With the 2016 NHL Rookie Tournament in action the weekend of September 16-18, Last Word on Hockey is the place to go for everything you need to know. Team-specific recaps will be posted from each game, and follow along live on Twitter for updates from @charliejclarke and @gSchroedes16
Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Camp: Day 1 Recap
The Toronto Maple Leafs prospects in front of the blue and white faithful that packed Budweiser Gardens came out victorious Friday night against the Ottawa Senators, closing out the first night of the tournament with a 2-1 overtime victory. The team has to be happy and relieved with the victory especially with how they dominated for much of the game in failing to capitalize on prime scoring chances that saw the shot chart tilt in Toronto’s favor after regulation (30-18).
Here are some Leafs that stood out from tonight’s contest:
Let’s start with the overtime hero. In addition to scoring the game winner, Smith used his elusiveness to get away in the clear a couple of times using his speed and offensive instincts. Picked up in the Shawn Matthias trade in February, he was nearly a point-per-game player with the Toronto Marlies in the 23 remaining games scoring seven goals and 22 points, and adding five points in nine playoff games. The former seventh round pick was in between Mitch Marner and Tobias Lindberg tonight. He fed off of their creativity for the first two periods, making a pretty pass on his backhand to Marner to give him a good chance from the left circle on the power play. His stick play along the wall freed up the puck momentarily for the Leafs to chip the puck out of the zone in overtime where he was the beneficiary.
“It was great. Obviously I’ve played a lot with Lindy,and obviously to play with Mitch, everyone knows what he can do. It was fun, I think we had a lot of chances and it just wasn’t happening. We were able to stay with it, and it was nice to get one at the end.”
Coming off of a respectable 23 points in 60 games for his first professional season with the Marlies, Valiev looked like quite a creative player showing off his skating ability and playmaking. He made two signature stretch passes from his own zone to the opponent’s blueline. Smith received the first pass, and was denied on the breakaway. Lindberg was just offside on his chance. In terms of skating, Valiev looked quite composed and comfortable on the power play, using his edge work to get inside positioning and making a signature drive to the net front for a chance from the right cricle, protecting the puck every step of the way.
The 3-on-3 overtime was the perfect opportunity to showcase Valiev’s creativity, as he stepped by a few Senators on his way to the goal with a deke for a grade-A chance on his last shift. He did pass up a chance to shoot the puck from in tight, but confidence will come with time. Defensively, he held his own in front of the net in battles. He also used his 6’2″, 187-pound frame to his advantage along the wall at times freeing up pucks. There were a couple mistakes, including not clearing the puck on one of Ottawa’s power plays at the very end of the first period, and a near-deadly turnover in the middle of the ice in his own zone that led to an Ottawa screen shot that went just wide nearing the end of regulation. Overall, however, Valiev looked quite comfortable and very active.
Captain of the Medicine Hat Tigers this past season, the amateur tryout may have been the best defensive player on the ice tonight. Using his 6’4″ reach, there were at least six well-timed poke checks that erased any chances for Ottawa coming his way. On a 2-on-1 with the game still 1-0, he made an impressive read on the 2-on-1 using his stick to prevent a pass from going across the crease. He was rewarded for his solid defensive play with an assist on Trevor Moore’s opening goal of the contest, making an outlet pass ahead to Dmytro Timashov who got the primary assist. Not really an offensive player, it was encouraging to see the 21-year old so stout defensively being a responsible player in his own end.
He was held pointless in his return to London, but the fourth overall pick in 2015 did show signs of how good he could be in the coming years. It took the 19-year old ten seconds to electrify the crowd catching a pass at the Ottawa blueline and letting a shot go from the right circle. He had two more chances that came on the power play where he one-timed a puck from the left circle just wide of the post on the far side and let a shot go from the slot that hit Smith in front of the net.
His hockey IQ showed on two signature moments, including a skate play at the half boards that a allowed him to direct the puck ahead on the rush from his own blueline and a no-look pass from the bench that landed right on the tape of Dmytro Timashov in the middle of the ice speeding into the zone. Outside of Marner’s three grade A scoring chances individually, Ottawa did a good job of not letting him get any more by keeping him to the outside and pressuring him right at the blueline. The reigning OHL MVP did make the key play of the overtime however, chipping the puck out to his linemate Smith that led to the OT winner.
The 2015 5th round pick is coming off an impressive season scoring 22 goals and 84 points with the Quebec Ramparts and Shawinigan Cataractes. Much of his skill was evident tonight. For one, he set up the opening goal by Moore with a nice pass into the middle of the slot. This led him in beautifully for the scoring chance. The 19-year old showed off his legs too, with some nice edge work and power in his strides. He went behind the net with the puck a couple times to protect and survey the ice.
Timashov was out-muscled at times along the wall and was the second forward caught in the 3-on-3 overtime that led to a 2-on-1 the other way. He did make up for the latter with a strong turnover that led to a chance for Valiev in tight. There is plenty of room for him to grow at 19.
Scoring the first goal of the game from the slot on Ottawa net minder Matt O’Connor zipping it to the left of him, the college free agent signee looked quite smooth on zone entries. The 21-year old was around the net quite a few times with his line mates Frederik Gauthier and Timashov. They did a good job of controlling possession in the offensive zone for most of the night as head coach Sheldon Keefe‘s go-to trio. Coming off of an impressive college career netting 120 points in 121 career games, it’s good to see Moore get on the scoresheet for confidence’s sake. In addition to his goal, he made a few smart passes on the power play including one on his backhand that set up a chance.
The Leafs will be in action next tonight against the Habs, who won their game today against the Penguins rather handedly by a score of 8-3. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.