Leafs sweep and win rookie tournament with OT win over Penguins


Many of the Leafs’ rookies got their last chance to impress against their own age and skill level today, in the third and final exhibition matchup for the blue and white in their annual London, Ontario mini-tournament. Standing in the way of their potential perfect record were the Pittsburgh Penguins, who certainly made the process difficult, but the youngsters persevered and got the result they wanted in sudden death.

The game definitely didn’t start off the way the Leafs wanted to. After losing a first-minute goal to a (very correct) offside call, Milos Bubela opened the scoring for Pittsburgh. It was a play where the entire team seemed to lose track of him, as he curled to the left wing, jolted past Stephen Desrocher, and beat Kasimir Kaskisuo with a well-aimed shot less than five minutes into the first period. To make matters worse, Michael Webster doubled the damage not much later, putting Toronto in an unexpectedly tough spot.

The Leafs didn’t respond terribly well, appearing to be more focused on shifting the tone through intimidation rather than through puck control. It showed, too, as penalties began to rack up. Truthfully, they were lucky to get out of the first period without more inflicted damage, but Kaskisuo and the penalty killing unit held the fort.

It didn’t look like the second period would go much better than the first, with Teddy Blueger widening the gap to 3-0, but energetic blood began re-pumping in the team’s veins. Toronto got themselves on the board shortly after with a play orchestrated by Nikita Korostelev and Mason Marchment, with the former getting around their defenceman and setting up the latter. Not much later, Tony Cameranesei’s attempt to set up Andrew Neilsen didn’t go as planned, but the whiffed on puck went directly onto Jeremy Bracco’s tape; he made no mistake from there.

Before you knew it, things were all square once again; this time, Korostelev was the driving force, wrapping around the crease to earn himself an extremely wide open net in which to deposit the puck past Casey DeSmith. Against anybody’s expectation, the second-period buzzer gave an even playing field to the game for the final twenty minutes of regulation.

That last frame was just as absurd as the others. Andrew Neilsen gave the Leafs their first lead of the game with a point shot not overly different from the one he scored yesterday, and Korostelev grabbed his second of the night giving the illusion of insurance. But just like the Leafs could come back, the Pens could too; CJ Yakimowicz and Dominik Simon caused enough trouble for Kaskisuo to send the game to overtime.

At the end of the day, though, the Leafs weren’t leaving without the rhetorical two points. Jake Guentzel almost gave the Penguins the win on a breakaway but hit the post. Not long afterward, Bracco had a similar opportunity, which he was more successful in converting.

With the win, the Leafs finish the tournament with a perfect record; by virtue of round robin, that also gives them the best. To the victor goes, well, bragging rights for management; the players will continue to do their best to impress in training camp and beyond while they compete for NHL and AHL roster spots and contracts.

  • LukeWarmWater

    Good performance from the youngsters to go undefeated and impress management in this mini tournament. Last couple of games by these kids probably more entertaining than the Jays as they fumble and stumble on the left coast.

  • DukesRocks

    Nielsen and Dermott looked good again last night. These two D-men will be a treat to watch with the Marlies. I was also impressed by Dzierkals, Cameranesi, Bracco, Marchment and Korostelev.

    On a separate note, Dave Poulin (Leafs Lunch) stated Johnsson will make the starting rotation out of training camp (TC). Before this tournament I’ve seen Johnsson play twice with the Marlies. I was not impressed. After watching the two game he played this weekend, there is no chance in hell he makes the Leafs out of TC. Which makes me wonder if Mr Poulin actually even seen this guy play? Is he basing his hypothesis based on stats and video highlights?

    Sure Johnsson can skate and shoot the puck but I haven’t seen ELITE creativity, vision or hockey IQ. I find him predictable and uninspiring on the ice. At 5’9″ skating and shooting isn’t enough to get you into the NHL. I’ll admit I maybe wrong (due to the small sample size) but I feel he’ll be back in the SHL within two years.

    • The Russian Rocket

      Good to know. I haven’t been able to see the rookie games, just highlights. I wonder if Johnsson is still getting used to North American ice and if we’ll see his “vision” improve after a dozen games

      • DukesRocks

        Yeah maybe he still has to adjust to the smaller ice surface. This could hamper his time and space to create more chances in the OZ. My point of view is mostly based on his size and creativity. Due to his small stature, he has to be that much better then bigger, heavier players if he wants to make the NHL. This would mean he has to be smarter and more creative to gain that time and space. We’ll see if its just the small ice adjustment but in my opinion Timashov and Bracco out played him.

        • The Russian Rocket

          Yeah, that’s a fair point – his competition for ice time will be intense. Bracco did put up some good numbers and I think Timashov will give the Leafs a hard time in training camp. I thought Timashov had NHL ready speed in last year’s training camp. With an extra year of seasoning he’ll be in the top 6 for the Marlies for sure, if he doesn’t get an extended look with the big club.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      I believe it is the defensive prospects we should be watching the closest to see how far away they are from playing in the NHL. I think management feels at the moment they have at least one or two or even three defencemen expected to make the team in the near future. This is the likely reason they have yet to make any moves to acquire a top four defenceman through free agency or via trade.

      • DukesRocks

        Yeah, I have to agree with that assessment. Zaitsev to me is the key to the strenght of Leaf’s D. The way I see it, Reilly and Gardner are top 4. If Zaitsev can perform like most think, he would make 3. Carrick to me is my wildcard to make 4. He’s a right handed shot and has impressed in the small sample with the Leafs and the playoff Marlies. The only down side on Carrick is size 5’11”, however he’s a pretty strong guy. If Carrick isn’t ready Marincin can step in at top 4. In regard to 5 and 6 the Leafs have many candidates to fill them from Polak, Hunwick, Corrado to Loov.

        The Leafs have time and should be in no rush to graduate Valiev, Nielson and Dermott. Lets not forget about this years draft Greenway looks like a nice prospect. Depending how the top 4 I mentioned play out, the Leafs look solid on D in my opinion.

    • Harte of a Lion

      After a severe concussion, it can take an individual months before they recover from all symptoms. It can take longer to regain specific high end skills. After Komorov was concussed by Ovechkin, he returned but was never the same player, and the remainder of his season was a write off re: points/stats.
      Johnson was knocked out cold by the elbow and I’m certain his head hitting the ice, helmet or no helmet did not help. It could take 20, 30 or even 40 games or more before he feels comfortable on the ice again.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The kids looked awesome last night. Nielsen has made huge strides since being drafted and my only complaint was his ill timed pinches. When he plays within his skill set he can be a dominant presence on every shift. Apparently Korostelev was injured last year which was reflected in his stats however he was a dominant presence every time he stepped on the ice and when you consider his linemates, Feldhaber and Marchment, his production is even more impressive.
    I thought he was the “dud” of the 2015 draft after following his progress last year… Boy was I MISTAKEN. He needs to go back to Sarnia and do what he did at the tournament for the whole season.

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Let’s not forget 19 year old Nikita Korostelev, was drafted in the 7th round. I am not sure if it is fair to refer to a player taken 185th overall, as the “dud” of the 2015 draft. What should our real expectations be, for a player drafted that late?

      • Harte of a Lion

        When it comes to Hunter picks, I expect “magic” with every pick. Check out the 9 picks in 2015. Every player after Marner (2 thru 7) is a top prospect but what makes the picks such genius is when you analyze a player like Andrew Nielsen, he was well off the board when selected but his draft +1 year he explodes in both points/GM and his overall development. How did Hunter Know? Dzierkals, Lindgren and Timashov are last years Korshkov, Grundström and Brooks.
        My prediction: Mattinen is going to blow everyone away next season by how good he is. He played extremely well for his first rookie camp.
        Korostelev is now healthy and has been working this summer with Barb Underhill, the Leafs skating guru. If he can translate the success he had at the rookie camp into continuing development for the entire season with Sarnia, he will be well worth a SPC.

  • Richard

    I be mad at the Leafs…..last year I bought tickets for Saturday so my daughter could see Marner play……they sat him for Sat’s game…..oh well they can’t fool me twice, so I bought tickets for Sundays game this year and drove to London again…..so they sat him on Sunday this year…..grrrrrrrrrrrrr

    • LukeDaDrifter

      Fortunately you did get to see some good winning hockey from our top rated prospect pool.
      I do sympathize with you and your daughter missing Marner play. I think the most anyone got to play was two games due to the amount of great prospects for the Leafs to assess.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Fast is great as long as they have a coach who can utilize that speed and skill on both sides of the puck. Edmonton has speed to burn but they have sucked for years.