Father’s Day may have been last Sunday, but Abbotsford’s Werner Toews is hoping for a special late gift – watching his son Devon Toews hoist the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
Devon and his teammates currently have a 2-0 lead on the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the best-of-seven series for hockey’s biggest prize. He has contributed in a big way with 14 points in 15 playoff games. Game three occurs tonight (Monday) at 5 p.m.
Devon’s path to the National Hockey League and its biggest stage began in Abbotsford. He originally suited up for the Abbotsford Minor Hockey Association and eventually played with the Fraser Valley Bruins U18s and Yale Secondary hockey programs. He also played five games with the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s Abbotsford Pilots in the 2010-11 season.
But it was in the British Columbia Hockey League that Devon began turning heads thanks to an excellent skill set and a fortuitous growth spurt. He put up 29 points in 54 games as a rookie for the Surrey Eagles and then exploded for 47 points in 48 games in his second season. That team in 2012-13 won the BCHL title.
Werner said he believed his son had a shot to make hockey a career after his play in the BCHL.
“When he was in Surrey we knew he was going to be able to be a pro,” he said. “He had a special skill set. Anyone that coached him or ex-pros that knew him just told us that he’s got the skill set – he’ll go pro.”
Anyone else having a hard time waiting for the Stanley Cup Final to start? Can't wait to watch @DevonToews6 and the @Avalanche continue their quest for the Cup!#QuinnipiacCulture #BobcatNation pic.twitter.com/ybkuG33miL— Quinnipiac Men's Ice Hockey (@QU_MIH) June 14, 2022
Those skills attracted the attention of a number of colleges after Devon decided to go the NCAA route. He received a full-ride hockey scholarship from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, which is regarded as one of the stronger American college hockey programs.
Rand Pecknold, the longtime head coach of the Quinnipiac Bobcats hockey program, was thrilled to get Devon on board and said he was surprised he was never drafted by a team in the Western Hockey League when in Surrey.
“I was just shocked that nobody drafted him,” he said. “I knew he had to put on some weight but that shocked me.”
Pecknold said he was tipped off about Devon in Surrey by one of his former players at Quinnpiac and Matt Erhart, the head coach of the Eagles at the time.
“I remember talking to Matt and him telling me that I had to take a look at Devon,” he said. “He said he’s a little scrawny but he has a really high hockey IQ and he’d be a good fit for how Quinnipiac plays. We started watching him more as he played with Surrey and we just loved everything he did. You can’t teach hockey IQ and he had such a great feel for the game.”
Pecknold said the only real weakness he saw in Devon’s game was a lack of strength – which he believed the coaches at Quinnipiac could help develop.
“He needed to a work a little bit on his defending but with Devon early on it dawned on me that we just had to be patient, let him mature physically and get him in the weight room,” he said. “From a talent perspective, he could already skate very well and he was smart. He could make plays and this was a really good player who just needed to get stronger.”
Devon fit in instantly in Quinnipiac and played a remarkable amount as a first-year player. He scored 17 points in 37 games as a freshman, added 20 as a sophomore in 2014-15 and then exploded in year three with 30 points in 40 games.
“He was a quick learner and just kept getting better defensively,” Pecknold said. “He also kept getting bigger and stronger, but he was very good as a freshman for us and kept improving.”
Werner said Devon’s time at Quinnipiac was vital to his success.
“His time there helped a tremendous amount,” he said. “Reid Cashman was a defensive coach there; he was very helpful and so was Rand. They run a full program there.”
Pecknold said that Devon is one of the best players he has ever coached.
“I give him a lot of credit,” he said of Devon. “He works hard, he’s very committed and is very coachable. We’ve had a lot of good ones here, but he’s one of the best we’ve had.”
Devon’s excellent play with Quinnipiac led to him being drafted in the fourth round 108th overall by the New York Islanders in 2014.
He spent the next two seasons with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers – the Islanders American Hockey League affiliate – and continued developing. He recorded 45 points in 76 games as a rookie in the AHL. He was named to the league’s all-rookie team in 2017 and also won the league’s fastest skater contest at the AHL all-star game.
Devon finally got the call to dress in his first NHL game on Dec. 23, 2018, when the Islanders took on the Dallas Stars in the Lonestar State. He went on to play 48 games with the Islanders in 2018-19 and collected 18 points. He also played eight games in the team’s playoff run that season.
His time with the Islanders came to an end on Oct. 12, 2020, when he was traded to Colorado for a pair of second-round picks. Salary-cap issues led the Islanders to make that deal and he has been an excellent fit with the Avalanche ever since. He signed a four-year, $16.4 million contract with the Avs on Oct. 27, 2020.
Werner said the trade was surprising, but it has ultimately worked out well.
“It was a huge shock,” he said, noting that Devon got married just a few days prior to the trade. “He’s happy now but I don’t care how good you are, being traded is not a great thing.”
Devon was paired with elite defenceman Cale Makar upon his arrival in Colorado and the pair have become possibly the best one-two pairing in the NHL. Toews scored 57 points in 66 games with Colorado in 2021-22 and Makar added 86 in 77. Both have been important pieces in Colorado’s playoff run.
Werner and his wife have been in the stands for so many of Devon’s games and they plan to take in most of the Stanley Cup final series. Watching his son carry Lord Stanley’s Cup would be priceless for Werner.
“That would be pretty special,” he said. “It’s not a easy thing to do. It would be really special for me and my wife and we plan on being there if he does.”
Game three is set for tonight at 5 p.m. Abbotsford time, while game four goes on Wednesday (June 22).