Fraser Minten’s comfort on the ice as he begins his National Hockey League career has found an off-ice match.
Whether it’s going to Morgan Rielly’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, hitting Ryan Reaves’ place for a barbecue or moving into John Tavares’ home, the 19-year-old Maple Leafs rookie is in good care with the Maple Leafs’ veterans.
Minten agreed with the suggestion that while it’s one thing to earn a spot on the roster, there are other factors required to make him feel more of the group.
“100%,” Minten said on Friday after practice at the Ford Performance Centre. “All the guys here are like that. Everybody talks to you, makes you feel included, chatting with you like you’re one of the boys even though you had zero games coming in at the start of camp with no expectation of having a spot. They still treat you with a ton of respect, and I think that’s huge.”
For Rielly, inviting Minten for turkey and all the fixings this past Sunday was a no-brainer. It wasn’t the first time Minten was a guest at Rielly’s house, as the two hit it off not long after the Leafs drafted Minten in the second round last year. They came to realize their pasts had taken a similar path.
“He went to the same high school as I did, (Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver), so we have an automatic connection,” Rielly said. “It breaks the ice, it’s a little bit of a bridge. He’s an awesome guy. You want him to feel comfortable, you want him to be himself.
“As far as Fraser goes, he seems extremely confident and comfortable. He’s a smart young man and I just like hanging out with him. So that’s part of it too.”
On the ice, Minten will get his second helping of NHL competition on Saturday night when the Leafs play host to the Minnesota Wild, an opponent that will be a lot more defensively responsible than what the Montreal Canadiens provided on Wednesday night.
Ilya Samsonov will be back in goal, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. No lineup changes are expected for the Leafs.
Centring the third line with Matthew Knies and Calle Jarnkrok on the wings, Minten played 11 1/2 minutes against Montreal, registering one shot on goal and going 3-for-5 in the faceoff circle.
“It was a step up for sure, I noticed that,” Minten said, comparing a regular-season game’s pace to what he experienced in the pre-season. “Everyone thinks the game so well.
“You have to know exactly where you’re going, what you’re going to do before you touch the puck. Otherwise, your space is going to get closed off so quick and you’re going to be forced into a bad place.
“I think (the Wild) plays a little heavier, has bigger guys. I’ll expect a little more physical (play), but we’ll see how it goes.”
For now, Minten has moved out of a downtown hotel, joining Knies at Tavares’ house. The next few weeks will determine Minten’s immediate hockey future. Once he plays in nine games, the Leafs will have to decide whether to keep him or send him back to Kamloops of the Western Hockey League, which would extend the start of his entry-level contract into 2024-25.
Whether Minten stays or becomes a full-time Leaf next season, his relationships with the team’s veterans are firmly in place.
“It’s great to see,” Keefe said. “It’s something that we had talked about. When we made the decision that Fraser was going to start with us, that was the next thing — he has earned his way here as a player, but how do we take care of him as a person, as young man who is coming into a new city and playing professional hockey?
“We’ve got a number of players that have been in his shoes, maybe guys that came in and knew they were going to be here, higher picks, and now they’re paying it forward.
“I’ve been really pleased with how our players on their own have taken those guys under the wing and made sure they’re taken care of.”
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