Dominic Toninato, according to a July 6th article by Kevin McGran, is going to be a free agent "after the (Toronto Maple Leafs) declined to offer him an NHL entry-level deal." The center was offered such a deal last year, but instead, he chose to finish his college degree. Most might say that that's a mature decision, however, if you're interested in playing in the NHL you should take a contract as soon as you can. As the old adage goes, opportunity only knocks once sometimes.

Toninato wanted to sign but couldn't

“It’s not that he doesn’t want to sign with the Leafs, but he didn’t get that option,” agent Neil Sheehy said recently (qtd.

by McGran). “There’s no other choice but to become a free agent on Aug. 15.”

Hockeyfeed.com recently published an article on the topic of Toninato and his situation (July 9th, no author listed). The question posed in the article was if losing Toninato to free agency was "the first real misstep by the Leafs’ new regime," the "new regime" namely being Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello.

In answering that without a crystal ball, you could only look at Toninato's college stats and his decision to turn down a contract last year. In regard to the latter point, if you are offered an NHL contract and you decline it to finish school that says a lot of bad things about you - from the Point Of View of NHL management. However, Toninato didn't see it that way. He was quoted by the University of Minnesota-Duluth in an undated article that must have been from sometime in 2016

"The NHL team talks about a contract, what they have for you," explained Toninato in 2016.

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"You have to make a decision if you want to accept the offer. If you accept, you lose all NCAA eligibility."

Toninato does touch on the age-old college-or-pro dilemma. But, at the time, Toninato had one year of eligibility left so losing it to take a pro contract wasn't as big a decision as others faced at earlier times. However, other comments he made showed where his head was.

"Obviously you can't play hockey your whole life," he told his university. "You could get hurt and never play again. Having that degree is huge and can really help with future jobs."

Mature decision? Or just scared?

You can talk about it being a mature decision in some ways to finish school - especially when you are an outer NHL prospect at best but from the point of view of Lamoriello and Shanahan, they would have to hate the decision that Toninato made to return for his senior year.

Did staying in college have to do with staying in a comfort zone? If so, then that suggests that Toninato just wasn't ready for the big leagues.

Was he scared of getting hurt in the NHL? The quote above suggests as much. The bottom line, if you're in NHL management, you're routinely looking at young men that would die for a chance to play in the NHL. To see one snub the chance for a senior year of college can only send the wrong kind of message.

Toninato is not a player that is really on anyone's radar as a major future prospect. This is a guy that might struggle mightily to appear in 100 NHL games in his career. Let's compare Toninato, just as a case in point, to Oiler prospect Jesse Puljujarvi.

Puljujarvi, in the 2015/16 season, played in Finland's elite league, the third-most-prestigious professional hockey league in the world after the NHL and the KHL. At the age of 17/18, he posted a 0.44 points-per-game average in liiga, which would be harder to do than posting 0.65 in NCAA hockey at the age of 23. Puljujarvi got plenty of playing time in Edmonton during the early parts of the NHL season last year before the Oilers sent him down to Bakersfield. In short, a baby-faced assassin that already helped a professional team wasn't good enough for the NHL.

Toninato, at the age of 22/23, had a goal-heavy 29 points as a forward in 42 games in NCAA hockey last season. His plus/minus was excellent at +25, but that reflects on everyone that he's playing with and it's still a stat earned at the amateur level. There's no "real misstep" in turning down a 0.69 points-per-game NCAA senior. As for the Leafs not offering Toninato an entry-level deal to the NHL this year, there's nothing perplexing about the move: Toninato just got out-competed.

Keeping in mind that better players get sent down to the minors, he doesn't look like much of an NHL-er at this point. A team that gets suckered into signing him to the NHL, probably won't have anything but a minor leaguer by mid-November. This wasn't a misstep by Toronto management. If anything recent was, it was the $6M per season blunder with Patrick Marleau last week.