On Sportsnet’s Real Kyper and Bourne, London Knights GM Mark Hunter discussed the Maple Leafs selection of Knights forward Easton Cowan at 28th overall in the 2023 NHL Draft.

First and foremost, can you talk about the type of player that the Leafs just drafted in Easton Cowan?

Hunter: He is a high-energy player. He plays both ends of the ice. He can kill penalties. He can play the power play. He can make plays. He has real good skills.

He needs to get stronger yet. He is still a little bit light. But his dedication to the game is off the charts.

What was his progression like with the team over the course of the season?

Hunter: He started in Jr. B the year before. We always kind of take our time with our players. He skated with us. He was in our gym with us. There was lots of development with him the year before.

We want these young men to earn their ice time. We didn’t give it to him. Every day, he came, practiced hard, and played hard. By the end, by halfway through the season, he just took off. He out-played some of our 18 and 19-year-olds. He deserved to play.

He had a heck of a run in the playoffs. The playoffs were fantastic for him. He brought his game to another level.

Did the Leafs really gamble on this pick late in the first round when some teams are saying they didn’t have him in their top 50?

Hunter: I disagree. They must not see him play enough.

You have the eye test. You have the video. You have the analytics. We have a company that does work for us, and his numbers in the second half were off the charts.

If you come to watch him play, he stood out — against tough competition, too. We were playing [Ethan] Del Mastro, who plays for Sarnia and is a Team Canada defenseman. He did a fantastic job against stiff competition.

If you watched him, he is the real deal.

How does the opportunity change for him next year in London?

Hunter: One thing is that he needs to get stronger. He will do the work to get stronger. He is going to be put in a position to be a go-to guy. He was a go-to guy in the last half of the season and especially in the playoffs.

We have a real good team here. He will be a part of a formula here for winning.

Does the lack of trade movement speak to how deep the draft was or how tight money is across the league?

Hunter: I think it is a little bit of both. The money is tight, and there were some good players that teams felt they could get in the 28th hole, the 27th hole, etc. In years past, it wasn’t there.

In this year’s draft, everybody was hungry for these young kids. A guy like Cowan — he has tons of upside. Some day, he will be a Leaf and he will play for the Leafs.

All it took was Kyle Dubas going to Pittsburgh for the Leafs to start drafting Knights again, right?

Hunter: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right!