By Charlie Clarke (Associate Editor), Last Word on Hockey
This is the third and final analysis and scouting report from the Toronto Maple Leafs 2016 Rookie Camp. For similar articles from days one and two, with more information and interviews, look right here:
Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Camp: Day 1 Recap
Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Camp: Day 2 Recap
The Toronto Maple Leafs wrapped up the 2016 Rookie Tournament on Sunday with a 6-5 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins rookies. The Leafs completed a 3-goal comeback in the second period, and won the game on a goal from Jeremy Bracco, who slotted it five-hole on goalie Casey DeSmith after Leafs defender Andrew Nielsen sprung him on a breakaway with a beautiful pass.
The Leafs improved to a perfect 3-0 on the weekend, coming out on top over the feisty Penguins rookies despite scratching most of their highly-skilled wingers. Mitchell Marner, Dmytro Timashov, Tobias Lindberg, and Colin Smith all sat, which gave players like Jeremy Bracco and Nikita Korostelev more time in the spotlight.
Toronto Maple Leafs Rookie Camp Day 3 Recap
“I thought there was a lot of fire out there in that game tonight,” said assistant general manager Mark Hunter. He was particularly impressed by the pace of the game, noting an organizational philosophy for drafting fast, skilled players.
“That’s one thing we’ve addressed as a hockey club,” he admitted. “I don’t think any team’s going to be faster than us. We’ve got good skating and we can get up and down the ice real quick.”
Sheldon Keefe, coaching the baby Leafs this weekend, saw a lot of positives from the three games.
“A large number of these guys will move on to Leafs camp from here, so this is a bit of a head start for them,” he pointed out. “That’ll bode well for them once they get on the ice up in Halifax.
“When you look at this tournament, there’s always evaluations that are going on; that’s just the nature of sports, it’s part of the business. From my perspective, from a coaching staff perspective, my job is to develop the players that we have here, introduce them to the concepts and the systems and the language, and reinforce it for those that have been through it before.”
With rookie camp now ended, there were several Leafs players whose performances stood out – both positively and negatively. Here are some scouting notes and interviews from game three.
Korostelev is proving more and more each day that he had no business being available in the seventh round of the 2015 draft. He has an odd, choppy stride but he’s still fast, with a healthy dose of puck skill when he has possession. He had a pair of goals and an assist on Sunday, and played well on the power play.
“He’s working harder,” Mark Hunter said about Korostelev. “He’s got great puck skills, he’s got to make sure he keeps his feet moving – he did tonight and he looked real good.”
Korostelev himself said he had been working on his defensive game, to go along with his natural offensive talent. Asked if he wanted to prove he deserved to be drafted earlier, Korostelev shrugged.
“I try to put it out of my head,” he said, “but everybody has to prove that he’s better.”
Bracco had a lot more exposure on Sunday with players like Marner and Timashov sitting out. He played on the first power play unit alongside Andreas Johnsson and Tony Cameranesi, and showed incredible patience while cycling the puck. Bracco is a top notch passer, particularly through the neutral zone but he’s also very skilled at picking out receivers in traffic near the net.
He is quite small, and as such Pittsburgh’s defenders were often able to knock him off the puck when they pressured him hard. His skating helps him out there, though.
Bracco finished the game with a pair of goals, named the first star. For the overtime winner, he gave most of the credit to Nielsen’s pass. Asked if he had picked his spot while bearing in on DeSmith, he grinned.
“Yeah, that’s usually where I go, five hole,” said Bracco, “but we’ll keep that a secret.”
Johnsson, like Bracco, was given a lot more ice time with so many other forwards scratched. Unlike Bracco, though, he did not stand out more like he was expected to. Johnsson played on both the power play and penalty kill, and never truly impressed.
That’s not to say he was bad; he skates well and drives play in the offensive zone, taking charge of the cycle. It would’ve been nice to see him show off his talent a little more.
Playing with Keaton Middleton, there was very little room for error for Dermott. However, he struggled more in the defensive zone than he did the night before. A few costly errors led to Pittsburgh scoring chances, and with the liability that Middleton looks like this pairing was quite problematic for the Leafs.
Kaskisuo needs some coaching in his positioning. His lateral movement is often out of control, and he plays very deep in his net. He was beaten five times on Sunday, a couple times quite egregiously. The Middleton-Dermott pairing didn’t do him many favours, but he didn’t inspire much confidence.