Skip to main content


Defensive play will be key as Cowan pushes for Leafs job


The Maple Leafs held their first on-ice session of the summer development camp on Wednesday at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto. 

After being named MVP of the Ontario Hockey League in the regular season and the playoffs, Easton Cowan is looking to take the next step. 

"Obviously, I want to play in the NHL," the London Knights forward said. "That's in mind, but I know it's tough to get there. It's going to take a lot of work."

The work continues this week as Cowan has joined 45 other players at the Leafs annual summer development camp in Toronto. Considering how Cowan has carried himself since being picked in the first round, 28th overall, at last year's draft, the organization isn't setting any limitations on him.  

"I think he's going to make a push," said Leafs assistant general manager, player development, Dr. Hayley Wickenheiser. "It's always hard to take that jump from junior to the NHL. That's a pretty big step, but he's proven everybody wrong at every level so I don't put it past him."

Cowan, who turned 19 in May, made it all the way to the final cuts at his first NHL training camp. 

"It helped me a lot," the Mount Brydges, Ont. native said. "Having the confidence that I could keep up with the big guys really helped me a lot in the OHL."

Cowan racked up 34 goals and 62 assists in 54 games with the Knights and also cracked Canada's roster for the World Juniors. He surged down the stretch and saved his best for last, piling up 34 points in 18 playoff games while leading London to the OHL title. 

"I think I've just gotten a bit stronger, not only physically but mentally," the 5-foot-10, 171-pounder said. "I've learned a lot on the mental side of the game so I feel like that's helped me a lot. Just not letting the last shift get to you. I felt like in my draft year I was letting it get to me a bit too much. I saw some steps there this year, just moving on and playing with confidence each and every shift really helped me."

At first, Wickenheiser was surprised by Cowan's rapid development. 

"But as we got to know Easton and got a chance to be around him every day, nothing he does surprises me," the Hockey Hall of Famer said. "He is a really special kid. Very driven. He has a great motor on the ice and off the ice. He is extremely fit and hard-working. And he has a high self-belief, which I think you need to make it to the highest level."

Guelph Storm centre Jett Luchanko, who was selected 13th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in last month's draft, calls Cowan his toughest match-up challenge. 

"He's just someone who's always working really hard," Luchanko said. "He never really takes a shift off. He's always on you and always on the puck. He's got everything: speed, skill, smarts and especially that work ethic is what gives people a tough time." 

And Cowan doesn't plan on slowing down even though it's the middle of the summer and his season stretched all the way to the Memorial Cup final on May 31. 

"I just want to show that I've gotten better since last [development] camp," he said after Wednesday's practice. "I learned a lot through last year ... I'm just ready to get going this week."

New Leafs head coach Craig Berube was among those taking in the workouts on Wednesday. If Cowan is going to make the NHL this fall, he needs to show Berube and management he can hang at both ends of the ice. 

"The defensive aspect of the game will be key for him," said Wickenheiser, "to be able to check and keep up with the pace of play, not just the offensive side of the game. He is very close. It will be exciting to watch."


ContentId(1.2144178): Wickenheiser: Top prospect Cowan 'very close' to making Leafs


Fraser Minten hasn't met Berube yet, but the 6-foot-2, 194-pound centre has a pretty good idea what to expect thanks to a conversation with former NHL defenceman Darryl Sydor. 

Minten played for the Kamloops Blazers before being traded to the Saskatoon Blades last season. Sydor is a former Blazer and current part owner of the Western Hockey League franchise. Minten bumped into Sydor last weekend and Berube came up. Sydor worked on Berube's staff in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves and they were also together as part of Mike Yeo's staff with the St. Louis Blues

"He said he's a straight shooter," Minten said. "If you're honest, he'll like you. If he can trust you, he'll give you an opportunity."

Minten is a player, who builds up trust quickly. In fact, the 2022 second-round pick made such a good impression on the Leafs coaching staff last fall that he earned a four-game audition in the NHL. 

"He is just such a pro," Wickenheiser gushed. "He is a very mature kid. He is a leader everywhere he goes. He is a sponge. He adapts really well and is great to work with from a development standpoint. He is always curious about his own game, and he studies the game of others. Really, for him, it is just about trying to assist him in taking that next step to being an everyday NHL player. He is very close."

The NHL experience in October gave Minten a better sense for what it will take to take the next step. 

"You see it on TV, how big and strong and fast and consistent everybody is," said Minten, who will celebrate his 20th birthday on Friday. "You really feel it when you're out there, just how dialled you have to be every day and how consistent you have to be as a player. Any sort of mess up could be a reason for you to be out of a job at that level."

Minten produced 48 points in 43 games last season. He then scored eight goals in 16 playoff games as Saskatoon reached Game 7 of the conference final. 

"Fraser has grown throughout the whole year," Wickenheiser said. "He has taken not only his game but his leadership to the next level."

Minten wore the 'C' in Kamloops before the trade and then served as Canada's captain at the World Juniors. 

"We have been working with him a lot on adding more dynamic-ness to his game on the offensive side and getting him in areas where he is going to get more opportunities to score and shoot pucks," Wickenheiser said.

That's the area of emphasis from the team, but Minten's personal to-do list is longer. 

"Improve everything," the Vancouver native said of his summer agenda. "Work on decision making and speed. Get faster, stronger. Just work on continuing to do what I do, and be confident with the puck. Get better at skating, shooting, handling. Everything."

Will the desire to get back to the NHL fuel him this summer? 

"I like doing that stuff," he said of training. "I'd do that stuff without the reward at the end anyways. It's a goal. It helps, I guess."


ContentId(1.2144173): Leafs work with Minten to make his game more dynamic


While Cowan and Minten are fighting to make the NHL next season, Anthony Stolarz is fighting for a bigger role in the NHL. After backing up Sergei Bobrovsky during the Florida Panthers run to the Stanley Cup, Stolarz inked a two-year contract worth $5 million with the Leafs. 

Stolarz was in demand after posting a .925 save percentage in 27 appearances with the Panthers. So, why did he pick Toronto? 

"There is an opportunity, I felt," the 30-year-old said. "In Florida, I knew my role was a backup. Now, [Joseph Woll] and I are going to be competing for starts. As a goalie, that is all you can ask for."

Stolarz started a career-high 24 games last season with the Panthers. He's only started 83 games during his seven NHL seasons, which also included stops in Anaheim, Edmonton and Philadelphia. 

Woll is the incumbent goalie in Toronto and general manager Brad Treliving decided to sign him to a three-year extension with a $3.66 million cap hit on Monday even though there's still a year remaining on his current deal. The organization clearly has a lot of faith in Woll, who was picked by the team in the third round of the 2016 draft. 

But Woll doesn't have much of a track record and has dealt with a series of injuries in his young career. The 25-year-old from Missouri started a career-high 23 games last season. He has only started 34 regular season games in his three NHL campaigns. 

"Only one of us can play," said Stolarz. "You want to get as many starts as you can. When my name is called, I am going to go in and try to seize the opportunity. At the same time, I pride myself on being a good teammate. I am going to support Woller and push him throughout the year."

After spending the last five seasons in Anaheim and Florida, Stolarz will be under microscope like never before in Toronto. 

"I think I will be able to handle it just fine," the 6-foot-6, 243-pound New Jersey native assured. "I am a pretty laid-back guy ... There is never a doubt in my ability. I know I am one of the best in the world. I am looking forward to the opportunity. I am excited. I have heard nothing but good things about the fan base. It is a very hungry and passionate fan base. I am looking forward to getting to Toronto, meeting everyone, and getting going."

Stolarz signed with the Leafs only hours after the Panthers parade wrapped up. 

"I love winning games," he said. "Going to Florida, having that taste, and playing into April and May [and June], was a factor in signing in Toronto and joining a competitive team. That is what you want at the end of the day — to be the best — and I think going to the best hockey market in the world is a challenge for me."


ContentId(1.2144036): Stolarz on dealing with the pressure in Toronto: 'I think I'll be able to handle it just fine'


Nathan Mayes watched the NHL draft all the way until the end. It's a good thing he did. The Leafs selected the Spokane Chiefs defenceman with the 225th and final pick. 

"I thought it was over and then I guess last pick, boom," he said following Wednesday's development camp practice. "Super relieved."

Mayes was watching with his family at home in Salmon Arm, B.C. 

"I kind of just blacked out," the 18-year-old said with a smile. "I couldn't believe I got picked and the last pick. It was obviously a bit of shock, but I was extremely happy."

Mayes, who compiled 16 points and 58 penalty minutes in 68 WHL games last season, quickly heard comments about how he is now the NHL's "Mr. Irrelevant." That's a term often used to describe the final pick in the NFL draft. 

"It's irrelevant where I'm picked," the 6-foot-3 blueliner countered. "I'm just going to make the best of it and run with it."


ContentId(1.2144176): Mayes 'super relieved' after Leafs make him NHL's 'Mr. Irrelevant'


A series of off-ice activities are planned at the development camp this week. Some players hit the links on Tuesday and a couple Russian goalies – Vyacheslav Peksa and Artur Akhtiamov – created a stir. 

"They managed to put the golf cart on the green," Wickenheiser said with a smile. "I wasn't there. We left it up to [player development staff member] Nik Antropov, which was a very bad idea. He told me to never pair him with the Russians again. We thought it was a good idea. Apparently not. They all had smiles on their faces when they came off the green."

There are four Russians at the development camp with forwards Nikita Grebenkin and Maxim Muranov also in the mix. 

"Despite the language barrier, they are great kids," Wickenheiser said. "They have to overcome a lot to come here. I know it's a tough situation, but we enjoy working with them. Just getting them over here and acclimatizing, it's entertaining."

Grebenkin, a fifth-round pick in 2022, is a bit banged up and did not take the ice on Wednesday. 

"He is tough as nails with what he went through this year to win with his team," Wickenhesier said of the 21-year-old. "He is a strong boy [6-foot-1, 191 pounds] turning into a man. It will be very interesting to watch coming up."

Grebenkin picked up 41 points in 67 regular season games in the KHL before helping Magnitogorsk Metallurg win the Gagarin Cup with six points in 23 playoff games.   

"He has good hands," Wickenheiser said. "His skating still needs to improve, and it has come a long way. He is not afraid to play physically. He fought a few times in the KHL. He'll mix it up. He is a fun kid to be around as well."

Grebenkin signed a three-year, entry-level deal with the Leafs in April. 


ContentId(1.2144200): Leafs Ice Chips: Development camp starts with golf cart misadventure


The development camp continues with more on-ice sessions Thursday, Friday and Saturday before concluding with a scrimmage on Sunday.