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Doan's message gives underdogs hope at Leafs development camp


Players at Leafs development camp practised at Ford Performance Centre on Saturday. 

The players invited to development camp this week have heard from some of the biggest names in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization. 

"Everyone's path to the NHL is different," said Saskatoon Blades winger Brandon Lisowsky, who was picked by the Leafs in the seventh round of the 2022 draft. "Just listening to people talking about different paths and journeys is an awesome thing. Those are big takeaways for me."

Among those sharing their stories are team president Brendan Shanahan, pro scout Jake Muzzin, player development staff member Patrick O'Sullivan and special advisor to the general manager Shane Doan. 

"I liked to hear from Shane Doan," said Owen Sound Attack winger Sam McCue, who was a seventh round pick by Toronto last month. "He had a great story."

After being drafted seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995, Doan played 1,540 games in the National Hockey League. He wore the 'C' for the Arizona Coyotes and for Team Canada internationally. But that amazing career almost didn't get off the ground. 

"For my first four years in the show, honestly, I wasn't a great player," Doan wrote in a Players Tribune piece published in 2015. "I mean, if you look up my point totals early on, they don't really paint a picture of a guy that would end up having a long career in this league. I was averaging just about 15 points per season. But for one reason or another, this organization showed faith in me ... My story could have been drastically different if not for this organization's patience during my development."

Of the 46 players at the Leafs camp, only 17 have been drafted by the team. Only two of the picks are first rounders. So, there are a lot of lower-round picks and free agents looking to defy the odds.  

And for many of them, Doan's words resonated. 

"He had a great career," said Boston University Terriers winger Quinn Hutson, who is a free agent invitee. "He's telling stories about how he started off. He kind of got a late start, but he found a way for 21 years, so it's pretty cool to get a message like that from him."

"I really like him as a person," Lisowsky said. "He didn't cut corners. I think someone like that is a good person to hear from."

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The Leafs decided not to sign Lisowsky to an entry-level deal, but invited him back to development camp after he went unpicked in June's draft and became a free agent. 

"I didn't take it too much as a personal thing," the 20-year-old from Port Coquitlam, B.C. said. "It's a business now. It's not junior any more. It's a pro level, so I didn't take it personal. Obviously I wanted it, but I'm happy they wanted me back. I love being here." 

"It was really hard for him not to get signed," said assistant general manager, player development, Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser. "We have talked to him about being positive, coming here, having a great camp, and looking at what we can do moving forward. We have a lot of belief in him on the development side of things."

Lisowsky is looking to earn an American Hockey League contract rather than returning to Saskatoon for an over-age season. 

"I always try to prove people wrong," the 5-foot-9 sharpshooter said. "That's what you do as an undersized guy. A lot of people peg you as an undersized guy or whatever, but I don't take that personal. I take it as a fuel to keep getting better."

Lisowsky scored 42 goals in 68 games in the Western Hockey League last season. He added seven more goals in 16 playoff games as the Blades reached the conference final. 

"Very few players can rip the puck and score the way he can," Wickenheiser said. "He showed that this year in the WHL. We worked with him through the year on being multi-dimensional on both the offensive and defensive sides of his game."

Lisowsky is focused on his skating right now and making sure he's not in a position to be bumped off the puck by defenceman. He trusts the Leafs to help him realize his potential. 

"I just love being here," he said. "I love the development. This is the best development I've had. Coming back in the summer last year and training here, it's an unbelievable spot. There's so many great people to learn from here. I just love being here."

"You get close to the players when you work with them through the years," Wickenheiser said. "There is a lot of joy that goes with it and also some tough moments. We are trying to help him through it."

ContentId(1.2144930): Undersized and unsigned, but Lisowsky keeps Leafs dream alive


Nanaimo Clippers defenceman Matt Lahey watched last month's draft from his family home in Victoria, B.C. 

"I knew it was not the end of the world if I didn't get drafted," the 17-year-old said. "But thankfully Toronto picked me and I couldn't be more happy."

The Leafs selected Lahey in the seventh round, 200th overall.  

"I kind of blacked out a little bit," Lahey admits. "I couldn't really believe it at first and then it kind of set in. Then I came to Toronto and it's an unbelievable feeling."

The first day of development camp featured some golfing. It was a way for guys to get to know each other in a relaxed environment. Not so relaxing for Lahey, though, who found himself partnered up with Leafs captain John Tavares

"That was really cool moment and kind of a welcome-to-the-NHL thing," Lahey said with a smile. "I mean, he didn't really seem real to me. You see him on TV and everything, but actually meeting him in person was pretty cool."

What did they talk about? 

"Honestly, he was just asking me about my season," Lahey said. "You know, being a really good guy."

Lahey produced 19 points in 54 games in the BCHL last season. 

"My game grew the most last summer, actually, putting work in every day," the 6-foot-5, 201-pound blueliner said. "As soon as I got to camp last season I kind of realized that I was used to the speed and could keep up with the older guys."

He'll look to accelerate his development next season with Fargo in the USHL. He's committed to Clarkson University after that.

The experience at the development camp this week will help him build momentum. What's he learned so far? 

"So much. Too much to even say." 

As for the golf game with Tavares, Lahey notes he played alright despite feeling "pretty nervous."

Lahey starts laughing when asked how Tavares played. 

"I don't want to say anything bad," he said. "He's a good golfer." 

ContentId(1.2144931): Leafs prospect reluctant to critique Tavares' golf after surreal round


McCue was glued to the television as the NHL draft entered the seventh round. 

"My heart was pounding," he said. "After an alright season, I was a little nervous there."

Then his phone buzzed and he looked down to see it was Leafs general manager Brad Treliving calling. The Leafs had selected McCue with the 216th pick in the 225-pick draft. 

"I just saw the name and from there it was just smiles all day," the 6-foot-2, 187-pound winger said. "I was lucky to get drafted, but being a seventh rounder, I mean, nothing to lose and everything to prove. So, I got everything to prove here."

One of McCue's role models is fellow Sudbury, Ont. native Tyler Bertuzzi, who played last season with the Leafs. 

"I try to play like him," McCue said. "He's fast and gets on the forecheck, hits guys and has a good stick. I like that style."

Another guy he watches a lot is Dallas Stars winger Mason Marchment.  

After mustering just one assist in 33 games with the Peterborough Petes in the 2022-23 season, McCue produced 37 points in 68 games split between Peterborough and Owen Sound last year. 

"Just playing more and having more confidence," he said. "Confidence is big. It's not letting the puck bobble off your stick or going on the ice nervous and stuff like that."

ContentId(1.2145266): 'Nothing to lose, everything to prove': McCue brings gritty game to Leafs camp


Hutson is the older brother of Montreal Canadiens defenceman Lane Hutson and US NTDP defenceman Cole Hutson, who was just selected by the Washington Capitals in the second round of the draft. The sibling rivalry is fierce. 

"We battle all summer," Quinn said. "We're back home and it's just us out there. I have another little brother [Lars], and we all go and battle all day long." 

Who has bragging rights? 

"Lane's at the highest level right now so he's got the bragging rights, but Cole is not too far behind and hopefully me too soon."

The brothers have pushed each other to get better. They have also been motivated by the doubters. 

"It's been hard growing up," Quinn acknowledged. "But it's definitely helped us be better players our whole lives. It's just good fuel."

Lane and Cole are sub-6-foot defencemen who have faced questions about their size. 

Quinn is 5-foot-11, but plays forward. 

"I like scoring goals," the 22-year-old explained with a grin. "We all played D. I started at D and then I just ended up moving when I was younger because scoring goals is a lot more fun."

Quinn potted 18 goals in 40 games while riding shotgun beside first overall pick Macklin Celebrini last season. 

"He's unbelievable," Quinn gushes of the San Jose Sharks prospect. "He's obviously the best player I've ever played with. We'll see if he comes back or not. It would be pretty cool to play with him again, but he's going to do great wherever he goes." 

Quinn will definitely have Cole by his side as he heads back to Boston University for his junior year. 

"Go back there and just have a great season," he said of his outlook. "I just got to be the next one to go out there and have a great season and move on to the next step." 

Quinn received several invitations to development camps this summer, but liked what he heard from the Leafs. 

"I just felt like they wanted me the most. You don't want to go somewhere where you're not wanted so coming here, it just felt like the right spot to be."

ContentId(1.2144917): Oldest Hutson brother brings family's 'good fuel' to Leafs camp


Jacob Quillan signed an entry-level deal with the Leafs in April after his season at Quinnipiac University ended. The forward got into 10 games with the Toronto Marlies, including three in the playoffs. 

"It's a lot cleaner," the 22-year-old said of the professional experience. "Guys don't mess up at all and if you do mess up it's going to cost you, so that's definitely the big difference."

Quillan put up just one assist in his AHL games so offence is on the agenda this offseason. 

"I learned what I need to improve on," he said. "I want to focus on my goal scoring. Just finding different ways to get the puck off, finding ways to get in different areas and shoot and stuff like that. Just making that a focus this summer."

Quillan, who produced 46 points in 39 NCAA games last season, will look to show off some progress on Sunday when Leafs development camp wraps up with a scrimmage. 

"I want to show what I got," he said. "Just kind of put my name out there." 

When he heads home to Dartmouth, N.S., Quillan won't have to look far for inspiration. He grew up near Sidney Crosby and sometimes catches a glimpse of the Pittsburgh Penguins captain training. 

"He's an icon there," Quillan said. "He is Nova Scotia. I watched him growing up so I try and take little things that he does. He plays the game so detailed and so well so whatever he does out there I try and mimic. Him and Nathan MacKinnon, Brad Marchand, they kind of represent hockey down there. Yeah, I look up to all those guys." 

ContentId(1.2144498): Leafs prospect Quillan learns from Crosby, works on goal scoring


Lines at Leafs development camp: 

Group 1

Cowan - Minten - Moldenhauer
Oswald - Holinka - Hutson
Lisowsky - Kressler - Miller
Muranov - Stevens - Levens

Chadwick - Danford
Lahey - Sharpe
Fitzgerald - Hagens


Group 2

Malinoski - Quillan - McCue
Barbolini - Pilling - Tassy
Petr - Lavins - Sikic
Rheaume - Bettens - Finnie

Webber - Fusco
Johansson - Parsons
Mayes - Dirracolo