One of the fun parts of all the development camps, rookie tournaments, scrimmages and exhibition games is we occasionally get some guy come out of nowhere with surprise performances. So far, through Traverse City and the first round of pre-season scrimmages, one such player for the Leafs is Colt Conrad.
Colt Conrad’s Backstory
Conrad is a 5’10” right-shooting centre from Manitoba, but he actually played in the USA as a teenager instead of the CHL or any other Canadian league. He played two years in the USHS prep league, with one season totaling 99 points in 54 games.
He then joined the NCAA and played for four years with Western Michigan University. In his final season last year, he led the team in points with 11 goals and 27 assists in 37 games. All of the other forwards behind him had more goals than assists, so Conrad seems to have played more as a playmaking centre. That isn’t to say he doesn’t have goal scoring skill, as the highlights section will attest.
Weirdly, he also played in exactly one Spengler Cup game for Canada, where he tallied one assist. He joined Dante Fabbro as Canadian college players to play for Team Canada.
Conrad was never drafted, and signed with Toronto on an AHL deal after his four years in the NCAA were over. He got into 7 games with the Marlies where he scored two goals, and played in only one playoff game.
In a 2017 draft profile by SB Nation’s college hockey website, he was said to be a great stick handler, offensive playmaker, and a responsible two-way/defensive centre. However, he was also criticized for his relatively poor skating for his size and position.
This past season he got more attention as a potential college free agent. After two years, it is interesting to see more recent profiles that basically repeat the same things: creative offensively, playmaker, good stick handling, and strong defensively... but also average skating. One thing that profile mentions, however, is that he can still beat defenders using quick cuts and feints.
What Do the Leafs See in Colt Conrad?
I’m just guessing, but Conrad seems like just the sort of player that the Leafs love to take a flyer on...
- Offensively skilled
- Smart and creative player
- Capable defensively
- Good edgework to make up for slower top speeds
- Most importantly of all, he smol
If skating, in terms of raw speed anyways, is his greatest weakness then it makes sense for the Leafs to take a flyer on him on an AHL contract. He has all the other tools to at least be a good AHLer, and if they can work their development magic to improve his skating enough to be above average, they might have found a diamond in the rough.
It’s not much different than the flyers they’ve taken on guys like Riley Woods, Joseph Duszak, and Marc-Antoine Pépin (who is at camp on an ATO who is not currently signed even to an AHL deal).
After getting a taste of professional hockey with Toronto last year, he was invited to play in their Traverse City games. So far this pre-season he’s done nothing but impress. He had 2 goals and 1 assist in 3 games at Traverse City, and had at least one goal in a weekend scrimmage game this weekend (could have been 2, following the game on this app is an adventure). Colt has also made the first round of cuts for the Leafs’ pre-season camp.
Scott Wheeler from The Athletic praised his performance at Traverse City:
Conrad scored a slick goal on his first shift for the Leafs to open the tournament’s scoring. He looked like the Leafs’ best forward for long stretches and had the puck on a string down low and in tight on a few shifts. Later in his tournament debut, he set up Nick Robertson with a great low-high pass. He scored again on Day 2 with a beautiful deke at the top of the crease. His ability to hang onto the puck in traffic is really impressive and he should be one of the Marlies’ regulars this season.
Scort also quoted Sheldon Keefe’s comments on the smol Colt.
“He’s just showing what I already knew just in the short time I had him in the Marlies. He’s a smart player with a really good skill set to both make a play and finish around the net. I had the expectation coming into the event that he would be a standout for us. He’s an older player, yet when I say that, I consider him to be a young player by college standards because these guys who come out of college are two or three years older. So, he’s got some time in that sense. He’s a very reliable player in a lot of senses and when he gets chances, he’s going to make good on them.”
Katya, meanwhile, had this to say about his performance at Traverse City:
You have one job at a prospect or rookie tournament: Make people say, “Who is that guy?” Colt Conrad did that in Traverse City. He didn’t get to play on the exciting lines with Nick Robertson or Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, but he still made waves. You can’t have seen him playing against top draft picks and NHL prospects and now think this guy has to be on the Marlies. They can’t possibly cut him to the Growlers. He’s a fast thinker, good with the puck, and plays a good basic game away from the puck. He might never see the NHL — chances are he won’t — but he is exactly the kind of quality, skilled player the Marlies need at forward.
When he joined the Marlies, Conrad was used as both as a centre and winger. He was also played up and down in the lineup — sometimes the fourth line center, sometimes the second line winger, and he was once listed as their first line centre for the final game of the year when they rested their big guns. At Traverse City, meanwhile, he started as a winger all three games on either the second or first lines.
It’s not clear if Toronto envisions him as a capable centre, or someone who would be better served as a winger. The earlier draft profile mentioned doubts that he could stick at center due to his size and average skating, even with his good defensive play at the college level. He might be someone that gets moved around between the wing and centre now and then, similar to Adam Brooks or even Engvall once that project began.
At the very least he does seem destined for the Marlies, rather than the Growlers. The fact that he is a right shot and can play on that wing helps, with the Marlies being relatively weak there outside of Bracco the past few years. Now, of course, the Marlies seem to have Bracco, Brazeau, Korshkov, and now maybe Conrad making a much stronger right side. But they also shored up their centre depth with the likes of Kalle Kossila, Tyler Gaudet, and Aaron Luchuk. It will be interesting to see how they play him through this season.
We’ll see if Toronto’s developmental resources can turn him into another Trevor Moore.
Colt Conrad Highlights
Unlike the last unknown I wrote about, Colt Conrad has a good amount of video highlights to share. They can give some idea of what his abilities are, so you can see the sorts of skills he exhibits that were mentioned above. Funnily enough, most of the highlights I can find are of him scoring goals, not setting up guys with passes like he was mainly described as doing.
He can wire a hard wrist shot past the goalie.
He can play the point on a PP and use some slick puck handling to keep it in at the blueline.
He can pick off passes and deke a goalie out of his jockstrap.
He can blow past and/or hold off a defender to make a move on the goalie.
Colt Conrad is off to the races— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 6, 2019
He has the Leafs first goal of the tournament. pic.twitter.com/5pE77Jwhop
He can show off some nifty mittens in tight spaces.
Colt Conrad shows off his silky mitts pic.twitter.com/h1E0cBiirH— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) September 7, 2019
He can fire a quick wrister and pick the corner to surprise the goalie.
He can outfight opponents for loose pucks.
Check out this empty net goal from Colt Conrad of Western Michigan. They beat North Dakota to go to 17-8-4. Just about a lock for NCAAs. pic.twitter.com/BSucDieYm6— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) February 18, 2017
He can make slick passes to spring his teammates
Now Conrad makes a nice pass to set up a breakaway (and penalty shot) pic.twitter.com/YAsxavsFKm— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 30, 2019
What do you all think? Have the Leafs found another Trevor Moore?
What AHL free agent signing do you think will go farthest with Toronto?
This poll is closed