The Maple Leafs announced on Thursday that the club has signed 2023 first-round draft selection Easton Cowan to a three-year, entry-level contract.

The 18-year-old Mount Brydges native was selected by the Leafs 28th overall in the 2023 draft after recording 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) in 68 regular season games and 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 20 playoff contests with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights last season.

The left-shot winger’s production ticked up notably in the Knights’ playoff run to the OHL Finals, leading OHL rookie playoff scoring by double digits ahead of the second-highest scorer. That late-season progression placed Cowan on the radar as a potential late first/early-second round pick in the ’23 draft.

In response to criticism that the organization had “reached” with the pick relative to the pre-draft player rankings of various public scouting services, Maple Leafs‘ Director of Amateur Scouting Wes Clark mentioned the team had intel that other draft tables were interested in Cowan late in the first round.

“We knew a number of teams behind us had him high on their board,” said Clark. “He was our guy.”

Cowan will spend the 2023-24 season back in the OHL, where he should play a major role — with significant all-situations opportunity — on a Knights team with serious championship aspirations.

“His numbers in the second half were off the charts,” said Knights GM Mark Hunter. “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.”

Continued 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.”

Cowan experienced his first taste of Maple Leafs development camp back in July when he spent his scrimmage time on a line with prospects Ty Voit and Nick Moldenhauer.

“[Cowan] came in and had a really good week,” said Director of Player Development, Hayley Wickenheiser. “I like the way he plays the game with a lot of passion and energy. He was agitating out there. He and John Fusco were going at it a little bit early on. It was good to see — you want to [see] compete. He has an internal fire about him with him being a smaller player, playing junior B, and getting drafted higher than maybe people thought.”

Easton Cowan Scouting Report

“He’s a sum-is-greater-than-the-parts guy for me… His work ethic is high-end. He competes all over the ice. Moves pucks really well. Smart player. The skill overall isn’t going to blow anyone away. Skating has improved, and he’s grown. He’s 5’11” now. He was 5’8” not all that long ago. He’s a guy coaches will trust.”

– Mark Edwards, HP Blackbook

-> More in-depth scouting details

Director of Amateur Scouting Wes Clark on Easton Cowan

Big engine. Big motor. Relentless. Really strong intelligence on and off the puck. He is early in his development curve. I think he has a really long way to go.

He started off the year with limited minutes. In the second half, there was progression every month and every game all the way through the playoffs. He really elevated.

There is a lot of room for improvement. We think we got a good one.

Some people may think that we may have reached, but part of the job, too, is collecting intel. We knew a number of teams behind us had him high on their board. He was our guy.