clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Carter Verhaeghe: The Leafs prospect's past, present, and future

Drafted 82nd overall in 2013 by the Maple Leafs, Carter Verhaeghe has 159 points in 129 OHL games since that day. Where does he feel his game is, and what about his future?

Graig Abel/Getty Images

Recently I attended two IceDogs games before the playoffs and had the chance to speak with Carter Verhaeghe (@CVerhaeghe21) as well as IceDogs PA announcer & St. Catharines Standard writer Rod Mawhood (@rmawhood) about Carter's time with Niagara, being drafted with Toronto, and his future next season.

----------------------------------------

Carter Verhaeghe's rookie OHL season was the right one to enter the league. The Niagara IceDogs were stacked coming into the 2011-12 season with two top 10 draft picks in the 2012 NHL entry draft (Ryan Strome, 5th overall & Dougie Hamilton 9th) and a first round pick in 2011 (Mark Visentin 28th). Jamie Oleksiak (2011 14th overall) was added in January, headlined a group that was positioned from the start to go deep into the OHL playoffs. Five members of this team (Oleksiak, D. Hamilton, Freddie Hamilton, Ryan Strome, Mark Visentin) would go on to play at the world juniors for Canada, the most of any junior team in history. The IceDogs fell to the London Knights in 5 games in the OHL finals that May. Verhaeghe played 62 games, scored 4 goals and assisted on 12.

CV: Being around such a great team, we had like 12 NHL picks on the team. Learning from them, practicing against them and watching them helped me develop to the player I am. I didn't play much, but it was worthwhile, kind of how being in the AHL helped me to learn.

Playing in a rink that is approaching its 80th birthday (opened Dec. 20th, 1938) had its challenges. The ice surface was smaller than regulation, 190x85 feet instead of the standard 200x85. The dressing room was directly underneath the stands, pre & post game workouts would occur in the concourse at the top of the stands, in the hallways as arena staff prepared for the game around them, or out in the parking lot where fans could heckle.

CV: It was a good barn, loud, the atmosphere was great. We adapted, and it was a good advantage when we were playing at home. It was an adjustment, but we played half our games on regulation ice, so it wasn't anything that would hold us back.

RM: The ice at The Jack didn't hurt anyone, it helped them work on their vision and game, adapting to a smaller neutral zone.

His second year in the OHL was a confusing time for general managers. The NHL locked out the players and no one was sure how long it would go. It was assumed Strome would be away to begin the season and it would give younger players like Carter more ice time. Instead, Strome was there in his 1C position for the entire year. Verheaghe grew through the year, took his increased ice time and scored 18 goals, nabbed 26 assists in 67 games.

That summer in New Jersey the Maple Leafs brain trust sat in the Prudential Center and considered what to do. The Maple Leafs picked Frederik Gauthier at 21st overall in the first round, They had no second round pick, as is tradition, and when it came time for the Leafs to pick again 61 spots later they knew who they wanted and picked Carter 20 spots ahead of where Central Scouting had him listed. One PPP member was happy about this.

Heading into his first year as the IceDogs #1 centre, Carter took the responsibility and rode with it. In 65 games Verhaeghe scored 28 goals and had 54 assists. After the IceDogs were beaten by the North Bay Battalion in the first round of the OHL playoffs, Carter played 2 games for the Toronto Marlies, getting one assist.

CV: Its different [between the OHL and the AHL]. It's a more physical game, faster, it was good to get that experience, to know what to expect for upcoming years. Just observing how they train and how the handle themselves as professionals. It was a learning experience for me for sure

The 14/15 season started off rough with the team losing Brendan Perlini after an injury at Arizona Coyotes camp. Verhaeghe would start as the team's #1C and one of the stronger players out there.

CV: It was tough, starting off the season 0-6, especially when we were supposed to be a really good team coming into the new arena, it was a relief to win that first game [The IceDogs won the first home game of the season, opening the new Meridian Centre with a 7-4 win over Belleville, Verhaeghe had 1 assist].

RM: Carter was nervous, a little hesitant to start the season. He grew when injuries happened and took a bigger step up with the team. Carter had to work on his 2 way game the first half, and not having that top line [Ho-Sang and Perlini on his wing] helped him up his defensive game.

An abysmal start turned around in the winter when the team traded for Josh Ho-Sang, and Brendan Perlini came back from injury. The team did a complete 180 and Verhaeghe had his new linemates.

CV: We started to play well together, we got guys in, and got some back, and it's ended really well.

RM: You have great players with you, you play better. Carters vision has improved this season, he's slowed down, lets the game come to him rather than forcing a play all the time.

Niagara Captain Luke Mercer was injured early in the season, and it was decided in January that he would not be able to come back this year, his final OHL season. Carter was named Captain on January 14th. The Maple Leafs picked a few players in the OHL that were captains, Matt Fin, Stuart Percy, and Connor Brown also wore the C in the O'.

CV: That's funny, I never thought of that, it's nice to join that club. I don't know if they knew that in me, or anything like that. I talked to them a little, maybe they saw something, I don't know...

RM: Carter has picked up his leadership this season, and has become more used to being the spokesman for the team, with officials and with the media.

Verhaeghe will be in a bit of limbo going into Leafs camp this summer. Will he be with the Marlies or back to Niagara for another season? The Leafs don't have a lot of centre depth, but the decision will focus on Carter's physical development, more than hockey development.

CV: I need to get stronger, I work out at the MasterCard Centre with some Leafs and staff; that's a good facility. It's a big advantage to be there with pros and work out with them.

RM: With the Leafs' lack of depth I could see Carter up with the Marlies, but I can also see him come back for an overage year to develop physically more, work on skating strength.

While I was in the arena there were two very different games. The first was against Barrie,  a top seed for the OHL playoffs, and there was a higher emphasis on defensiveness. The second was against a team out of the playoffs, Mississauga, and the IceDogs took advantage of that and played strong offensively and used the room they had to be more creative with plays. It was easy to see Carter transition between the two styles, and my (small sample size) view he let his wingers work with the puck while he created openings and played both ends of the ice. Click here for my shift by shift notes on those games.

----------------------------------------

I want to thank Rod, and Carter for taking time with me, as well as our new manager Scott Wheeler for arranging everything, and the IceDogs for granting me access. Hopefully I'll have a chance in May to speak with them again about the trip to the OHL finals and the MasterCard Memorial Cup, but we'll take it one playoff series at a time. At the moment the IceDogs are awaiting the Oshawa Generals in the second round, after defeating the Ottawa 67's.