Hayley Wickenheiser, Maple Leafs
Hayley Wickenheiser, Maple Leafs

After the end of 2024 Development Camp, Assistant GM Hayley Wickenheiser discussed her first impressions of 2024 draft selections Miroslav Holinka, Victor Johansson, and Ben Danford, the next step for Fraser Minten in his development, and much more.

–> 2024 Development Camp Roster

What impression did Miroslav Holinka make on you at the camp?

Wickenheiser: I thought he had a really good camp. I hadn’t seen him live before. Nice hands. You can really tell he has played professional men’s hockey with his habits and details in his game and some of the plays that he makes. He didn’t really struggle with the pace at all. He was a bright spot in camp for sure.

What was the thought process behind putting together Fraser Minten and Easton Cowan in camp?

Wickenheiser: We know those two are going to come to main camp, and both have the goal of making the team. Having them play together creates a little familiarity. Show leadership by driving play and dominating offensively when they could. They did, and we saw that.

It’s just giving the guys we know are skilled guys a chance to show what they can do together.

What is your takeaway on Ben Danford’s camp?

Wickenheiser: I really like Ben’s game. He made some really nice plays in the game and jumped in the rush. Nice assist on the goal.

His offensive upside might be better than what he has shown statistically. You can see that. He moves really well. Watching him off the ice, I see that he is a good athlete as well.

He made a good impression on everyone this week. He had a good camp.

What are your thoughts on Brandon Lisowsky’s camp? It must be hard for him, knowing he is without a contract.

Wickenheiser:  It is really hard mentally — I can imagine — when you don’t have a contract, but he had a really good showing out there. When he gets the puck in key areas, he doesn’t miss very often.

He had a very good camp. We will see what is next for him regarding rookie camp and main camp. But he had a strong showing, and I was happy for him.

What were your impressions of Victor Johansson?

Wickenheiser: I think he was another bright spot in camp. People make a lot out of his  147 pounds, but he is a great mover. He reminds me a little bit of Klingberg when he started out. I think he was about the same weight. Swedish with long levers.

He didn’t seem to have any trouble with the physical play. It is more the North American shift from the bigger ice in Sweden to the physicality here.

Great personality off the ice. He is a lot of fun. I am going to see him in Sweden later this summer. I look forward to seeing his life and how he trains over there. Fun kid to be around.

You spoke about working with Fraser Minten to improve the dynamic on the offensive side. What kind of growth have you seen in that area, and how much room is there for more growth?

Wickenheiser: I think there is a lot of room for Fraser. You can see he is a responsible player. He plays both ends of the ice. He’ll make plays.

Sometimes, in tight, getting him more dynamic off one foot or the other to bury some scoring chances is the next offensive upside for him. But he is a really complete player. Sometimes, when you are such a responsible player, it can detract when you are not thinking “offense” all the time.

Those are just little things. He is a well-rounded guy throughout his whole game. I know he wants to work on all of those areas. We continue to help him along the way.

Any thoughts on Nicholas Moldenhauer?

Wickenheiser: I thought he had his best day of camp [on Sunday]. He sees the open ice. He can make plays. We continue to work on all areas of the game with him, but it’s more establishing power and good habits off the ice.

He had a slow start in college and a better finish. I expect he will have a better second year down in Michigan as he gains confidence, which I think is a big thing for Nick.

Did any of the free-agent invites stand out in the scrimmage?

Wickenheiser: Quite a few guys had bright spots or moments. If you look at Finnie and McCleary, who play very physically, they probably couldn’t show what they had today. We asked guys not to kill each other on the ice. You can see that emotional control there.

Just thinking through some of the other forwards… There is Quillan, who we’ve already got signed. Hudson [Malinoski] has some nice offensive skills. There were some bright spots throughout.  It is more just about the consistency.

That is our message to them. When you go back to college or junior, we will be following and watching. Your career is not made or broken in one camp with the Leafs.

Braeden Kressler impressed at this camp a few years ago and earned a contract. He’s had some injury issues and missed an entire season in his draft year. After a full season in the OHL and turning pro this fall, what were your impressions of him?

Wickenheiser: I am really happy for him this camp. He showed up very fit. I thought he played really well with a lot of pace and jump. He really showed leadership. He will have to continue that on to his pro career now.

He has continually gotten better. He has had some injuries to overcome. It will be up to him now as to how far he wants to take it.

Did anything surprise you on or off the ice this week?

Wickenheiser: I don’t think there were any big surprises on the ice in camp. We talked about Holinka being a player who showed more offensive upside than maybe we had seen or known about.

Danford was everything that he was hyped up to be in camp.

If anything, off the ice, I found this group to be the most intense one we have had in the development camps since I have been here in terms of being quiet and reserved until we took them to Ovo yesterday to play basketball. In hindsight, I should have done that on the first day to get them relaxed and loose.

It is a competitive situation. You want them to be teammates and not kill each other on the ice, but players are trying to make an impression. That is always the dance we have here.

Some of the defensemen mentioned how much they enjoyed learning from Jake Muzzin. What sort of asset is Jake in the development process?

Wickenheiser: Jake is great. The nice thing about him is that he is so fresh from playing. He still knows what it feels like and what every day is like as a pro player. Throughout the week, we have tried to expose the players to a lot of former players to hear their stories.

Jake is a guy who is easy to talk to. He has won a Stanley Cup. When he speaks, the players listen. He also has some great ideas around development and working with the defensemen. We will get him going with us this year in development as well.

He will learn what it’s like to coach. He thought the shot-blocking day was a little long. We said, “It’s not as easy as it looks, is it?” He has done a great job for us.

Do you now go and compile your notes from the last few days?

Wickenheiser: We already have all of that done. We have a pretty extensive evaluation process. What we will be doing is touching base with the players we signed—our prospects—and the free agents we will be tracking throughout the year, helping them establish a good plan on and off the ice. Any needs they might have for the summer to help them get to the next level, we are evaluating it and seeing how we can help them moving forward.

Does the process of figuring out the rookie tournament roster start now?

Wickenheiser: We will talk about what we saw here and invite some players we want to have there. We already have a sense of what we want. Now, it is just about filling out the roster. That’s something we’ll discuss after today.