Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

Youngblood: Live From Toronto Maple Leafs Development Camp

Toronto Maple Leafs Development Camp 2014 (Photo: Brendan Ross)
Toronto Maple Leafs Development Camp 2014 (Photo: Brendan Ross)

The MasterCard Centre for Hockey Excellence opened its doors to media on Wednesday to take in both the new and familiar faces within the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect system. Headlining the group was 8th overall selection, William Nylander, and third year camp participants Connor Brown (led the CHL in scoring with 128 points), Matt Finn (captained his Guelph Storm to an OHL Championship) and Swedish defenders Viktor Loov and Tom Nilsson. There are high hopes for this handful of players as each offer a tantalizing skill set that the Maple Leafs hope to see featured in their lineup soon.

With blue and white brass watching closely from the stands, 29 hopefuls took the ice in various skill development drills scheduled on day 3. Yours truly had the pleasure of taking in some of the actions and I would be remiss not to pass on my own observations and opinions. Before diving headfirst in and releasing the information to eager Leafs fans ready to tear apart or build up the hot topic prospect, I want to preface these observations with caution. Many of these players haven’t played competitive hockey for months and with a rest and recovery period following lengthy hockey seasons, it is expected that many of the participants at Maple Leafs Development Camp were rusty and that should be taken into account. Furthermore, the on-ice sessions on Wednesday featured mainly skill development and did not include scrimmages making it all the more difficult to assess anything other than individual basic hockey skills.


Antoine Bibeau (#72; 172nd in 2013), Matthew Mancina (#82; invitee) & Jack Flinn (#73; invitee)

With the Leafs opting not to select a goaltender at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, two of the three netminders were invites who went undrafted in their first go ‘round. Considering camp sessions were mostly focused on skill development for the skaters, it wouldn’t be fair to grade the men of the crease too critically. However, both Bibeau and Mancina had solid showings while I noticed that 6-foot-7 Owen Sound goaltender Jack Flinn seemed to struggle with his timing. Seeing as though he played sparingly this past season, it’s not unexpected to see him battle with his game but I was concerned a bit that this massive puck stopper didn’t appear to play that “big” between the pipes, offering some sizeable holes in his coverage. 


On Toronto’s main roster, much of the focus is on its underwhelming defensive depth but if prospect camp holds any value, expect to see the tide change on the back end. I was incredibly impressed with Swedes Viktor Loov (#80; 209th in 2012) and Tom Nilsson (#96; 100th in 2011). Both defenders are extremely mobile and showed a willingness to close the gap quickly during 2-on-2 rushes. Nilsson displayed an impressive first few steps in his stride and showed great confidence in turning the puck up the ice in drills. Nilsson quickly eliminated time and space using a combination of swift skating and unexpected stick checks. He stepped up once on invitee Bobo Carpenter to lay a nice hit and separate the puck at the blue line.

Drafted with the third last pick in 2012, Loov owns admirable size (6-foot-3) and physicality but it was his ability in possession that captivated me. He was a beast in battles and while he didn’t get the chance to showcase his physicality much in these drills, Loov certainly flashed the strength and two-way presence that will make him a candidate to crack the roster…very soon.

The Leafs have waited on these two Swedes and it’s a patient scheme that will certainly pay off as I foresee a very bright future for both blossoming defenders.

Matt Finn (#76; 35th in 2013) participated in the drills and when paired with Tom Nilsson during the 2-on-2 rushes they stifled the attack. As a third year player at the camp, Finn was expected to be among the best and he didn’t disappoint. The issue with Finn is that he definitely needs to continue to improve his skating as he appears sluggish in his first few strides. He was among eight defensemen that worked with Barbara Underhill during the second hour of the morning skate and his lack of foot speed was evident. He certainly has made improvements in his skating, notably his pivots and transitions, but it’s the one area that is separating him from being an elite defensive prospect in my mind.

Rinat Valiev (#83; 68th in 2014) is a player I was eager to observe and his physical strength and positioning were notable pluses in his game. However, he appeared overwhelmed at times (not uncommon during initial camps) and struggled with his pivots and transitions when speedy forwards forced him onto his heels during line rushes.

Kayle Doetzel (#75; invitee) played for the Red Deer Rebels and was brought into camp as an invitee and didn’t look out of place. Showing smart decisions and executing safe plays, Doetzel was the lone defensive invite that turned my head based on his steady simple play. 

Cody Donaghey (#69), Jeremie Fraser (#74) and Dorian Saeftel (#86) were solid in action but not noteworthy through the morning sessions.


William Nylander (#62; 8th in 2014), Frederik Gauthier (#54; 21st in 2013), Fabrice Herzog (#94; 142nd in 2013), Andreas Johnson (#95; 202nd in 2013) and Dominic Toninato (#77; 126th in 2012) were part of a small group that spent the first hour working with Barb Underhill on the adjacent rink. More on Nylander later but the remaining four forwards weren’t observed today due to their isolated instruction.

With no live viewings of J.J. Piccinich (#84; 103rd in 2014), it was a clean slate for Piccinich heading into camp for me. Feeling his way through his first pro camp after posting near point-per-game numbers with Youngstown (60-27-31-58), it was easy to see that he is a shot-first type of player. Not overly aggressive on the attack, I feel as though there is more vigor in his game than he showed today and as he gains experience and confidence, I would expect that to be released. He’s a confident puck handler with a lively stride and when the puck lands on his stick, it’s quickly unleashed thereafter. With a short “practice” viewing, I’d be foolish to rubber stamp his future based on this showing but it’s clear that there’s some long-term potential to be discovered here but patience will be required as his development will take some time.

Dakota Joshua (#85; 128th in 2014) is another unknown prospect from Toronto’s draft day haul but he was certainly one of the most intriguing players during the morning skate. Blessed with good size and a frame to grow into, I was quite impressed with his overall hockey skill set. He can skate well, albeit a stride that could use some refinement, and he seemed to show all of the abilities to project him as a future possession player. He worked the corners well using his reach and powerful first steps but also displayed some nice scoring ability in tight as he drove to the net. His shot owns both quickness and accuracy. Again, Joshua is a long-term prospect probably close to four or five years from action but colour me impressed with his game after this initial observation.

Next up is Nolan Vesey (#87; 158th in 2014) from the South Shore Kings where he tallied 66 points in 48 games after going undrafted in 2013. Vesey had good jump in his game and while he didn’t dazzle with speed or elite puck skills, he was sound in almost every area. During the 2-on-2 rushes, Vesey showed great timing and positioning opening up to receive passes or driving the net for rebounds. He’s not a dazzler but he’s adept at handling the puck at top speed showing flashes of creativity as a passer on some of the attacks. The one element I was most impressed with was Vesey’s ability to change directions to throw off defenders and attack quickly in the other direction. Time will tell what type of player Toronto has in Vesey but I’m thinking he could be a quality energy player.

Pierre Engvall (#97; 188th in 2014) was Toronto’s final selection a few weeks back and I am eager to see this lanky forward in game action. During camp drills, Engvall’s skating stride struck me as awkward with his upright skating posture. On the other hand, when pucks were introduced into the drills, Engvall showed some slick handling ability and a deceptively quick shot release. As Engvall fills out his frame and strength is added, his offensive skill set could certainly be maximized.

Connor Brown (#78; 156th in 2012) appears to be destined for AHL action after tearing apart the OHL. He appears to have bulked up and his game is overflowing with confidence. He and Carter Verhaeghe were the standouts in the 20+ skater group Wednesday and he appears ready to take the next step in his development.

Tony Cameranesi (#90; 130th in 2011) had some of the best jump in his game today as he buzzed all around the puck. He took a slight step backwards in offensive production at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2013-14 but his shooting skills, skating ability and drive was evident in his third Leafs camp.  

Bobo Carpenter (#65; invitee) is the son of Leafs’ Development Coach Bobby Carpenter (former NHLer). He is an undersized forward who had a solid day but didn’t do too much to get noticed. He isn’t quick or strong but he worked hard and was always in the right position. At times, Bobo appeared anxious as he bobbled (pun intended) several times during possession. It will certainly be a valuable experience for Carpenter to partake in this Leafs camp.

Zachary Pryzbek (#70; invitee) owns great size but his skating is poor. The Brown University commit battled to keep pace throughout the drills and looked overmatched. Chalk it up to nerves possibly but Pryzbek didn’t muster up much on his shot attempts either, lacking both velocity and accuracy.

Matt Rupert (#86; invitee) entered his third development camp with the Leafs as an invite and while practice isn’t the ideal situation for Matt to showcase his agitating ways, he still had a solid showing. At this point in time, Matt Rupert has the tools to be signed to a pro contract and would certainly be an impact player at the AHL level. He’s an intelligent forward with the awareness to suit up in several different roles so we will have to wait to see if he’ll eventually sign on with an AHL club.

From my observations, Ryan Rupert (157th in 2012) was not on the ice during the morning sessions.  

Sven Senteler (#91; invitee) was the oldest participant at camp as a 21-year-old invite. With no notes on the Swiss forward, he was actually quite impressive and displayed a good scoring touch on many of his shots on goal. During the breakaway competition between the defensemen and forwards (which the blueliner group won, by the way), Senteler was very successful on several of his attempts. As a mature participant, Senteler had an aura of confidence about his game and it was noticeable in his creative attacks. Senteler scored four goals and nine points for the ZSC Lions in Switzerland’s National League A (NLA).

Carter Verhaeghe (#72; 82nd in 2013) appears poised to become a big-time OHL scorer next season for the young contending Niagara IceDogs. He’s bursting with confidence making the game around him slow down. Today, Verhaeghe flashed creativity in his passes attempting to set up camp rookie Bobo Carpenter several times. Verhaeghe’s shot looks improved in both quickness and frequency as he found the back of the net multiple times. He found the high percentage shooting areas and exploited them on several occasions. Flashback a few years and you’d be astonished how far Verhaeghe’s game has come and it’s a development that can be contributed to both opportunity and an increasing confidence in his game. Expect big things from him in 2014-15 as he enters his fourth (and likely final) OHL campaign.

Rounding out the forwards is Samuel Vigneault (#89; invitee), a tall and productive centerman from the QCHL that posted 28 goals and 60 points in 37 games. He was among the most impressive invites from today’s sessions showing good puck handling ability, strong skating skills (especially given his 6-foot-4 frame) and advanced vision. He could certainly stand to improve his shot but there’s a lot to like about this kid and once he adds some strength, he could find a role at the next level. 

All Eyes on William Nylander

Nylander spent the first hour working with skating coach Barbara Underhill before joining a larger group led by skills consultant Derek Popke. It wasn’t the most ideal platform to showcase what his skills truly have to offer but he certainly appeared more than capable in all testing areas. Nylander was having a good time, laughing and joking with coaches and fellow draftees throughout the skills development session, which was kept very loose and fun.

Nylander Camp Footage: Video 1, Video 2, Video 3

With simulated scrimmages scheduled for Friday, I look forward to seeing William Nylander and these other prospects in more game-like action.

Feel free to follow @RossyYoungblood on Twitter