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Many underdog stories at Maple Leafs development camp



Many underdog stories at Maple Leafs development camp

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Vyacheslav Peksa and Artur Akhtyamov didn’t go through all of that red tape just to worry about hitting the golf green. 

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The two Russian draft-pick goalies made it over here to drive their NHL careers with the Maple Leafs and this week’s development camp is a huge part of that. They could laugh off last week’s introductory golf outing when their cart went off-course and they were hacking out of the rough. 

“It was the first golf for everybody,” said a smiling Peksa, who preceded Akhtyamov here last year to play with the ECHL Newfoundland Growlers and has mastered more English. “It’s not a popular sport in our country. But I will play more because I like it.” 

With a goal stick in his mitts, the 6-foot-3 late-rounder from 2021 went from a 30-win season with Kazan Ibris to a record of 5-19-1 with Newfoundland, a season further complicated by the Growlers folding. 

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“It was the first year in my career out of my country, probably the second will be better,” he vowed of likely ending up on the newly affiliated ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones or an AHL shot with the Marlies. “This camp has taught me a lot about hockey, about passion. Last year’s camp helped, too. Different city, different country and a difference mentally, I needed probably a half year to make some (progress).” 

He tried to fathom some of the internal disputes going on with the Growlers, the city and the ECHL eventually revoking the franchise, none of which helped his comfort level. But he insists he already has moved on.     

“It’s life. In every hockey career there should be something (challenging) when you’re down and then go up. This year will be so much better,” he said. 

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Akhtyamov was picked a year before Peksa at 106th overall and moved up from the Russian VHL to the KHL last season, with a record of 6-7 and .921 save percentage. He arrived in Toronto only a couple of weeks ago. The duo, WHL free agent Dawson Cowan (Spokane), and Cameron Rowe (Western Michigan) were the goalies at camp.


Veit Oswald already has been a men’s league champion as a teenager, the kind of experience and pedigree any team would find useful. 

The German right winger was promoted to EHC Munich, part of its 2022-23 league title as the youngest skater on the team. He played a full 38 games last year, while still eligible for the world junior championship in Sweden. When he had five points in four games there, but was not drafted, the Leafs e-mailed him an invite to this camp. 

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“For me, this is big,” Oswald said, having visited Canada once before to watch the world juniors in 2017 in Toronto and Montreal. “This city is beautiful, nothing compared to (Landshut) Germany. I’m very thankful to be here. 

“I’m learning so much, there are so many coaches with NHL experience (including Nik Antropov and Jake Muzzin), all of them giving us small tips, but you take them all and get even better. I have a contract in Munich for next year, but we’ll see what the time brings.” 


For three picks at this camp, all the action was at the end of last Saturday’s draft. Defenceman Matthew Lahey (Nanaimo of the BCHL) and forward Sam McCue (Owen Sound Attack) went in the seventh and final round with Spokane defenceman Nathan Mayes. 

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“It was not the end of the world if I wasn’t drafted,” the 6-foot-3 Lahey said of eventually getting a call from Leafs’ general manager Brad Treliving. “Thankfully they picked me. I’m trying to soak in all the information here I can and take it with me (to his next stop, the Fargo Force (of the USHL).” 

On the first day, Lahey wound up in a golf foursome with Leafs captain John Tavares.

“My ‘welcome to the NHL’ thing,” laughed Lahey. “I was obviously nervous. He didn’t seem real to me. You see him on TV all the time, but he’s asking me about my season, just being a really good guy.” 

McCue was also counting down the picks as the draft concluded Saturday. Brother Max was a fifth-rounder of San Jose four years ago and is now in the Columbus system.  

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“I was lucky to be drafted, but as a seventh-rounder, you have nothing to lose, right? And I have everything to prove.” he said. 

Sam was one of the many Leafs newbies who were impressed by special adviser Shane Doan’s off-ice seminar on climbing the NHL ladder. 

“He went from zero points, then three or four goals, to all those NHL years,” McCue said. “He just picked it up from there (almost 1,600 games). He had a great story, a hard player to play against.”    

Boston University forward Quinn Hutson was also inspired. 

“Doan had a late start but he found a way for 21 years,” Husotn said. “That’s a pretty cool to get a message like that from him.” 


There were no hard feelings for Brandon Lisowsky when no deal was reached between him and the Leafs after two years elapsed last month since the 2022 draft. The Saskatoon Blades forward’s goal total went to a career-high 42 in the interim. 

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“I took it as a positive,” Lisowsky said. “The business side of things didn’t work out with an entry-level (contract), but I’m happy they wanted me back for this camp. They had a lot of free agents. My goal is to train as hard as I can and go on to pro next year, hopefully in the Toronto system. 

“It’s what you try to do, prove people wrong which I’ve always had to do as a (5-foot-9) under-sized guy. I don’t take that personally, I use that as fuel to keep getting better and show people you can do anything with size.” 

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Winger Connor Dewar was one of 14 restricted free agents who requested salary arbitration on Friday. Hearings will be held between July 20 and Aug. 4 if not resolved … In an introductory call with Chicago media, former Leafs winger Tyler Bertuzzi said the Blackhawks weren’t on his initial list of possible destinations until fellow Sudbury native Nick Foligno called to say the team was interested … After one more day of on-ice sessions Saturday, Leafs development camp wraps up with a scrimmage game Sunday … In addition to Doan mentoring the prospects off the ice and Antropov, Muzzin and Patrick O’Sullivan running practices, guest coaches this week include Jussi Ahokas of the Kitchener Rangers, Ryan Medel from the University of Toronto, Brent MacLean from the University of Waterloo and two members of the Cyclones in Jason Payne and Chad McLeod. 




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