On a night void of Toronto’s high-end prospects – William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen and Mitch Marner – it was a chance for the lesser profiled property to step up. With that said, it was a trio of free agent invites that drew all the attention… and it was for all the right reasons.

Maple Leafs Scoring Synopsis:

1st Period
1-0 TOR – Stephen Desrosher with a heads up slap-pass to Jack Rodewald, who redirects it past Michael McNiven.

 2nd Period
TOR – Defenseman Nik Brouillard picks up a pass in the hashmarks and wires it into the back of the net to pull tie the game at 2-2.

TOR – In a crease battle, Schladnichenko makes a nice subtle redirect to Michael Joly on the right post who tucks it in the sidedoor to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead.

TOR – Brouillard finds the back of the net on a seeing-eye point shot giving him his second goal and third point. Assists to Dzierkais and Verhaeghe.

3rd Period
No Toronto Scoring

Player Notes:

Cameron Lizotte – a 6-foot-2, 200-pound defender – created much of the roar from the Budweiser Gardens pro-Leafs as he impressed with his nasty play. He stepped up at the defensive blue line sending the Habs attacker flying into the boards and then later dropped the gloves with Montreal’s 2013 1st rounder Michael McCarron (6-foot-6) in a short yet spirited bout. Lizotte has been a gritty defender dating back to his OHL draft season and it’s that attribute that’ll eventually earn him a pro contract – whether in Toronto or elsewhere. He deserves one.

Michael Joly, 20, had a productive game for the Blue and White displaying the speed and creativity that helped him reach the point-per-game barrier in the Q for the second straight season. His ability to drive the pace with his lateral attacking agility and quick top speed, and particularly troubling outside bursts, caused a lot of problems for Montreal’s retreating defenders.

Last and certainly not least, QMJHL All-Star defender Nikolas Brouillard was easiily the most dominant player for the Leafs youngsters. Despite scoring a league-leading 17 goals and 57 points as a QMJHL defenseman, Brouillard remained undrafted and accepted the Leafs invitation to the showcase tournament and Toronto might be glad they did. After tallying two goals and an assist in their loss to Montreal, Brouillard proved that he could be a valuable free agent signing. He’s a slick puck-rushing defender capable of controlling the pace from the blue line. On the rush, Brouillard is a heads up defender who gains the offensive line with ease. Playing alongside second rounder Travis Dermott, Brouillard established himself as a threat on the powerplay with his seeing eye shot. The 20-year-old also dropped the gloves in the opening minute of the second period with burly defender Brett Lernout, but that was one aspect of his game that isn’t worth talking about as the Habs defender definitely got the upper hand.

Fans may have been disappointed that Nylander, Kapanen and Marner were left out of the lineup Saturday, but they were presented with an entertaining game for the most part. The combination of dazzling Russians Nikita Soshnikov and Dmytro Timashov teamed up for several breathtaking attacks. On the powerplay, Timashov sent a laser cross-ice pass for a Soshnikov one-timer that almost found its way past Michael McNiven. Seconds later, Timashov chipped a pass back to Brouillard, who walked into the slot and broke twine behind the Montreal ‘tender for his first of the contest. There’s no denying the skill that both Timashov and Soshnikov, who was the better of the two tonight, possess. Each of them combine speed, creativity and confident puckhandling abilities to thrive in offensive situations. Tonight, Soshnikov was particularly impressive with his subtle touch passes around the crease that had McNiven spinning in circles at times.

The following are some candid notes on other performances from Saturday’s game versus Montreal:

Travis Dermott was arguably one of the best players on the Leafs side of the puck. Although he lacks ideal size, it appears Dermott has added significant strength over the summer. With the puck, he was outstanding leading the rush and his four-way agility allows him to elude pressure with ease. He’s a confident puck handler and surprisingly unleashed some howitzers from the point as well. Many fans questioned the Leafs brass’ decision to trade down out of the 24th spot at the draft, but adding Dermott early in the second looks like a shrewd move. I fully expect to see Dermott challenge for the OHL defensive scoring lead tonight.

Since graduating from the OHL, Matt Finn has improved his somewhat sluggish skating stride but he has struggled to find a true “role”. The upcoming 2015-16 AHL season will be an important one for Finn as he looks to establish himself, but at this point in time I am left asking, “what type of defender will Matt Finn be?” He’s not quick or skilled enough to be an offensive-oriented blue liner, and I’m not sure he’s physical enough to develop into a meaningful shutdown option, either. Tonight Finn was much of the same – neither impressing me on the offensive or defensive side of the puck.

Stephen Desrocher started the game off nicely as he found his way onto the gamesheet with a smart slap-pass to Jack Rodewald. Defensively, Desrocher was knocked around and offensively, he wasn’t presented with much opportunity with all of that time handed to Dermott and Brouillard. 

Coming into the tournament, I had my reservations about Carter Verhaeghe because he was a rather inconsistent player last year with the Niagara IceDogs. However, Verhaeghe was among the group of players who impressed me tonight. He appears to be faster and really developed some good chemistry with Soshnikov. There was one particular rush five minutes into the second frame where Verhaeghe danced around the Habs right defender, blowing by him and then sending a beautiful centering pass to Soshnikov, who failed to get a stick on it. Verhaeghe’s speed and hustle was evident tonight and it resulted in at least one penalty drawn. He’s far from a finished product, but seeing him take these steps forward are important for these middle-round prospects.

 Another player on an amateur try-out who turned heads was former WHLer Jack Rodewald. As mentioned above, Rodewald opened the scoring on a slick redirect goal but he was “Johnny-on-the-spot” all night and always seemed to be hovering around the puck. An 85-point producer with Moose Jaw (WHL) in 2014-15, Rodewald owns promising size, good mobility and a determined offensive game. He’s not a pure offensive player, but he’ll certainly be able to make an impact in the Marlies bottom six this season.

The 2014-15 Canada West University scoring leader, TJ Foster, had his moments tonight but they were few and far between. He projects as an energy player who can file into a top six role when needed at the AHL level. Lacking ideal size at 5-foot-11, it’s Fosters’ feet and unrelenting puck pursuit that makes him hard to play against. With him slated to play for the AHL Marlies, Foster will be a nice chemistry player who provides good versatility.

Frederik Gauthier has taken big steps forward with his skating as he no longer has trouble keeping up with the pace. He’s a player that I am most eager to follow as he begins his pro career. He gets a lot of flack from Toronto’s fan base but I truly appreciate that he knows what type of player he is. As he showed tonight, he won’t be winning any offensive awards and he may never crack the 40-point mark in the NHL, but he’s got some tools that are valuable. Gauthier lacks the offensive awareness to be used with Toronto’s young talents. That was evident tonight on a 3-on-2 with Dzierkais, when he failed to trail far enough back in order for the Latvian to hit him in the slot for a prime scoring chance. He was stationed in front of the net as a screen and did an effective job. We all realize he’s not a top-six player and his real value is on the defensive side of the puck, but I was slightly disappointed with his intensity in the defensive third tonight, too. The biggest long-term question is whether he’s a Mark Hunter or Kyle Dubas type of player?

Buzzing around the rink showcasing his explosive skating ability, elusive agility and quick puck handling abilities was 2015 3rd rounder Martin Dzierkais. Between Soshnikov, Timashov, Skladnichenko and Dzierkais, there always seemed to be a skilled player taking the ice. These smaller skilled forwards are fun to watch but at some point, Dzierkais will need to find a way to turn his bouts of 10-15 second flashes into goals because he tends to stick to the perimeter. He should do well offensively in the QMJHL this season with Rouyn-Noranda.

With no previous viewings of Nikita Soshnikov heading into the game, I was quite eager to see what the fuss was all about. Simply put, I was very impressed. In order for smaller players to survive and have successful NHL careers, they have have a few essential ingredients – determination, smarts, skill and an element of elusiveness. Soshnikov impressed in all of those areas and his intensity, ability to make things happen and skill in possession were better than I expected. He’s going to get knocked around at his size and the season wear-and-tear will take it’s toll. With Soshnikov, I am not sure he knows that he’s smaller or if he just doesn’t care, and that’s a good thing.

Since Marner wasn’t in the lineup, it was Sarnia Sting winger Nikita Korostelev who I was most familiar with in this particular game. Known for his sniping abilities, I was slightly disappointed in this aspect of his game tonight. He appeared very nervous tonight even though I thought he was skating and competing better than usual. Several times, Korostelev found himself with the puck in the scoring area at the top of the circle and each time, he either fumbled or bobbled those prime scoring chances. With that said, Korostelev was very involved in the heart of the play and that was an improvement from the past when he can often disappear for several shifts.

Top Performers:

Based solely on the game versus Montreal, my top 5 performers were:

  1. Nikolas Brouillard
  2. Travis Dermott
  3. Nikita Soshnikov
  4. Michael Joly
  5. Cameron Lizotte

Analysis from @RossyYoungblood

Game In Six Minutes:

Sheldon Keefe Post-Game Press Conference:

Mark Hunter Post-Game Press Conference: