The Traverse City Prospects Tournament, which included the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Stars and Blue Jackets, has concluded for another year. Some prospects teased early on with their elevated play and results, while others left me disappointed with their approach, preparation, and overall impact.
Now we turn towards training camps, which open this week.
After spending a few days watching these prospects in Traverse City, I’ve updated my scouting reports on various players. Today we’ll focus on the Toronto Maple Leafs, with my summary look at their pipeline coming out of this tournament.
Dennis Hildeby, 6-foot-6, 234 pounds, catches left, goalie
Drafted 122nd overall in 2022
Hildeby was solid in his game versus Dallas and the two periods he played against Detroit. He provided some timely saves, allowing the Leafs to maintain momentum. Hildeby plays a butterfly/positional style and he’s a giant in the net, but he needs to maintain his crease composure and not venture outside his posts when moving laterally to maximize his size advantage. He has a good glove, above average rebound control, and above average side-to-side push/tracking quickness when making saves.
NHL Projection: Backup (2B)
NHL Arrival: Potential to see games as a recall in 2024-25
Luke Cavallin, 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, catches right
Undrafted, signed to AHL contract
Cavallin struggled in his only start against Columbus. To be fair, every goalie in this tournament had their hands full versus the Blue Jackets. He’s on an AHL contract likely destined for AHL camp, and then the ECHL in Newfoundland. Cavallin isn’t an NHL prospect. He had a tough time adjusting to the pace of the game, moving quick enough to square up to pucks, and failed to make enough big saves overall.
Vyacheslav Peksa, 6-foot-3, 179 pounds, catches left
Drafted 185th overall in 2021
Peksa only played one period over the weekend. I need to see more of his game before providing concrete feedback.
Topi Niemela, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, right shot
Drafted 64th in 2020
Niemela looked confident offensively. He was deceptive on the blue line, looking off opponents when distributing the puck, and pinching down to extend plays or pounce on rebounds. His defending ranged, though. Niemela has to consistently jump to pucks quicker than opponents and have a “plan” in mind before he arrives. When he hesitates, he ends up in body battles that expose his stature in the trenches. Niemela ended the tournament with one goal in two games. He didn’t dress for the game against Detroit.
NHL Projection: Bottom pair D who can be used on the second PP unit
NHL Arrival: Recall is possible this season. More likely to contend for a full-time spot in 2024-25
Noah Chadwick, 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, left shot
Drafted 185th overall in 2023
Chadwick will benefit from the experience of playing in these games. It’s clear to me that he thinks the game well. He identifies his responsibilities defensively and moves pucks safely from his zone. His quickness has a long way to go for the NHL game, though. He’s a young, developing prospect who has time to work on his foot speed and strength.
NHL Projection: TBD
NHL Arrival: Too soon to know
William Villeneuve, 6-foot-2, 184 pounds, right shot
Drafted 122nd overall in 2020
Villeneuve has always been a bit on an enigma to scout. It’s difficult to define his upside. Is he a two-way/transitional defender and potential secondary power-play contributor? Or is he a two-way distributor who isn’t going to lead the rush or join often as a late option? He has good size, but his detail defensively continues to range. He was unpredictable in Traverse City, where he provided some nifty puck plays as well as some defensive gaffes that led to scoring chances against. His skating isn’t poor, but he could definitely use more quickness and straight-line speed tracking up and down the ice.
NHL Projection: Potential recall D/depth option (8D)
NHL Arrival: Does not project as a full-time NHL player at this stage of his development
Tommy Miller, 6-foot-2, 196 pounds, right shot,
Undrafted, signed to AHL contract
Miller was one of the older players at this event. The former Michigan State and Northeastern college player contributed a responsible two-way game for the Leafs. Miller has good size, moves fine, and keeps his game simple with the puck. He competes physically when required. There weren’t any red flags with his game overall. Miller is an organizational depth defenceman who is capable of competing at the AHL level as a bottom pairing option. He isn’t an NHL prospect.
Mikko Kokkonen, 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, left shot
Drafted 84th overall in 2019
Nothing about Kokkonen stands out as an elite element that projects him as an NHL player. He keeps his game pretty simple. He did score a goal, cashing in on a rebound when he pinched down to pounce on a loose puck against Dallas, but he doesn’t have a history of producing offence. I don’t see Kokkonen being a match-up NHL defender. There’s nothing particularly wrong with his game, he simply doesn’t stand out as a prospect capable of an NHL role. In fact, I see Kokkonen having a long career back home in Liiga (Finland) more than an AHL/NHL recall role in North America.
Jonny Tychonick, 6-foot, 187 pounds, left shot
Drafted 48th overall in 2018 by Ottawa, signed to AHL contract
It’s been quite a journey for Tychonick over the years. He was a highly touted prospect in his draft year, but his development took time at North Dakota (followed by Nebraska-Omaha) at the college level.
Tychonick played to his identity at this tournament. He’s a two-way/transitional defender who can man a power-play unit as a distributor. He moved well and made several “pocket plays” escaping pressure. He’s a mostly light defender. I project Tychonick to compete for regular minutes and a role on the power play with the Marlies this season.
Matthew Knies, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, left shot
Drafted 57th overall in 2021
Knies used this event as a warm-up for Leafs main camp. He played to his identity, extending plays in the trenches and battling around the crease. His fitness looks sound. He pushed the play with the puck on his stick in transition. In short, Knies looked like an NHL-ready prospect at this event. He was noticeable every time he hit the ice and was used in all situations. Knies dressed for two games in the tournament and contributed three assists.
NHL Projection: Top-six forward
NHL Arrival: 2023-24
Fraser Minten, 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, left shot
Drafted 38th overall in 2022
Minten was one of Toronto’s top forwards in Traverse City. He’s set to return, eventually, to Kamloops of the WHL. I’m assuming, based on his impact at this tournament, Minten will graduate to Leafs main camp. He was used in all situations this past weekend and thrived. Minten emptied the tank in all three zones. He produced offence, won key defensive zone face-offs, killed penalties, blocked shots, and scored. Minten played all three games in Traverse City, scoring one goal and four assists.
NHL Projection: Top-six forward
NHL Arrival: Full-time in 2025-26
Easton Cowan, 5-foot-10, 171 pounds, left shot
Drafted 28th overall in 2023
Cowan, like Minten, was excellent in Traverse City. He led the Leafs with two goals and four assists. Cowan played with sound detail. He was above the play defensively when the Leafs didn’t have control in the offensive zone, locked on to his man in his own zone and blocked some shots. He was around the play every shift. Cowan has added more explosiveness over the summer. He was a threat off the rush. When he got the edge on zone entries he wasn’t shy about taking pucks to the paint. I expect him to graduate to Leafs main camp and suit up for at least one exhibition game before returning to the London Knights (OHL).
NHL Projection: Top-six forward
NHL Arrival: Full time in 2026-27
Ryan Tverberg, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, right shot
Drafted 213th overall in 2020
Tverberg skated alongside Easton Cowan and Roni Hirvonen in games versus Columbus and Dallas and the trio complemented each other with their approach. Tverberg provided high-end compete, he battled, and he was involved along the boards and around the crease. In the third game of the tournament, Tverberg played centre and didn’t skip a beat. I’m not sure there will be room on the Leafs’ NHL roster in the coming years, but Tverberg projects as a two-way/energy provider who has the skill to contribute some depth offence. He will need to play to the identity he displayed at this tournament when he suits up with the AHL Marlies this season. Tverberg scored a goal and four assists on the weekend.
NHL Projection: 4F/recall forward
NHL Arrival: Limited role potential by 2024-25
Roni Hirvonen, 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, left shot
Drafted 59th overall in 2020
Hirvonen played to his identity in Traverse City. He competes up and down the ice. He isn’t naturally gifted with the puck on his stick; his offence comes from hard work and determination. He needs a full year in the AHL with the Marlies. I anticipate Hirvonen playing in an exhibition game or two for the Leafs in the pre-season, but he isn’t ready for NHL duty. He’s in a battle with other youngsters for a slot on the roster in the future. I see Hirvonen and Tverberg skating on the same line with the Marlies and playing off each other as prospects moving forward. Hirvonen had one assist in three games at the tournament.
NHL Projection: 4F
NHL Arrival: Potential to see games in 2024-25
Brandon Lisowsky, 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, left shot
Drafted 218th overall in 2022
Lisowsky showed off his quick strike offensive skill in Traverse City and had a hat trick in the last game against Detroit. Lisowsky is an interesting prospect. He has a very good stick and the ability to make plays in tight quarters. He has historically produced at a high level at the major junior level (WHL Saskatoon). I’m anticipating he will further improve on the 38 goals and 33 assists he scored last season. Lisowsky is built like a fire hydrant. He’s compact and strong, and his frame gives him leverage. He’s a shooter more than a distributor. Lisowsky suited up for all three games at this event and ended with four goals.
NHL Projection: TBD
NHL Arrival: To soon to know
Max Ellis, 5-foot-9, 171 pounds, right shot
Undrafted free agent signing in 2022
Ellis has been toiling in the minors with the Marlies. He’s a former NCAA player (Notre Dame) who signed his NHL contract following the 2022 college season. He’s an undersized forward who plays a competitive style. He’s quick and fast. He was most noticeable playing alongside Knies and Minten this past weekend. I like Ellis as a player and I appreciate his approach. At the same time, I don’t see a path to the NHL with the Leafs. He might find a role with another organization when his contract expires in Toronto. At worst he will have a long career in Europe as his skill set would thrive on the bigger ice.
NHL Projection: Potential recall checking forward
NHL Arrival: Not convinced he is a full-time candidate
Dmitry Ovchinnikov, 5-foot-11, 181 pounds, left shot
Drafted 137th overall in 2020
Ovchinnikov moves well and has better than average puck skill. He plays a very light game, however, and it holds him back from being more productive. He ended the weekend with one assist despite looking dangerous at times. His approach, and lack of grit, doesn’t project to success at the pro level in North America.
NHL Projection: The kind of prospect who has to play a top six role
NHL Arrival: Not an NHL prospect at this time
Robert Mastrosimone, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, left shot
Drafted 54th overall by Detroit in 2019, free agent AHL signing
After being picked by the Red Wings originally, Mastrosimone bounced from Boston University to Arizona State in the NCAA. Now, he’s entering his first year of pro hockey with the Marlies. Mastrosimone scored two assists in Traverse City and was most noticeable when he took shifts on the power play. His even-strength detail and pace tracking up and down the ice will have to improve.
NHL Projection: 13F/14F/recall offensive forward
NHL Arrival: TBD based on success at minor league level. Not ready for NHL.
Jacob Frasca, 6-foot-4, 214 pounds, right shot
Undrafted free agent Invite
I really like the character that Frasca provides. He’s a big body who plays a heavy game and has a history of providing offence. Frasca scored 27 goals and 42 assists for the Barrie Colts in the OHL last season. He scored twice this past weekend for the Leafs. His pace is below average for the NHL game, and barely adequate for the AHL. If his skating can improve 20 per cent, he’ll have a chance to contribute at the minor-league level.
NHL Projection: Depth minor league/potential recall power forward
NHL Arrival: TBD