Update on Current Leafs & Potential Future Prospects
I will readily admit when I walked into the Hershey Center this past Sunday dreaming of something chocolatey, there was some initial let down. Turns out that my diabetic disappointment was to be replaced by the reality of a plethora of OHL talent all playing in one game that wasn’t one of the “All-Star” variety. This wasn’t a chocolate factory….it was a hockey arena!!
Having watched the young talent on the Toronto Marlies roster the previous evening at the Ricoh Coliseum, I was excited to see the youngsters the Toronto Maple Leafs had already Drafted that weren’t playing in the AHL, and those who are eligible to be picked at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft in June.
Full of swagger the London Knights were bringing the high octane offense into Mississauga to take on the Steelheads.
Sure, most people know who the Knights have, but across the ice was Alex Nylander, Mikey McLeod who are both ranked in the Top 10 for this upcoming Draft.
Safe to say, I was expecting goals. And lots of them.
Wandering into the Hershey Center, it was readily apparent that I wasn’t the only person who had circled this game on the calendar. I was told that 60 scouts from the hockey community had made the trip to see this game and by the amount of people crushing Pizza Pizza in the hospitality suite, that number was accurate.
As the game started, seeing who the best players on the ice is easy. Mitch Marner continues to dazzle with his offensive zone play but at one point he laid out on the ice to block a pass that was coming from behind the net in his own end. That 200 foot style of hockey will endear him to Leafs fans in the near future. Mitch was the constant target of late shots, even taking a stick/glove combo to the mellon during this game. Did it stop him? Nope….actually during that powerplay he skated harder than he did during the rest of the game. There are times when Marner will try an ill-advised pass. To create the ultimate highlight goal and this can lead to an inopportune turnover. Reason: I truly believe he gets bored with OHL hockey. The fact that Marner can still motivate himself to be averaging two points per game is incredible.
Fellow Leafs prospect J.J. Piccinich also had a strong game. Scoring a goal and adding two assists, Piccinich shows adept passing and the ability to score when surrounded by talent. This isn’t to imply that Piccinich feeds off of those around but he does have the ability to play with the most talented on the team and not look out of place.
Onto the Draft eligible players, and who I really wanted to see live.
Alex Nylander looks almost identical to his brother, and Leafs Star in the making, William. Crafty with the puck, on-ice awareness, and solid skater it is easy to see why Alex is near the top of the OHL in scoring as a Rookie. Nylander had only an assist on the afternoon but was a plus 3 in a 9-4 loss. Clearly he did a lot of positive things but for the most part had a quiet afternoon. Would love to see him play live again.
Mikey McLeod had a goal and an assist while also being a plus 3 on the afternoon. McLeod skated well, possessed a decent shot and wasn’t scared to move into high traffic areas of the ice and played the entire length of the rink. At 6’2 and 190 pounds, McLeod also possesses the size that will have the Scouts taking an extra long look at this kid.
Standout of the game had to be Matthew Tkachuk. Son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk, was all over the ice during this one. Scoring his first hattrick in the OHL, he also added 2 assists for a 5 points game. Listed at 6’1” and 195 pounds, this NHL Draft ready prospect is one of my favorites that I have seen play in the OHL this year. Good shot, good hands and moves well for a wide body. Tkachuk doesn’t’ shy away from physical play and was the target of a lot of derision by the opposing Steelheads on this afternoon. If the Leafs are picking outside of the top 2 positions in this Draft, Tkachuk gets a serious look by Hunter and his staff. The Knights/Leafs connections continue?
Max Jones took a BEATING in front of the Mississauga net during offensive zone possession time and during the powerplays. 6’3 and 200 pounds this kid has 16 pts in 17 games with the Knights this season. Not the type of player that I would take in the Top 5 but in the Top 10 you could make a case for him. If It were between him and Tkachuk when the Leafs come to the podium in June of 2016, I would lean towards Matthew.
Kid who caught my attention, who I hadn’t heard much about.
That goes to Mississauga Steelheads forward, Owen Tippett. This player was a lot of fun to watch. Skated well, and controlled the puck exceptionally well, always with his head up. Tippett scored a goal on an excellent shot from the slot and had a total of SEVEN shots on the day. This young man is a ‘99 (February) birthdate and one of the youngest players on the ice but he didn’t play like a somebody who was nervous in a well scouted hockey game. Tippet is somebody I will be keeping an eye on in the future.
Absent from the game was Sean Day (currently ranked at #30) as a scratch, believed to be injury related.
So there it is. My roundup from a busy weekend watching hockey live and in person.
From the perspective of a lifelong hockey fan, getting the opportunity to watch these players develop and track their progress is incredible. I would like to thank the Mississauga Steelheads and as always the Toronto Marlies for all of our access.
Until next time …….