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Depth from Duluth

by Paul Hendrick / Toronto Maple Leafs

There were many revelations garnered from the Maple Leafs' development camp in Collingwood, Ont., in early July.

The club's quest to stock its cupboards with elite young talent has truly begun and a far cry from previous rookie camps in the past.

It was just three years ago that the week long event featured only three first rounders in defencemen Morgan Rielly, Stuart Percy and just one forward in Tyler Biggs.

This time around in Collingwood the Leafs depth revealed four first rounders in centres William Nylander, Frederik Gauthier, Mitch Marner and right winger Kasperi Kapananen.

A high skillset up the middle was evident in the five days that went well beyond this elite group.

Carter Verhaeghe is intent on moving to the Toronto Marlies and playing centre after four seasons with the Niagara Ice Dogs.

Also biding his time at the University of Minnesota-Duluth is Dominic Toninato.

The fifth round pick from 2012 was second in scoring with the Bulldogs last season behind another Leaf pick at centre in Tony Cameranesi.

Toninato led the Bulldogs in goals with 16 as a sophomore despite going scoreless for eight straight games last winter as he battled through the effects of an upper body injury.

The mental impact of that December setback proved as difficult as the physical challenges according to Toninato.

"It was pretty tough especially when you couldn't do anything. I couldn't work out, couldn't skate, basically I was just sitting there and it was a terrible feeling not being out there with my teammates."

Toninato also brings an edge to his game, a nasty quality that saw him lead his school in penalty minutes with 58 and 109 in total through two seasons at Minnesota-Duluth.

Toninato took a spirited whack at Jack Eichel on a draw when the Bulldogs battled Boston University in the regional final last March.

He simply won't back down.

"I kind of like stirring it up, have fun with it and its knocking people off their games when you mess with them and get inside their heads."

Toninato adds, "It's something I love to do and have fun with."

Toninato and Cameranesi lead a talented Minnesota-Duluth team that came within one game of advancing to the Frozen Four last spring.

This season's squad will feature 10 players who attended NHL development camps this past summer.

Toninato enters his third season of NCAA hockey and the expectations will be to continue to grow as a 200 foot player, dominate special teams, get stronger and quicker on his feet.

But the overall team goal remains his priority.

"First off we're hoping to have a good regular season and hopefully be number one in the conference, move on from there with the ultimate goal to win the national championship."

It's such a season that will hasten the Duluth native's development and eventually see him pushing for a spot up the middle alongside those previously mentioned marquis picks in three years time.

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