NHL audition showed Minten what it takes to look like a Leaf
After unexpectedly cracking the Toronto Maple Leafs roster out of training camp, 19-year-old centre Fraser Minten was invited to go shopping with alternate captains Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly. Fellow rookie Matthew Knies was also included.
"They took us out and we got a suit each for the [upcoming] road trip," Minten said. "I only had one suit. They were saying, 'You need a couple more if you're going to be here.' That was really kind of them. It means a lot as a young guy so that's super nice of those guys. Got a bite with Auston after and he's a super chill guy. Just normal human beings is what you realize when you hang out with these guys as teammates."
When the Leafs departed for a season long 11 night run on the road at the end of October, Minten felt like one of the guys and he certainly looked the part.
"I got a blue suit," he said. "Dark and light blue kind of pinstripe. It was pretty nice."
When the Leafs reassigned Minten to the Kamloops Blazers in the Western Hockey League at the end of the trip, he had plenty of stories to tell and a new suit to show off.
"The boys up in Kamloops think it's pretty cool," he said with a grin.
Minten was quickly named the Blazers captain upon his return. The NHL experience puts the 6-foot-2, 192-pounder in a prime position to lead a young team in Kamloops. He's already produced six points in five games.
During a conversation with TSN, Minten reflected on his time in the NHL and shared what stood out about Toronto's top players. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
TSN: I understand you got a special delivery from the Leafs after returning to Kamloops.
MINTEN: Yeah, I got a package this week from Bobby [Hastings], the head equipment manager there. He sent me my jersey that I wore during my first game in a box with a plaque attached. That's special and a classy touch by them.
TSN: You got into four games with the Leafs. What was your welcome-to-the-NHL moment?
MINTEN: The home opener was pretty sick with Matthews getting the hat trick and the comeback and the shootout win. I don't know if there's one huge moment, but just that game will be what I remember and, like, the crowd really getting into it. That was really, really special.
MINTEN: It was cool. It's something that I wouldn't have necessarily expected to happen three, four years ago when we were playing together. So, to be out there and see him and playing with all these big-name guys that we watched and idolized ... was a dream come true.
TSN: Did you and Bedard share a moment in that game where you said something to each other?
MINTEN: As young guys you don't want to try and bring the spotlight onto yourself by going out of the way to talk. You know the cameras will be watching. A few times where there was a bit of eye contact and a smile and that was about it.
TSN: Other than Bedard, who was the coolest guy you played against?
MINTEN: I found it really cool to play against [Aleksander] Barkov when we played in Florida. I had a few faceoffs against him in the D-zone and he won a couple of them pretty clean (smile) but it was pretty cool to get some shifts against him. He's one of the best centres out there and a player I really like watching.
TSN: What's the biggest challenge against him?
MINTEN: Ah, just a little outmatched strength-wise, probably, at the moment. He's super skilled and a big guy [6-foot-3, 215 pounds] so hard to check and hard to battle against, but will hopefully catch up over the next few years in terms of strength and size.
TSN: What was it like to be part of that five-game trip?
MINTEN: Super cool. It was a really long one and it was good to experience that because there probably won't be many harder road trips as far as travel and everything so it was good to do something like that right away … You see the way these guys get treated on the road, it's pretty exceptional as far as the travel, the food, the accommodation. Everything is really taken care of for them so they can just focus on playing. Getting to experience that first hand is pretty cool. I definitely remember the hospitality, for sure.
TSN: You knew they travelled in style, but did anything surprise you?
MINTEN: I knew it would be a super nice plane to yourself, which is obviously a pretty nice treat. The hotels were a shocker. I'd never been to hotels like that in my life. I didn't even know hotels like that existed in the first place and the fact they would put us up in our own rooms like that, that was just really cool.
TSN: What was the rookie dinner like in Nashville?
MINTEN: We had a good night there. We had a nice dinner after the game. That was super fun. The guys treat you super good and make sure it's a good time.
TSN: What's the story behind the outfits you guys wore?
MINTEN: We had to wear something kind of funny to the dinner so we went with the Nashville tourist kind of dress up. It wasn't too hard to find that and the boys said it was funny so worked out good.
TSN: Tradition dictates that the rookies pick up the bill. Since you had already been reassigned to the WHL, you got to avoid that. Were Knies and Joseph Woll disappointed?
MINTEN: Yeah, they were like, 'Oh, come on! You got to join in. You don't have to cover it or anything?' But it makes sense. They'll be getting lots more paycheques there and I got to keep what I got so far. That was nice of the older guys.
TSN: Did you treat yourself to anything after getting some NHL pay?
MINTEN: No. I'm going to save that. Rent is expensive in Toronto and Vancouver. You got to pay to live at some point in life so got to save some of those dollars.
TSN: What areas of your game do you think you need to improve to make the Leafs for good?
MINTEN: Everyone's older, bigger, faster and you hear that, but then you see it's really hard to get time and space for yourself to make plays. If you're not able to match them with the the strength and speed that they have then you won't be able to generate time and space for yourself. It's about continuing to get bigger, faster and being able to move up and down the ice smoothly and efficiently.
TSN: I want to get your takeaways from being around the core Leafs. What stood out about John Tavares?
MINTEN: He's a super, super focused and committed human being. He wants to be the best and leaves no stone unturned as far as treating his body, his diet, his mental state. He's super, super driven and focused. A consummate pro.
TSN: What about Matthews?
MINTEN: He's such a hard-working guy. On TV you see the swagger and the style he's got in his game, but he works really hard to be able to do that. He's always sticking around after practice, getting out there before, and working on what he does. He's going into the gym afterwards and taking care of himself and getting worked on and stuff. He's an extremely hard-working guy.
TSN: And Rielly?
MINTEN: Such a nice human being and really good leader. Mo always competes and does everything that the coaches are asking to the best of his ability. There's no real holes in his game or his effort ever. It's a guy who you listen to when he speaks up and a guy you don't question. He's a terrific leader in that sense.
TSN: William Nylander?
MINTEN: There might be a misconception that he doesn't care, but I think he's a very driven guy. He knows exactly what he needs to do and he does that and doesn't mind what anybody says and doesn't let any outside noise affect him at all. He's just a very driven and focused individual who knows what he needs to do to have success and does that and does that on a consistent basis. He's just a really good hockey player and a guy that knows himself well.
TSN: Mitch Marner?
MINTEN: Energetic. Very energetic. He's always talking and jumping around the room. Whether he's producing or not, he's still just a super fun energy ball around the rink and gets everyone talking and laughing. An incredible hockey player.
TSN: How have you felt about your game since returning to Kamloops?
MINTEN: It's been pretty good. It's definitely a challenge coming back. It was hard at first just cardio-wise with playing close to 30 minutes a night. You're up from 10 or 11 or 12 [minutes in the NHL] so that was a challenge at first. Also, it's a different speed. Everything's a little different so adjusting to that was difficult at first, but now I'm feeling more comfortable. Been practising lots and feel pretty good and excited to continue to get some games in here. We have four in seven coming up so that will be very fun.
TSN: You're wearing the 'C' and it's a younger team in Kamloops after you guys hosted the Memorial Cup last season. There's going to be some rough patches. What will make you a good leader?
MINTEN: It's just an age drop off that happens when you get these Memorial Cup or playoff run cycles in juniors so we're left with a lot of 16 and 17 year olds who have never played more than 30 games in a season in their life or had to travel or lived away from home. They're also not as big or strong so it's a big jump to play against guys who have played in the NHL and guys who are drafted and signed on a nightly basis. A few rough spots to start, but as a leader you just try to be there in support and encourage and push guys to continue to compete and think of the season as a longer trajectory. You may stumble along the way, but you want to be here by the end if you started here kind of thing. You can lead by showing them the habits and work ethic things you've learned over the experiences you've had and what's worked for you and they can take it as they want. You try and bring them along as much as you can in their development and help them as people and young men and players.
TSN: What's it mean to be teammates with your younger brother Bryce Minten, who's a rookie with the Blazers?
MINTEN: It's great! I get to live with him as well, which is sweet. I spend lots of time with him, which I hadn't got to do the past few years. That's really special and something I don't think happens very often in hockey or junior hockey and above, so very grateful to be here with him.
TSN: Your goal when we spoke at the start of Leafs training camp was to make the World Junior team. Now that you've started so well, do you think you can not just make the team but be a big part of this year's group?
MINTEN: Having the NHL games and even the start through NHL pre-season, going back to [the rookie tournament in] Traverse City, I know there's only a couple months of junior hockey so they watch all that as well to make their decisions, and I think those were strong showings for myself. Obviously, I have to still do well in the WHL and show I can be a good player at this level. If I were to make the squad then I would want to ... be a key factor. That would be the goal for sure.
TSN: What was it like to learn that Kamloops coach Shaun Clouston will be an assistant with Team Canada?
MINTEN: That was cool. I didn't necessarily expect that. I know he was at the summer camp a couple years ago as an assistant so it's nice to see him get that opportunity. I know he's excited about it and it would be even cooler to make that team now with him behind the bench.