First things first, congrats to Phil Kessel and the Penguins on the Stanley Cup win. I was sure the Sharks would be able to beat the Pens into submission with the rough and tumble Western Conference style game and was clearly wrong on that. It’s nice to see a player that was routinely made into a whipping boy for the failures of the upper management get his due, and hopefully the Toronto media is eating crow. Now, onto the Meat and potatoes.
I saw a lot of scorn for my pick of Tkachuk at #2 for the Leafs in our mock draft here, good thing it doesn’t matter anymore ‘cause lotteries are awesome when you win them. So the first overall pick is pretty much set at this point to be Auston Matthews and should it differ from that Leafs nation’s collective eyebrow will be raised so high the Space Station will be its neighbor. All the trust in the world has been given to Toronto’s management group, but you have to think there would be something seen as critically wrong if #34 doesn’t go #1 to a team that has had a void down the middle since Mats Sundin left the organization. The real question then becomes, what happens with the other 10 draft picks?
“In my opinion the leafs would now be better served packaging some picks to move up in the draft to the mid 10’s, or packaging the 30th with a defensive prospect like Percy for a goaltender, someone around 23 to 25, as an upgrade to our current Goaltending depth.” This is the biggest part cut out of the 1st draft of this article, because it’s basically happened. In a move that a lot of people saw coming but didn’t really think would be that smooth or quick, the Leafs acquired Fredrik Andersen from Anaheim for the 30th pick and a 2nd next year and immediately signed him to a 5 year, $25 million contract extension. Andersen is a 6’4 Danish goaltender (first Dane to suit up for the Leafs ever by the way) and completes our Cali goalie bingo card (I know you need 5 for bingo, go with it). He also has 125 games of experience packed into 3 years, which reads better than Vesa Toskala (5 years for 115 games) and Bernier (5 years for 62 games). Andersen has played a starting load in the NHL before, and if anyone knows goalies, it’s Lou Lamoriello.
The Leafs picks after the 1st are: 31st, 57th, 62nd, 72nd, 92nd, 101st, 122nd, 152nd, 179th, and 182nd. That’s a grand total of 11 picks in 7 rounds, and 3 in the first 2 rounds. While I expect the Leafs to continue with last year’s general style of draft, going for skill first and positional need second, I don’t see trading down for more picks being on the table this year. The Leafs are at a point in their rebuild where they’ll be able to hit the playoffs consistently starting sometime in the next 2 years, and it would pay to build some chemistry now. I’d be lying if I said I had read everything about some of the later rounds, but I believe the team can make better progress picking up some more established pieces over adding 10 raw prospects to an already talented player pool (Auston Matthews does not count as a raw prospect).
Now as for the first 2 rounds, the Leafs biggest organizational need is goaltending depth still, which is unfortunately weak in this draft. And after that it’s the wing. We have a lot of defensive prospects coming down the pipe, and a lot of centers in the organization. Depending on how players slot in, one to two of Nazem Kadri, William Nylander, or Mitch Marner will slot in on the wing in the NHL this year and probably moving forward. Left wing has JVR and… not much else in terms of guaranteed high end players. This can change if either Willy or Mitch shift over in that direction. The leafs are pegged to take Filip Gustavsson with 31, but I could easily see them taking someone like Brett Howden, who put up 24 goals and 40 assists on Moosejaw this year, to be a big bodied presence down that left side. I could also see the Leafs jumping the gun and grabbing Sean Day at 57. Day’s well documented struggles after being granted exceptional status entering the OHL aside, I can see Lamoriello having faith that he can get the big man to dedicate himself better to the game, and the current culture of the Leafs in protecting their players from the Media hounds could appeal to Day, and let him focus more on playing his game than the distractions.
All in all, the Shanaplan is in full swing. The only place I can see the Leafs might be in trouble is the upcoming expansion draft and meeting the still-not-official available player requirements. But that’s more that we’ll need to have enough players to expose to the draft. The Leafs fortunes are looking up, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.