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Leafs development camp: Day 3 prospect interviews

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Paul Hendrick sits down with a selection of prospects to talk about camp, their more famous siblings and Auston Matthews.

The one-on-one interview format in today’s interviews is much better than a scrum for providing coherence, but lost is the spontaneity from yesterday’s interviews. There is a narrative flow to these conversations, and it’s two repeated themes: size and Auston Matthews.

The meme is firmly affixed in minds that the Leafs "drafted big" this year, but that is at best misleading. If you decide bigger than Mitch Marner is big, then sure, and maybe this motif that shows up in all these conversations is really angst over Marner splashing over onto everyone else.

Stephen Desrocher

Desrocher was drafted in 2015, and he’s another one of these tall but not so big defenders the Leafs have been collecting for years. He started out with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, was traded to Kingston last year, and would be in his fourth junior year if he goes back as an overager. He is also a good Toronto boy.

Desrocher talks about being on the leading edge of the Leafs drafting of "overage draftees" as he was one of two last year, but he doesn’t see it as a pattern, just part of taking the best player available. Perhaps he should start blogging, as he’s very good at this analysis of trends and patterns, and he applies it to the range of size of the prospects too.

The weight, weight, weight theme was front and centre. He noticed Kevin Middleton was huge compared to him, but he’s happy with his progression of building up muscle mass, and he credits the Leafs' trainers and facilities for helping him reach his goals.

Desrocher talks about his goal of making the Marlies and the value of his experiences on the AHL’s biggest roster at the end of last season as a "black ace".

Andrew Nielsen

Nielsen is next, and he was also drafted last year and like Desrocher is yet another left-shooting defender with some height and some bulk. He played in some actual games for the Marlies on an ATO, so we have a better handle on who he is.

He talks mostly about his development as a defender in the WHL. He has a history with Vladimir Bobylev, but it sounds like they sorted that out like grownups, and he nearly gushes about the skill of Adam Brooks, a man he played against a lot.

The whole "mean streak" and penalty minutes conversation trod familiar ground. It’s clearly a theme that both the Leafs TV people and the players themselves buy into to varying degrees. The main advantage to a tall defender is likely his reach, but the illusion that a big guy is intimidating is obviously widely believed. And yet is also co-exists happily with genuine respect for a guy like Brooks.

Dominic Toninato

The other theme today was old hands back again, and Toninato is at his fifth development camp. He is 22, was drafted in 2012, and has done three years of college, and of course, NCAA hockey with the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He is a centre of unremarkable, average size and perhaps unremarkable, average ability.

If you like a discussion of NCAA hockey, this is the interview for you. I filled the time marvelling at the Minnesota accent and how Canadian it sounds.

Dakota Joshua

Joshua is from Dearborne, Michigan, and he was drafted in 2014. He’s a centre of ordinary size as well, and he has played mostly in the USHL where he won a championship, moving to Ohio State University this past year.

He missed last year’s camp with an injury, so he’s newer at all this than an old hand like Toninato.

Unlike most hockey players, he was introduced to the game and taught to skate by his mom who played hockey. Never let it be said that hockey culture doesn’t have a powerful effect though, because he calls it weird and not normal, and is just glad it worked out in the end.

Nikita Korostelev

Korostelev was drafted last year, and has played three years in the OHL after a couple in Canadian Minor Midget. He’s familiar with all the stars of the Leafs development group, and he gets the what’s Auston like question. He thinks Auston is very good, an answer that keeps cropping up when this question is asked.

He is expecting to play an overage year in junior hockey this year.

Joseph Woll

Woll is a goaltender drafted just this summer, and he will play for Boston College this season. Woll played with Auston Matthews in the US National Development Program, so the likelihood of Auston questions is at total certainty. Surprisingly it’s about his physicality not his shot, but Woll had, not surprisingly, more to say about that shot.

Carl Grundström

Grundström was just drafted by the Leafs, and he is an 18-year-old winger who is the standard hockey 6’ and 200lbs. He was watching the draft on TV at training camp for Frölunda, and he has interrupted that to come over here for this Leafs camp.

He talks about his chances to crack the lineup of the Swedish champions. Andreas Johnson has helped him out a little by leaving and so have many others, so he’s likely good.

No one is safe from the Auston Matthews question, not even Grundström, but he seems very steady and serious, old for his age, and he talks about aggressive play and hard work more than the more colourful metaphors others like to put on his game.

Nolan Vesey

Vesey was drafted in 2014, is an average sort of winger who plays for the University of Maine, and there was no question who he was going to be asked about, and for once it’s not Auston.

He’s an old hand at this camp thing too, so he talks about--this was a shock--how guys get bigger as they get older.

If you want a bland discussion of the chances of the University of Maine and his more famous brother, this is the one for you.

Now your reward for all of that: a touch of Matthews, Dmytro Timashov and Jeremy Bracco in a drill. Matthews made an impression on everyone at camp today; they all have bruises named after him now. And he’s a nice solidly built hockey player of good height, but it’s his brain he’s going to wow us with, never doubt that.