Fraser Minten will center Matthew Knies and Calle Jarnkrok in the penultimate game of preseason tonight at Scotiabank Arena (7:00 p.m. EST, TSN4).
Full marks to Minten for earning his way into this opportunity when he easily could’ve been returned to a Kamloops team — as was just about everybody’s expectation — that is three games into its WHL season by now. The maturity of his game has been a pleasant surprise and the progression he’s shown suggests he might not need ample AHL seasoning before he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL.
That said, the cold hard reality of the situation is this: The Leafs are team deep that is team up front, is looking to contend, and is very tight on cap and roster space. It makes little sense for a club in their position to forgo signing a Noah Gregor (just as an example), who is going to be a piece for them for the 82 games plus playoffs potentially, so they can carry Minten on the roster for nine games.
Minten also hasn’t truly dominated the WHL offensively yet, either (67 points in 57 games last year), so there are benefits to him returning and trying to compete among the top scorers in the league. There is no sense in getting short-sighted about his development or possibly constraining his potential upside offensively when there is lots to still be learned and gained from that experience in junior.
If the Leafs were a team with lots of roster/cap space and lineup opportunity available for him to really get notable benefits out of a nine-game taste, it would be another story. But Minten is going to be scratching and clawing for minutes here. Sheldon Keefe’s comment yesterday that Minen “has to be ready for us and we have to be ready for him” was seemingly the head coach alluding to these realities.
All of that said, it is great that the Leafs are rewarding Minten and shifting their lineup around to give him more looks and opportunities in the remaining preseason games. That is exactly the type of thing preseason should be used for; eight games is too many in general, and this team in particular does not have many question marks to settle in terms of lineup decisions for opening night. It’s certainly worthwhile to give Minten as much exposure to the league in exhibition season — playing alongside NHL players and lining up against good players like the other night in Montreal — so that he can take the experience back to junior and come to camp next year ready to really make a push to stick on the club.
As part of giving Minten the experience of centering Matthew Knies and Calle Jarnkrok tonight, the Leafs will be bumping William Nylander to the wing with John Tavares and Max Domi. That will be an interesting and worthwhile line to take a look at as it will be something we see at some point during the year, even if it’s just as an option during games if the Leafs are down a goal and pushing for offense (Tavares in Jarnkrok’s place alongside Nylander and Domi).
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on what he is hoping to see from Fraser Minten tonight:
Just keep doing what he has been doing. He has been playing really well, which is why we’ve given him an opportunity like this one tonight. We have liked a lot of what we have seen from him.
It is a chance to do it again tonight and do it with a lot of our guys in. That is a different type of rhythm and a different type of feel from other games where he has really taken on a lot of the load, was going over the boards, and taking on a lot of minutes. I am going to play him a lot tonight, but playing a lot tonight will feel different than playing a lot on some of the other nights.
Keefe on the push Minten has made to make the team at age 19:
The progress that he has made from one season to the next or one camp to the next has been remarkable. Coming in, we were excited to watch him again, but he definitely wasn’t really on the radar. There was some people internally who thought Minten was really going to show well here and surprise us in some ways. I think he has certainly done that in terms of the step that he has taken.
He was a really impressive kid and player when he was here last year, too. He played really well. It was one preseason game he played for us last season, and I thought he was extremely impressive in that. There was a lot to be excited about, but it was clear that he was a ways away.
He has closed that gap pretty significantly now.
Fraser Minten on the opportunity to stick around in camp, appear in another preseason game, and if he is starting to feel some pressure now that there might be a chance to make the roster:
It is awesome. I said earlier that it is my goal just to work hard every day and earn another day. It’s been 10 days since then. I am really, really happy to be here and to be getting a chance to play tonight.
I don’t really feel any pressure. It is just an amazing opportunity for me. It wasn’t necessarily something I expected coming in to be here at this stage and be getting the opportunity that I am. I don’t feel like I can lose out there tonight no matter how it goes. I am just excited about it.
Minten on the keys to his success in camp and preseason so far:
Just being myself. The way I play is smart hockey. At the NHL level, it is a big focus. It is a business of winning games. The more you can manage the puck, put it in their end more than yours, or get it out of your end, it helps tilt the ice. The way I play is built for pro. I think that has helped me.
Keefe on giving Pontus Holmberg a look on the left wing:
We haven’t used him on wing much. I think it is good timing with us giving Minten the opportunity up the middle.
I am confident in his ability to play center. It is great depth and a great opton to have. With the way that it has kind of shaken out, there may be opportunity on the wings available to compete for. We want to give him an opportunity to do that. He hasn’t played much wing, and we do think it is a much easier transition for a center to go play wing.
I like a lot about him. His camp has kind of been like last season — kind of a quiet camp, and not a whole lot that is going to jump out, but if you really watch his game, there is a whole lot of detail and a lot of things that are reliable about it.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lineup
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Max Domi – #91 John Tavares – #88 William Nylander
#23 Matthew Knies – #39 Fraser Minten – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#29 Pontus Holmberg – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#22 Jake McCabe – #2 Simon Benoit
#55 Mark Giordano – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#35 Ilya Samsonov
#60 Joseph Woll
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lineup
Soderblom – Veleno – Fischer
Berggren – Danielson – Kostin
Doucet – Lombardi – Hirose
Spezia – Bliss – Sawchuk
Gostisbehere – Chiarot
Johansson – Holl
Wallinder – Rafferty