When the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Fraser Minten with the 38th overall pick, many Leafs fans were some mixture of confused and underwhelmed. Part of the problem is there wasn’t as much hype about him as other prospects many of us were hoping to get. The other problem is, once people started looking up the basic information about him, it was clear he was taken a good chunk earlier than he was ranked.
Bob McKenzie’s had him the highest 47th, but his rankings are more predictions of where a player will go — not about how good a prospect will actually be.
- Elite Prospects: 64th
- Scott Wheeler: 79th
- McKeen’s Hockey: 101st
- Dobber Prospects: 94th
- Smaht Scouting: 92nd
- Will Scouch: unranked in top 92
It didn’t help that he had just an okay 55 points in 67 games in the WHL, or that a lot of scouting reports marked him as a “safe” bet to make the NHL in a bottom six role because of his size (6’1”), physical play, and two-way potential as a center. Many Maple Leafs fans started having traumatized memories resurface of Frederik Gauthier as a “safe” first round pick.
Reading more details in Minten’s scouting report, the comparisons to Knies seemed more apt. Both bigger, both physical, both power forwards. But making superficial comparisons to other players is common in hockey scouting.
On the one hand, I know just how many of Dubas’ picks took big leaps in their development and production since being drafted. Knies is the most recent example, but we’ve also seen similar rises for others. Nick Robertson went from barely a point per game player to the top scoring player in the OHL and cracking Toronto’s playoff roster against Columbus in his D+1 season. Topi Niemelä won defenseman of the tournament in his D+1 World Juniors tournament, and had his big statistical explosion in the Liiga in his D+2 season. Rasmus Sandin became a top defenseman in the AHL in his D+1 season, and made the NHL in his D+2 year. Timothy Liljegren got bigger and stronger and was very quickly the Marlies best two-way defender early in his development.
On the other hand, it’s easy to just wave your hand at a pick and say “Dubas knows what he’s doing, this kid’s going to be a star!”. Dubas is not infallible. He gets things wrong. I said at the time that I wanted to have a chance to watch a bunch of Minten’s games in depth before really judging the pick. At this point, I’ve watched about 15 of his games between late January 2022 and the end of his playoff run in late May...
So let’s talk more about Fraser Minten.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
Weight: 185 lbs
Birth date: July 5th, 2004
Fraser Minten was taken in the 2019 WHL draft in the 4th round by Kamloops. At the time, he was listed as a 5’10”, 150 lb center. He’s seen a reasonable amount of physical growth since then, adding around an inch to his height and 10 lbs to his weight each year. He was coming off a season where he was 4th in the U15 league in points, with 15 goals and 65 points in 29 games. In his next season, he played in the U18 league as a 15 year old, and finished 10th with 20 goals and 61 points in 34 games.
Last year — the pandemic shortened season — Minten played as a rookie in the WHL for Kamloops, and had a respectable 18 points in 20 games as a 16 year old in his D-1 season. He was tied for 6th in the WHL for U17 players. The WHL wasn’t at its strongest because of the pandemic. Some top players, like Matt Savoie or Cole Sillinger, jumped to the USHL to get more playing time while it wasn’t certain the WHL would play at all. Others, like Logan Stankoven or Olen Zellweger, played 10 or fewer games because they were part of the World U18 championship that happened in the middle of the already shortened season.
So this season, Minten’s 55 points in 67 games looks like a step back compared to last year, when he should be taking a step forward. For U18 players, he finished 16th in the league — behind Toronto’s 7th round pick Brandon Lisowsky who was 11th. Go figure.
But Minten’s point totals are misleading, as points often are. He played on a very good Kamloops team. They had the 4th best record in the WHL and made it to game 7 of the semi finals. They were stacked with top talents like centers Logan Stankoven and Caeden Bankier, but also Josh Pillar and Viktor Persson. They also had top prospects in this year’s draft like Matthew Seminoff and Mats Lindgren.
To start the season, Minten was used mostly as a third line center with little powerplay time. It wasn’t until December, when Stankoven left for the World Juniors, that Minten was bumped up to the second line and started getting some PP time. Come January, he was being used as the top line center. By the time Stankoven returned to the lineup, he stuck around as the 2C for the rest of the season, and the team bumped Bankier from being a center to a winger on Stankoven’s line.
For the regular season, Minten averaged only around 14 minutes of ice time per game. He did average more than that later in the season, and especially in the playoffs. But that should put his points into context:
- He finished 7th in the WHL for U18 players in total primary points
- He finished 7th in even strength primary points
- He finished 5th in powerplay primary points
- He finished third in the league for primary points per 60 minutes
So when you adjust for his ice time, he finished ahead of first round picks like Conor Geekie and Reid Schaefer. And you can see how much his production improved over the season. If you divide his whole season in half, you get 42 games. In the first half he had 0.76 points and 2.86 shots per game. In the second half he had 0.93 points and 3.79 shots per game. Was he that much better? Or was he just getting more ice time? That’s the danger in trying to assess or scout a player just by their point totals.
Now let’s talk about who Minten actually is as a player...
Let’s start with the skating. I would rate Minten right now as an above average skater, in terms of his overall speed, maneuverability, and strength on his feet. He still has some room to add more power and explosiveness as he adds muscle and refines his mechanics. He can skate at a good speed when forechecking, and is a terror to defensemen as he tries to get on them as soon as possible and force a turnover with a good hit.
Here’s a good example. Minten is #16 in white. He doesn’t use the dump and chase or flip and catch move that Knies loves. He will use crossovers and cuts to evade defenders.
Here’s a good example of his horizontal skating. Minten is #16 in the dark blue jerseys, he’s the one that picks up the rebound off the initial scrum, pivoting his feet sideways to glide parallel to the goal line and doing a spin pass back to the front of the net, leading to the goal.
In terms of confidence and skill in handling the puck, I would say that Minten typically plays more simple but overall above average in terms of effectiveness. He is similar to Knies in that regard. Even at his best, I would not call Minten dynamic with the puck. He could pull off the occasional toe drag, but the times he could dangle around a defender was rare. He was more about getting around them with speed, or using a simple give and go to create more space and dangerous chances.
Here’s a good example of that. He builds speed, makes a simple backhand pass and skates through the defenders so he could get it back close to the net. No flashy dangles, but effective.
Here’s another example, where he can make a simple maneuver with the puck on his stick to elude a defender’s poke check and get it over to his teammate with a backhand pass, setting up the goal. Minten is #16 in navy blue.
Funnily enough, I find that when Minten is more stationary and in close quarters, that’s where he shows his most dynamic skill with the puck. He’s pretty good at a single, short burst of puck maneuvering when he has an end goal in mind — a shot, a pass, etc. Here’s an example of him toe dragging around a defender so he could get a shot off after. He does similar things in his own end with loose pucks so he can pass it to a teammate to start the transition.
Passing and making plays to set up scoring chances is what I would say is clearly Minten’s standout offensive skill. Part of it is good mechanics and execution, but I think it’s mainly because it’s where his “hockey IQ” can have the biggest impact. He won’t be at Marner’s level, but the most “highlight reel” moments from him that I saw were of his passing. He has a really good backhand pass, which he can fire pretty hard but also do a good flip/saucer pass.
Here are some examples — buckle up because I have a lot of them. He’s always #16, in the example below in white. He has the puck going up the boards and fires a no look backhand pass to his teammate by the net, and it leads to a goal.
Here he is in transition. He’s in navy blue here, picking up the loose puck in the neutral zone and turning back up the ice. He is quickly pressured by two defenders, but gets a little backhand flip pass across to his wide open teammate for an easy zone entry and goal.
Here’s a little backhand saucer pass to hit his teammate in stride for a good scoring chance.
And here’s a cheeky little backhand pass after a small deke to freeze the goalie when he had it all alone in the slot, for the easy tap in goal by his teammate.
But he is also good at making more creative passes, like spinning passes, no look passes, and through his legs. Here he does a no-look through the legs pass that gets knocked away, then gets it back and hits an open defender creeping in from the point with another.
Here he makes a good play to get around one defender, then hits his more open teammate for the zone entry. He picks up the rebound off the shot, and with 3-4 defenders all looking at him, makes a very good pass back across his body to that same teammate who is wide open for the tap in goal.
Here he gets the secondary assist, but it comes after he steals the puck from the other team after they already flew the zone, protects it long enough to give his teammate some space and fires a spinning pass back. His teammate has enough space to make an easy pass for the tap in.
Here’s another example of his love of spinning no-look passes, Minten is #16 in white and uses strong skating to get open on a zone entry, and hits his teammate right in the slot for a really good scoring chance.
I touched on his awareness of where his teammates are on the ice above, which does definitely make his passing more effective. It also helps him in other areas — defensively, he uses his anticipating to jump into passing lanes to break them up or just outright steal it. It helped him be an absolute menace on the penalty kill, where he had three shorthanded goals and many other chances to score or assist on more.
Here, Minten (#16 in navy blue) quickly pounces on a weak drop pass at the point to poke it away and take it on a clear breakaway for a slick backhand shelf goal in the playoffs.
Here he is being a menace in the neutral zone while killing a penalty, stalling the other team between three players trying it get it around him. He almost steals the first pass, then reads the attempt by the defenseman to chip it off the boards around him, which is picks off and goes the other way for the short handed goal, also in the playoffs.
Here he is seeing a pass attempt coming across the ice, which could have led to a dangerous shot. He reaches out with his stick to partially block it, and his teammate knocks it away for him to start — and eventually finish — the short handed rush the other way.
And here’s another partial breakaway chance he had after perfectly reading the attempt to pass the puck back. He didn’t score here, but boy he’s fun to watch on the penalty kill.
This is what drives a lot of his defensive value. Even though he is a very physical player and he does like to throw a hit, it seemed like he was more physical when forechecking in the offensive zone to cause turnovers as the other team tries to get the puck out.
Here he didn’t throw a hit, but his quick and aggressive forecheck to just yoink the puck away from the defenseman. He made a wrap around attempt that led to the overtime goal in the playoffs. He does a mini-Foligno celebratory leap too!
What helps him make smarter decisions like these, and to be aggressive without losing effectiveness, is an awareness of where people are on the ice. He is always looking around, shoulder checking, and having some quick mental calculations to make a good guess at what they’re doing. In fact, during his post-draft interview, he touched on something that the Leafs asked him during one of their pre-draft talks. They showed him random hockey clips involving all kinds of different teams. They’d start a play then pause it, and ask him to guess what happened once they resumed it — to see if he could guess or anticipate the play that would develop. He is a “small things” king.
Here’s a simple play I wanted to share to show part of how Minten maintains that awareness — by shoulder checking and looking around frequently, and then he does something extremely cheeky but clever. He’s #16 in navy blue. Watch how as Minten enters his own zone, while his teammate carries puck around their own net, he directs his teammate to carry/pass it out on the one side. The side that Minten conveniently stood on, setting up a perfect pick to block the forechecker from pressuring the play.
I have seen people rate Minten’s shot as very good, and I agree it is one of his better skills. This is something I’ve also seen some people use in their comparison between Minten and Knies. But I will say that while I like Minten’s shot, I would not rate it as high. Knies’ shot is heavy, hard and quick. Minten has a good shot that he can get off quickly and accurately, he especially has a good sense of where to put it so the goalie can’t stop it — just over his pad and under the glove/blocker. He’s also good at changing the angle with slight toe drags, like Matthews does but not nearly at the same level. His shot can lack pop, but that might be something he can improve on with lots of practice and more strength.
Here Minten (#16 in white) gets the puck as a late trailer, and snipes it high blocker side.
Here’s another good wrist shot snipe on the powerplay, beating the goalie clean from the top of the faceoff circles.
Here’s a pretty wicked wrist shot that he gets up and over the goalie’s shoulder in a hurry, it’s probably one of the best shots I saw him take.
Here’s another goal from the same game as above, where he picks up a loose puck in the defender’s skates. What makes this shot effective is not that it’s hard — because it’s not — but he gets it off quickly, before the goalie has time to fully realize that Minten has it, and places it perfectly above the pad/under the blocker.
Let’s cut to the chase: Do I think this was a good pick? Yes. Not necessarily the best pick available at the time but there weren’t any others that seems like clearly better prospects. But I do think Minten is worth the pick at the spot Toronto got him.
Katya pointed out that the Leafs and Minten dropped enough information and hints for us to know that they were following/targeting Minten for a while. They clearly like him. They love his “hockey IQ”, as Dubas said in his post-draft question period with the media.
So even though Minten may have seemed like a reach at 38, and even if there were other players you or I may have wanted more at the time, they see something in him. I think I can see what they were seeing as well, and I think other scouts did as well down the stretch. From FC Hockey, Elite Prospects, McKeens Hockey, they all note how improved he was by the end of the season.
I can see some skill and projection in Fraser Minten. He became a pretty effective playmaker, he has a good shot, he can skate well, and he has that “hockey IQ” that makes him more effective than his raw skill may lead you to believe, both offensively and defensively. But if you put a gun to my head and said I had to guess his most likely outcome as of now, I can’t see the potential to become more than a good third line center in the NHL who can play in all situations. And that’s good to have, don’t get me wrong.
That’s exactly the same thing I thought when Knies was drafted, I was underwhelmed at first. I watched a bunch of his games in the USHL towards the end of the season, when he was supposed to be playing his best hockey of the year as well. He looked just kinda... okay. But we all know how that turned out. Knies showed incredible improvement across the board in summer exhibitions and in the NCAA.
So then I think, maybe they see more to come from his game. Maybe he’ll get a bit bigger and stronger, refine his mechanics, get more playing time and turn into a better player than I’m seeing. Maybe he makes a big leap in his development that I am more skeptical about now. Knies did it, after all. So did Robertson and Niemela.
I am trying hard not to read too much into his flashes of skill as what he’ll be capable of at a consistent and high level in the future, just based on that. Could he become a solid second line center, who can score 60+ points, play in all situations and have high end two-way impacts?
Maaaaaaaaaaaaybe. I can see the faintest of outlines of such a picture when I watched his games from this past season.
“We think there’s a lot of upside there”, said Dubas after the draft. So if he turns into one of the top centers in the WHL next year I’m contacting the Inquisition about the witchcraft Dubas is using to find and develop these players.
Are you more comfortable or confident in the Minten pick now than you were at first?
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Still not sure about it