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Minten keeps eye on Canucks while plotting path to Leafs lineup

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Vancouver native Fraser Minten grew up a Canucks fan. And even though the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect played four games in the National Hockey League this season, Minten still finds himself wrapped up in his hometown team's playoff push. 

"I'd be lying saying I wasn't," Minten admits with a smile. "I'm still watching all the games. I was trying to get tickets to get into the watch party thing here [Tuesday], but it looks like it's sold out. The city's pretty all in on it. You can't really miss the Canucks action. I'll be watching with some of my buddies for sure."

And when he does tune in, Minten finds himself drawn to fellow centre J.T. Miller

"I love watching him play," Minten said. "I love how hard he competes. He doesn't cheat the game at all. He's playing physical. He plays defence. He's really good offensively too. He's a good playmaker and has a good shoot."

The Canucks will host Game 5 of their second-round series against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. Vancouver entered the series as the underdog, but not in Minten's eyes. 

"The Canucks have such a heavy defence," he noted. "It makes it so hard to play against them just with the size they have back there. Those guys are all very hard to get out of the corner and get to the inside against. It's a nightmare for forwards playing against guys that are big and tough and strong and have a long reach and defend the inside so well. And then with Thatcher Demko, they have elite goaltending too. They're getting good goaltending from Arturs Silovs right now. And they got forwards that can score. It's a team that's built for success, in my opinion. I'm not too surprised they've done so well."

Minten, who will turn 20 in July, hopes to be competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs himself next year. After unexpectedly cracking the Leafs roster to start this season, he feels like he's better prepared for the Toronto spotlight now after navigating a roller-coaster campaign.

Minten's season included stops in Toronto in the NHL, Kamloops and Saskatoon in the Western Hockey League, and Gothenburg, Sweden for the World Juniors. During a conversation with TSN, Minten explained what he learned from those experiences and revealed what he'll be focused on this summer. 

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: Your Saskatoon Blades got eliminated in overtime of Game 7 in the WHL Eastern Conference final. How do you process something like that? 

Minten: It's a tough result. Obviously, I thought we had a team that could go all the way. A tough few days at first, but then just spending some time with the guys, you reflect on the year, and I made a ton of good relationships there in Saskatoon. I had a ton of fun playing with the guys and, overall, that's what it's about. I really enjoyed my time there. 

TSN: Six of the seven games against Moose Jaw went to overtime. What was it like to play in a series like that? 

Minten: It was so much fun. I mean, a chance to play playoff overtime every single night is all you can ask for. In the playoffs, you want those tight, competitive games where it comes down to one mistake or one good play. That's what makes hockey so fun. A super fun, competitive playoff series that I think I'll remember for the rest of my life.

TSN: You scored two overtime goals in the series. What's the key to keeping your cool and coming through in those big moments? 

Minten: It's moments you want to be in. That's why you play is to be in those crunch-time situations where there's lots on the line. It's the most fun when there's something at stake. It's easier to get in the zone and to be all in on the moment in those situations for myself. 

TSN: Your celebration after the Game 5 goal was quite something. What inspired that? 

Minten: We got some pretty good video of that celebration, so it might've looked a little cooler than it actually was. I just felt like it was the right thing at the right time. It was just instinctual. I didn't have it planned or anything. 

TSN: What are you feeling in that moment? 

Minten: Just bliss. I mean, 2-2 series, Game 5, it's a huge game, right? You get within one of moving on to something like the finals with two chances after that. You feel like you're in a very good spot. Just relief, joy. You want to keep playing for your teammates, keep playing as long as you can when you love the boys like we did there. Just all sorts of unreal, positive emotions. 

TSN: You played alongside another Leafs prospect this season in Saskatoon. What stood out the most about Brandon Lisowsky

Minten: Lis is an unreal player. He's been a really good player his whole life. I grew up playing against him and he was so good in the younger ages here in B.C. He would just dominate guys with his explosiveness, his speed and he's still doing that at the WHL level. He back checks as hard as he can. He rips the puck and gives goalies nightmares with his shot and is ultra-competitive, and just a really good teammate. 

TSN: I know how proud you were to represent Canada and wear the 'C' at the World Juniors. I also recall how upset you were when the tournament ended for Canada in the quarter-finals. Now, after some time has passed, how do you look back on the World Junior experience? 

Minten: It was unbelievable. I loved it. It was a dream come true. If you told me last year or the start of this year that I would've been there and had that opportunity I would've been so happy. The results don't always go your way in sports and in life, so you can really only be happy with having peace of mind from doing everything you could and doing your process to the best of your abilities. So, I'm able to look back at it happy in knowing I did what I could. I had an unbelievable opportunity and chance to do something I dreamed of since I was kid. 

TSN: How do you think the experience will help you moving forward in your career? 

Minten: You learn how to deal with the spotlight to an extent and that's very valuable, especially to someone like me who is drafted by an organization like the Leafs that has such a spotlight on them and so much attention on results. Like, that's all that matters is just win. And same thing with an event like World Juniors. It's only winning that gives people pride. So, going through something like that and feeling the pressure, and the opportunity as well, of a high-stakes event like that only helps prepare for the next level.  

TSN: Is there a trick to dealing with it? 

Minten: There's lots of ways you can deal with it. It differs for every individual. Some people thrive on maybe going out and reading what everyone's saying. If they do well they like the approval and the praise and if they don't [get good reviews] they get motivated by negative comments. Some people go about it like that. Personally, I like to try to ignore the noise and just focus on things I can control like process-oriented stuff and let the results be what they are.  

TSN: From the NHL to the WHL and World Juniors with a trade from Kamloops mixed in along the way, how would you sum up the season? 

Minten: It's felt like more than one season, to be honest. It hasn't been that much longer than the past few years, but just moving around makes it feel like that. It's been a whirlwind of opportunity and of new relationships with so many different experiences. I've loved it. It was my favourite year so far, with getting to experience so many different things and getting to play high-level hockey. 

TSN: What feedback did you receive from the Leafs? 

Minten: Once you're back in junior you don't hear a ton. It's the same kind of things they were saying when I was there. Just steadily progress and get stronger, get better at playing a 200-foot game, and work towards being a guy who can be relied upon to help them win games at some point in the future. 

TSN: What will you focus on this summer?

Minten: Fitness. Like, overall fitness. Getting stronger, getting faster. I'm able to think the game at a high enough level to play pro hockey at this point, and it's just about getting to the point where I can do that on a nightly basis physically. That's going to come with strength, and also working on some skill things will help me for sure. Get my hands and feet faster so I'll be able to make plays when there's less time and space. So, overall, just getting stronger and continue to become more skilled at everything. 

TSN: What are your expectations for next season? 

Minten: Being able to take a jump into the real world of pro hockey ... I'll do everything I can to prepare to be ready to be a pro hockey player.

TSN: Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly took you out suit shopping when you made the Leafs back in September. You only had one suit in Toronto at the time. I'm wondering what sort of wardrobe you plan on taking to training camp next fall?

Minten: I got a couple suits from the start of the year here that still hopefully will fit by then. So, I'll walk in with three or four this year instead of just the one.

TSN: You're finally back home. Is there anything you're looking forward to doing to decompress? 

Minten: There's lots. I'll take a decent amount of time off here now and just be a kid again. I'm looking forward to getting on my road bike and going around the city, around the Seawall, and maybe up into the mountains on that a little bit, and go for some hikes with some friends and with my parents. My brother's got graduation coming up, so go and visit him, and just have some fun in beautiful B.C. and around the ocean and the mountains.