Toronto hosted their annual Rookie Tournament again this year with the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens participating in a three game mini-tournament. Our Minnesota Wild writer Will Scouching was able to take in the games and here are his notes as to who played well and who did not.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Dmytro Timashov: Showed his speed, skill and puck possession abilities. Needs to take a step forward offensively, but he has three years of an ELC left, and the skill is there. Gets his chances, creates more chances, just needs to finish. Staying on his feet, staying elusive, and building more skill will be necessary.
Timothy Liljegren: Already a victim of the Toronto media, Liljegren was shaky on Friday, but Sunday was peak Liljegren. While he gave up some turnovers leading to goals on Friday, his partners were less than no help, and he did make smart, small plays that drove offense in a less flashy way that he’ll need to capture increasingly as he develops. The learning curve for the AHL may be steep, but if the coaching staff can get him ice time he could be a big add for the Marlies. His passing is crisp and usually the smart play, but his defensive play will need work and patience may be necessary.
Keaton Middleton and Nicolas Mattinen are in their final year of rights retention, and I saw nothing from either that led me to believe that either has a future in the NHL. Eemeli Rasanen is far from a finished product, however, and I saw some promising defensive play, but all three has a ton of work to do with their footwork and play with the puck. Modern NHL defenders may not need to carry the puck so much as move it to someone who can carry it, but these guys had trouble getting the puck in the first place, and when facing a rush they were beaten by smaller faster skaters, especially in the Montreal game on Friday. A low point came when Keaton Middleton found himself in a fight with Michael Pezzetta halfway through the game. The puck was deep in the offensive zone. Play was stopped as Middleton was put out of the game after Pezzetta landed a good right hand, stopping momentum for… reasons.
Andrew Nielsen is a curious case. His defensive decision making and tracking forwards in his own zone clearly needs much more work, which should be the focus this year, yet his shot and ability to quarterback a power play is notable. He can be mean, but he can also move the puck. He is young, but with his experience in the AHL I expected more out of him in the defensive end. I’ll have a close eye on him this year, but he still is very much a work in progress regardless of offensive production.
I was highly skeptical of the Gordeev pick, but I knew he was a forward recently turned defender, and for his size I clearly saw a lot of skill relative to his massive size. He is lanky and clearly needs to fill his frame, but he was the most promising of the towering defenders by a fair margin. His game on Sunday was fantastic as he was rushing the puck and earning controlled entries/exits with a combination of skill, speed and smarts. At the same time he was making simple passes and avoiding carrying the puck into 1-on-3 scenarios that many young players often do. Gordeev needs to fill out, but I was quite surprised by him.
McGregor was another pick that perplexed me, and I went into Friday night with no expectations. What I found was a speedy skilled forward who can carry the puck, but wasn’t overly flashy. He made multiple little plays that impressed me. His game is pretty mature for his age, and he even showcased a bit of a power game willing to go into the boards, apply pressure and retrieve pucks. He is still very slight for six-footer, but his instincts are there for him to grow into his game. He may get to the point-per-game pace you like to see out of OHL prospects this year, but I’d expect him to break out the following season. He’s a project, but like Gordeev, I see the potential in the pick.
Will Bitten: Bitten was a guy I had well into my 1st round in 2016, and while I was disappointed by his production last year, I clearly saw an evolution in his skilled game in the game against Toronto. It’s only one game, but Bitten is undeniably quick, great with the puck, and gets low to the ground to drive to the net, as a modern small player can. He was burrowing his way through players a foot taller and his skill level helped him further. Definitely one to watch for a breakout season this year in Hamilton.
Victor Mete: There were very few players I was disappointed with on Friday, but I guess my large expectations for Victor Mete weren’t quite realized. His skating is fantastic, and his best asset is his puck carrying and ability to make a quick passing play off the rush. Again, it’s only one game, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with him outside of his mobility.
Fortier is a guy I’m surprised hasn’t been picked yet, as he’s clearly very quick and skilled with the puck, but my analytical study has shown some reasons why such a high octane undersized offensive winger may have gone undrafted. His defensive play has been lacklustre, his shot selection isn’t ideal without exceptional shooting talent, and his overall game didn’t seem to develop over the last couple of years. Montreal has had lots of interest in him over the year, and I imagine if they want to sign him, he’s theirs. I would definitely be interested and have my eye on him, and seeing him in person, I could see why. The offense and skating is there in spades, but can he round out his game a bit more this year?
Filip Chlapik: What can be said that hasn’t been said already? Chlapik was one of the better forwards on the ice for Ottawa, and he is clearly ready for a major test in the AHL. His year after being drafted left much to be desired, but those skeletons seem to be well outside his closet. He’s skilled, and highly capable in all areas. I hadn’t seen a ton of him before this year, but I’m definitely going to keep my eye on him when Belleville comes to town here in Toronto.
Alex Formenton: They say that speed kills, but with Formenton, he’s got a long way to go before I can see a serious NHL player there. His feet seemed to be a step or two ahead of his hands and brain, and he’ll need to round out his game. His defensive play in London last year was mediocre, but you can’t argue with the feet he’s got. There’s potential there, especially for someone with his size, but the rest of the game needs to catch up there, and it showed. I’ll say again, this is just one game, but I’ve had my eye on him for a while, and he came just about as advertised.
Christian Jaros: I didn’t have my eye on Jaros until my research before this year’s tournament, and I’m glad I made time to look out for him. He’s essentially the modern defensive defenseman. He was nasty, hard to get around, smart when he had the puck, and very mobile for someone his size. He’s 21-years-old, so expectations were relatively high, and he was surprisingly dominant, at least in a physical sense, for much of the game on Sunday.
Follow Will on Twitter: @Scouching