Could the Maple Leafs' Easton Cowan Lessen the Immediate Hit of a Mitch Marner Move?

could the maple leafs' easton cowan lessen the immediate hit of a mitch marner move?

Nick Suzuki and Easton Cowan David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

One reason pundits and fans think the Toronto Maple Leafs could consider moving star forward Mitch Marner is that the organization's depth on the wing would fill in much of the hole from trading him.

Now, this is not to say an all-star regular-season player like Marner has run-of-the-mill talent you can find anywhere. To the contrary – Marner’s two-way game is one of the best in the sport, and if the Leafs do choose to move on from him, they’re going to take a hit in the points department.

That said, the question really should be how much of a hit Toronto would take by dealing Marner.

The performance of one young Leafs prospect in particular – forward and OHL superstar Easton Cowan – should give Buds fans some comfort in knowing that they’ve got an 19-year-old kid whose resume looks more like Marner’s with every passing day.

As THN.com prospect expert Tony Ferrari explained recently, Cowan is enjoying a banner season for the OHL’s London Knights – the same major junior team Marner starred for before joining the Leafs full-time in 2016.

Almost like Marner did the year after his draft, Cowan produced at nearly a two-points-per-game pace for the Knights this year. Both skaters also won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player and the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award as the OHL’s playoff MVP.

What Cowan lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up for in drive, creativity and finish. Maple Leafs management may look at Cowan and see a replacement for Marner in many regards. And Cowan would do so at a far cheaper salary than Marner’s $10.903-million cap hit next season.

Cowan’s entry-level contract carries a cap hit of $904,667 for the next three seasons, after which time he’d be an RFA. If he returns to the OHL next season, that contract would slide.

That cap space Cowan would create would be crucial to Toronto’s intent to bulk up on defense and in goal.

While nobody would expect Cowan to be an NHL all-star right off the hop, putting him alongside top players, including Auston Matthews and William Nylander, next season could unlock even more of Cowan’s potential.

While there are few untouchables on the underachieving Leafs roster, there are a handful who aren’t going to be moved under any circumstance – and that includes Matthews, Nylander, winger Matthew Knies and now, Cowan.

As a cost-effective driver of play, Cowan makes all sorts of sense to get a good long look at the NHL level next year. He must adapt to the increased physicality of the NHL level, but Cowan has already overachieved this season, and more than a few people believe the sky is the limit for him.

Cowan isn’t a carbon copy of Marner, but given how Marner’s contract is the most moveable of the “Core Four,” it follows that Cowan will get an incredible opportunity to ascend to the top nine Leafs forwards and help people forget about Marner. They could also find a stopgap winger as well for a year as insurance if Cowan needs one more year of fine-tuning.

Clearly, the Leafs did very well in drafting Cowan with the 28th overall pick in the 2023 draft. Every NHL team needs bargains to continue to be a Cup contender, and Cowan looks very much like an asset that can deliver solid results and free up money to be spent in areas the Leafs truly need help with.

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