Dan Hamilton - USA TODAY Sports

What's next for Fraser Minten, Saskatoon Blades after blockbuster WHL trade

The Saskatoon Blades made their first big splash of the WHL trade period, acquiring Toronto Maple Leafs second-rounder Fraser Minten from the Kamloops Blazers. 

In return, the Blazers received a pair of first-round picks, a fourth, and 30-point winger Jordan Keller, who returns home to Kamloops.

Saskatoon’s currently in a scrap for first place in the WHL’s Eastern Conference, currently sandwiched between the young, high-flying Medicine Hat Tigers, the resurgent Lethbridge Hurricanes and Prince Albert Raiders, and the faltering but highly skilled Moose Jaw Warriors. 

It’s a tight group. Saskatoon needs all the help they can get.

Minten is that, bringing versatility, skill, and three-zone value to the all-in Blades.  

Minten was one of the big surprises of the NHL preseason. His attention to detail, positioning, and ability to turn mistakes into offence stood out and earned him four NHL games. While he wasn’t nearly as effective in NHL action, his preseason performance was the best hockey he’s played as a member of the Leafs organization and could expedite him to an NHL role next season. 

Through seven games with Kamloops, Minten has racked up three goals, seven assists, and 52 shots on goal – all impressive totals. 

On a younger Kamloops team, Minten’s acting as the play-driver. He’s carrying the puck far more in transition and looking to set up chances more often. It’s not always pretty, but Minten’s showed more deceptive qualities off the rush and more patience as a playmaker. Instead of rushing to shoot or wildly throwing a blind pass into the slot, he waits a split second longer for his options to materialize. 

In transition, Minten’s showing a lot more of the weight shift, fakes, and handling skill that made him an intriguing prospect in his draft year. A lot of those plays start off steals in his own zone or well-timed acceleration above the puck. 

The improved rushes and playmaking have appeared most on the powerplay. The shot’s still a big-time weapon, but now it’s supported by more passing plays, fakes, and lateral puck movement. In Saskatoon, the power play won't through him, so he’ll have to find ways to keep improving those skills at 5-on-5. 

There’s also Minten’s strong off-puck game, which earned rave reviews in preseason. It’s not just his physicality, ability to get open, or his defensive positioning, but how he’s always doing something. He sets picks on opponents, screens the goalie, ties up opponents around the net, and skates his routes to push the defence back.   

As such, Minten has many ways to impact the Blades lineup. He can support high-skill attackers at 5-on-5 or on the powerplay, lead the charge without them, and provide three-zone value. 

Prior to the trade, the Blades’ offence largely ran through one line: Brandon Lisowsky, Trevor Wong, and Yegor Sidorov. The trio have played the better part of three seasons together. 

Wong’s the Blades’ captain and the WHL’s leading assist-getter, while Sidorov’s been scoring a goal per game, most of which are of the highlight-reel variety. Lisowsky, a Leafs prospect, hasn’t seen his production take off but remains a consistent offensive threat. 

But secondary scoring has been an issue. Minten will change that. He significantly reshapes the Blades’ top-six and, subsequently, their odds of winning a WHL championship. 

But figuring out exactly where Minten fits into the lineup will require some experimentation on the Blades’ part. 

Perhaps Minten takes Lisowsky’s spot on the top line, bringing more hard skills with similar offensive impact. 

More likely, Minten becomes the team’s second-line centre and sneaks onto the first power play unit. The hard-shooting, physical Easton Armstrong’s slowed down with Saskatoon but still has 18 points in 20 games. There’s a natural fit there, especially in the playoffs when teams emphasize matchups more. 

Finding the next play on that line will likely require some experimentation. The hard-working Vaughn Watterodt has spent a lot of time with Armstrong this year. The clever playmaker Tyler Parr could slide into that role, too. Maybe the newly acquired Rhett Melnyk is a fit. 

If the Blades feel brave enough to split up their long-running top line, Lisowsky and Minten could form quite the duo with Armstrong on their right side. Liswosky’s shot, inside drives, and high-octane style should, in theory, make the perfect complement for the more calculated Minten. It would also give Minten two shooters on his wings, giving him additional playmaking options. Perhaps another big trade for a top-six forward is coming, too. 

With a few weeks before Minten (likely) departs for Canada’s World Juniors camp, the Blades will have some time to tinker around with fits. 

As such, don’t expect a massive rise in Minten’s production, at least not yet. If he keeps clipping away in the 1.2-to-1.3 point per game range, that’ll be plenty enough, given that he'll likely be used differently, especially on the powerplay. 

Look for Minten to keep developing consistency and playmaking in a more suitable environment. He’ll need to improve both of those elements to step directly into the NHL next season.

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NHL Prospects CHL Kamloops Blazers Saskatoon Blades Toronto Maple Leafs WHL NHL Fraser Minten
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