The young players that a team holds are always a vital piece to the club’s success down the road. The Rookie Tournament gives us an opportunity to see Toronto’s top prospects hit the ice together, which is always interesting to observe. The excitement began with the Leafs’ rookies, captained by Greg McKegg, battling Chicago in London, ending in a 3-2 shootout victory for the Blue and White and continued with a 4-3 shootout win against Pittsburgh. Here are some things that stood out in the first two games:
Fans should be quite optimistic about the future of Toronto’s defense, as the rookie defenders have certainly demonstrated excellence so far in the tournament. The defensive play has been solid for the most part, along with their ability to start the rush and generate scoring opportunities. Also, one of the highlights from Game 1 came from Leafs rookie defenseman Kevin Raine, who laid out a Chicago forward with a bone-crushing hit early in the contest. As always, Morgan Rielly was Morgan Rielly and undoubtedly put his skills to work. He was not in the lineup for Game 2, but demonstrated his incredible talent of moving the puck and creating chances for his teammates in the opening game of the tournament. He was even able to show off his hands by putting in a beautiful shootout goal. The future of the Leafs blue line definitely looks promising.
The excellent play of several Leafs forwards is also worth noting, starting with Josh Leivo. Leivo, a 2011 third-round pick, has quickly climbed the Leafs’ prospect rankings and is drawing quite a bit of attention. He did not play against the Penguins, but had many excellent scoring chances during Game 1, and put the Leafs on the board with his shot late in the first. Another strong performance in the tournament thus far has come from Brad Ross. Ross has played a substantial amount of games with the Marlies, making him familiar with playing against older opponents. This gives him experience that most of the rookies in this tournament don’t have, which has really showed in his play. Ross’ speed and great shot allowed him to be a difference-maker against Chicago, scoring the second Leafs goal to take a 2-0 lead on the ‘Hawks. He also showed great physical play and has done an excellent job of finishing checks and wearing down opponents.
The goaltending for the Leafs from Garret Sparks in Game 1 and Christopher Gibson in Game 2 has been quite good. Although Sparks was caught deep in his net for Chicago’s first goal, he made most of the important stops throughout the game, including a spectacular save in overtime to keep the match alive. Gibson was solid throughout Game 2, making some huge stops and playing extremely well in the shootout to help win the game for the Leafs. Both goalies have looked impressive from what they’ve played.
In all, both games have been close and exciting to watch. Many of the Leafs’ rookies have proven that they unquestionably have potential to one day crack the pro roster. For now, it will be interesting to see how the Toronto rookies can build off of these back-to-back wins and be ready to face the Senators on Sunday.