How a tumultuous year prepared Fraser Minten for the Junior World Championship spotlight

Over the last four months, the sport of hockey has seen 19-year-old Fraser Minten on a rollercoaster ride. First came training camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs, where Minten, who showed up on day one without the blue and white fans expecting anything from him, became the story of the camp. Minten impressed the Leafs team with his consistent approach, culminating in a breakthrough. Minten surprisingly secured a place on the opening team and celebrated his NHL debut.

Then came the understandable setback when the club sent him back to the junior ranks after four appearances in the big leagues. He returned to the Kamloops Blazers, played seven games, was named captain, and then was traded to the Saskatoon Blades in a five-team WHL blockbuster.

Nevertheless, after just six games with his new club, he was on the road again – this time to Oakville, Ontario, for Team Canada’s selection camp. Now, just two months removed from his brief stint in blue and white in the big leagues, he is in red in Sweden, preparing to lead Canada to the 2024 World Junior Championships, where he will see international action for the first time .

For most teenagers, it might have been an overwhelming stretch, a collection of plot twists thrown together in such quick succession that everything would have been thrown off course. And yet, when Minten thinks back to the chaos of the last few months, he seems relatively unfazed.

“Overall it was a lot of fun,” he said calmly on a video call from Malmö this week. “I obviously had a lot of different options, which is good.”

Recall his round in the goldfish bowl in Toronto in October, and the unwavering positivity should come as no surprise. Minten’s unwavering nature appears to be a big reason why he has managed to progress and achieve success this season.

“I don’t really feel any pressure,” he explained during Leafs camp, just days away from cracking a major league roster for the first time. “It wasn’t necessarily what I expected to be here at this stage and get the opportunity that I have. So I don’t feel like I can lose.”

Considering how far Minten has come since Toronto took a swing in the second round of the 2022 NHL Draft and selected him with the 38th overall pick, it’s hard to call him anything other than a winner as the young centerman has developed into a respected, versatile leader for club and country.

“It was challenging at times,” Minten finally admitted this week. “But there are some new experiences in all of these areas that only help me as a person and as a player. You know, being exposed to so much at this age is an unreal opportunity. And overall it’s been going really well so far, I think.”

In a season that has had no shortage of tests — or, as Minten sees them, opportunities to prove oneself — the latest came during camp in Oakville earlier this month. While much of the talk about Canada’s roster has focused on Macklin Celebrini, the likely No. 1 pick for 2024 – and the lack of skilled Canadian high-flyers like Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli, who have already become NHL stars Minten came out the door on Day 1 with the same attitude he brought with him last time he was vying for a roster spot in Ontario.

“I just wanted to show as much as I could,” he says. “But I just wanted to make the team, you know? Do whatever it took in camp to make the team.”

Little did he know, his spot was almost taken before he even showed up. In the end, Team Canada’s brass kept Minten from taking on the camp’s exhibition matches without letting him see more of what he could do.

“I’m really happy with the spot I was able to secure at the start of the season in Toronto and then in the juniors,” he says, “being in a position where the staff here felt comfortable enough.” Enter me this place without taking an additional look at the selection camp.”

In the first days of actual training camp with Canada’s final squad in Malmo, Minten lined up on the left side of perhaps the squad’s most scrutinized trio, alongside Celebrini in the middle and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Jordan Dumais the right side. Don’t be surprised if he switches things up a bit, though, as the Swiss Army Knife talent is sure to be used as a solution to problems that arise elsewhere in the lineup as the tournament progresses.

“Fraser is such an intellectual player. He’s intellectual,” Peter Anholt, the head of Canada’s management team for the 2024 tournament, told Sportsnet’s Ryan Dixon last week. “He knows the game. He picks up things quickly. He brings us size, he brings a good shot, he can play different positions and play in different ways in the lineup.”

“He just reads the game really well,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares — who took Minten under his wing during his time in Toronto — said last week. “It always seems to be in the right place and making the right play. It’s not particularly flashy, but it’s just really good hockey sense – he just makes really good plays all over the ice that reinforce it and lead to momentum and scoring opportunities.”

Tavares, a two-time junior gold medalist himself and MVP of the 2009 tournament, knows what it means to the 19-year-old to be given the chance to wear his country’s colors on the world stage.

“I remember the process and it is such an exciting experience, a great honor,” Tavares said. “Of course we know what the tournament in Canada means. For any kid growing up, once you get into junior hockey, having the opportunity to play in the World Junior Championships and represent Canada is really special.”

For Minten, who will step onto the ice at the tournament a decade and a half after Tavares’ last appearance, the feeling is the same.

“It’s huge. “It’s probably been a goal of mine for three or four years,” Minten said of making the national team and the chance to play in the tournament. “At the beginning of my junior career in Kamloops, it kind of became my first Let’s be clear that I’m just as good as the other guys in my age group, if not better, and I think I can continue to improve and work my way into the national all-star group. Of course I’ll watch the games and tournament every year and it’s one of the most entertaining and enjoyable hockey games ever, I just think it’s so special.

“When I heard I made the team, there were just so many good feelings. The feeling that hard work pays off. You know, it’s really rewarding when a very ambitious goal comes true.”

When you think about the first game of the tournament schedule – a Boxing Day match against Finland – and what it will feel like to see the jersey with your name on the back and step onto the ice in front of the world, Minten’s behavior changes. An indication that his calm, collected approach stems from passionate determination rather than innate bravado.

“It’s excitement, you know? That’s where I want to be,” he says. “This training camp stuff is fun, it’s good to be here on the ice with the team, but I want to get out there and compete…” I think I get a chance to be a pretty big part of the group here , lots of opportunities to play and help the team win. It means a lot to me to get this opportunity on such a big stage and it’s not something I take for granted.

“I want to be in this position here. And I will do everything I can to be successful with it.”

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When the demanding tests finally arrive, everything he has already been through in this turbulent season will certainly help him – especially the experience in Toronto, which provided a crash course in dealing with the bright spotlight.

“I think it makes you feel more comfortable,” he said of how his time with the Leafs in Sweden could help him. “When I first went to selection camp and there were cameras and reporters in the stands, a lot of people thought, ‘Oh wow, this is pretty new.’ You know, in the other NHL cities it’s not always like that with camps. But obviously it didn’t look like much compared to the amount of bodies that are always there for the Leafs. So when you feel like you’re just the center of attention there sometimes and you’re the center of the media and the center of the city, I think you feel a little bit more comfortable in a situation like this. Wherever you are in the spotlight, the whole country is watching.

“I think it’s good to have some experience with it. You know, you develop some strategies to deal with all the noise, mostly just over time, experiencing it yourself and finding what works for you.”

As far as how he plans to approach the on-ice aspect of the tournament, how he changes his mindset to succeed in an environment where every game, every play counts, little needs to change for Minten.

“I don’t think there’s too much change – just keep doing what I’m doing,” he says. “You know, I follow my processes, do the habits that I do every day, prepare mentally, prepare physically. And then when the competition comes, you go out and play. And at the end of the day, you live with the results and have the confidence that you did everything you could to prepare and gave everything you had out there.”

The goal, of course, is the same as it always is when Canada comes to the World Junior Championships: arms raised, flags hanging over jerseys and a gold medal around their neck. It’s a long way from where he’s sitting. But Minten has dreamed of this golden moment since his early days in the sport and doesn’t need time to think about what it would mean to reach this summit.

“It’s the goal,” he says. “It’s exactly where I want to be. It would mean a lot to me. It would mean a lot to everyone else on the team. It would mean a lot to my family, all of my friends and the people who have watched me rise in the hockey world.

“And I mean, I don’t understand why we can’t do it. Hopefully we’ll be there in a few weeks. I will give everything to achieve this result.”

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