The Toronto Maple Leafs bounced backed from their opening-day loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, defeating the Dallas Stars 5-1 on Day 2 of the Traverse City rookie tournament, hosted by the Detroit Red Wings.
I will be providing daily scouting reports on players from the tournament, so here are some of my observations.
The Stars only dressed five defenceman for the game and they were under duress most of the night. It’s a tall order to play short-handed on your back end at this time of the year. Key contributors for Dallas in their opening-night victory over Detroit, Lian Bischel and Artem Grushnikov were out of the lineup versus the Leafs. The group looked tired compared to the Leafs. Toronto dictated the pace and style of game from the drop of the puck.
Chase Wheatcroft, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, left-shot forward
Free-agent signing — Prince George Cougars (WHL)
Wheatcroft had a huge season in the WHL last year with Prince George. He scored 47 goals and collected 60 assists for the Cougars. He was listed at 176 pounds at the end of the year. He’s added some strength and weight this summer.
Wheatcroft has scored in both games for Dallas. He’s been sneaky in the offensive zone. Occasionally, he has handled the puck in transition, but it’s not an area of strength since he isn’t a burner in open ice. Both of his goals have come off back-door feeds that he one-timed into the net. Wheatcroft has an outstanding release. The puck is on and off his stick quickly, and he zips the puck hard and accurately.
Kyle McDonald, 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, right-shot forward
Free-agent signing — North Bay Battalion (OHL)
McDonald is similar to Wheatcroft in that he’s a shooter more than a distributor. McDonald had 34 goals and 18 assists in regular season for North Bay before adding a very impressive 14 goals and seven assists in playoffs.
McDonald has stood out more consistently for Dallas, compared to Wheatcroft, in the first two games of the tournament for the Stars. He’s been around the play more consistently and used his large frame to extend plays along the boards. He hasn’t had the same results as Wheatcroft, but his “team game” has stood out for me. McDonald isn’t a huge threat off the rush; he’s better suited as a support option in the transition game. If pucks have to be chipped deep into the opponent’s zone, he is a heavy forward who will battle for possession as F1 on the forecheck.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
The Leafs dominated the possession game and dictated the pace the entire 60 minutes. They made some subtle lineup changes and it benefited the consistency of the lineup. Toronto played quick and fast. They wore down the Stars shift to shift.
Ryan Tverberg, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, right-shot forward
Drafted 213th overall in 2020
Tverberg’s line remained intact for the game against the Stars. He played right wing, along side Easton Cowan in the middle and Roni Hirvonen at left wing. Tverberg has played to his identity in the first two games of the tournament: He’s a tenacious competitor who isn’t shy about battling for pucks. He had two assists in the game. Both were secondary assists. Don’t be mislead by the fact they weren’t “primary” assists. Tverberg sacrificed himself extending plays to open space, eventually leading to the puck in the Dallas net.
I appreciate Tverberg’s compete, quickness, and potential depth offensive upside he can provide at the pro level. Time will tell if he is an NHL player, but he is well on his way to earning a spot at Leafs main camp next week.
Dennis Hildeby, 6-foot-6, 234 pounds, goalie, catches left
Drafted 122nd overall in 2022
The first thing that stands out about Hildeby is his size in the net. Even when down on his knees, he takes up an entire quadrant of the net with his stature. Even by today’s NHL goalie standards, he’s a huge netminder compared to his peers.
It took some time for Hildeby to settle into the game. His crease composure, between his posts, was a bit off in the first 10 minutes. Once he settled in, he was excellent for the Leafs. He showed off a good glove hand, made some stops tracking quickly from side to side, and stopped a breakaway in the third period. He played with confidence. One area Hildeby will need to continue to work on is his puck play. He struggled to outlet pucks around the wall.
• Dallas forwards Logan Stankoven and Mavrik Bourque took a step back in this game compared to their first game versus Detroit. They didn’t have the puck on their sticks as often against the Leafs, and their off-the-puck detail ranged. Part of the process of training camp, especially with young prospects, is the challenge of consistency day to day.
• Stars defenceman Ben Zloty impressed me early with his escapes and distribution on the offensive blue line. His game came and went, over the full 60 minutes, but he definitely has upside offensively. Zloty scored 21 goals and 124 assists the last two seasons playing for Winnipeg (WHL).
• Easton Cowan has earned a spot at Leafs main camp. He will very likely suit up for NHL exhibition games. He had a goal and an assist against the Stars. Cowan was used in all situations.
• Max Ellis moved up in the Leafs lineup against Dallas. He played right wing along side Fraser Minten, with Matthew Knies on the left. He had an assist on Minten’s goal. Ellis competes hard, plays quick, and has the hockey brain to be used in a variety of roles. At 23, I find myself envisioning Ellis having a long career in Europe more than being an NHL player. I like him as a player. I just don’t know if there is a fit in the NHL for him.
• Knies has been solid the first two games of the tournament, collecting two assists in the Dallas game. He’s playing to his identity, extending plays and battling around the crease. On occasion he has also been creative off the rush. I’m not going to overhype his rookie tournament one way or the other. He looks like an NHL player most shifts here in Traverse City, but he’s ramping up his game for the real test in the coming weeks.
• Minten continues to impress me. The Leafs prospect has been heavily involved in all three zones. He’s producing offence and sacrificing himself defensively. He was solid in the faceoff circle, especially when Dallas pulled their goalie with over six minutes left in the game, winning draws in his zone, which led to possession and zone exits for the Leafs.