looking at our next ECHL/AHL goalie filler at best.
However, when he got the invite to the Leafs’ development camp roster this past off-season, he was coming off a year where he played in 20 games and had a 1.85 GAA along with a .934 sv%. For reference, Joseph Woll’s last season in the NCAA he had a 2.41 GAA and .919 sv% — albeit on a worse team, and also in more games (37) as the clear #1 starter on his team.
Cooley, meanwhile, has at best been the 1B goalie on his team. This year, he’s only played in 4 games as the backup to Magnus Chrona, a 19-year-old Swedish goalie who was drafted in the 5th round by Tampa Bay in 2018. While Chrona’s numbers aren’t quite as sparkling as Cooley’s (2.19 GAA and .920 sv%), he’s been the clear #1 goalie for the team.
Cooley has the stats, and he’s also a tall and lanky dude at 6’5” and 181 pounds, which is typically the sort of build NHL teams like to fill up more of the net. I’m no goalie scout, and neither can I really find any sort of scouting report from anyone to read, but between his stats, size, and being invited to the Leafs camp, he’s worth keeping an eye on. He’s too old to be drafted, but could be signed as a free agent to the Marlies.
And considering that goalie is perhaps their other weakest position of depth in the organization, we might see the Leafs take a minor league flyer on him if no one else does.
Devin Cooley standing on his head for the Pioneer crowd tonight. pic.twitter.com/LYHtz4nPaI— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) November 17, 2018
So what do you think? Any of these long-shots sound intriguing to you?
Which long-shot prospect from the Leafs’ development camp interests you the most?