It has been over three years since the Maple Leafs drafted Timothy Liljegren 17th overall at the 2017 Entry Draft. That was the last time the Leafs drafted in the top 20 of the 1st round of the draft. Since then, the Leafs drafted Rasmus Sandin 29th overall in 2018, and then traded their 2019 and 2020 first-round picks in order to bring in Jake Muzzin and to ship out Patrick Marleau’s contract respectively. Now as a result of a Kasperi Kapanen trade to Pittsburgh, the Leafs have moved back into the first-round and are slotted to pick in the earliest spot since they drafted Auston Matthews 1st overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
The Kapanen trade has put the Leafs in a very flexible position as they now have an extra $3.2 million in cap space and an extremely valuable top-15 pick that is being touted as a top-10 value pick given how deep this draft class is projected to be. With that in mind, some might argue the Leafs should trade this pick for someone who can make a more immediate impact on the main roster come next season. I for one think the situation is much more fluid and that Kyle Dubas needs to see how the beginning of the draft plays out before he decides to make a move involving the pick.
In order to project some feasible situations let’s start with projecting the first 14 picks using a few mock drafts and after reading some of the insider’s pieces on what each team is thinking for their pick. Please note that this is not who I would choose but who I think the team will choose based off the information that is public (Player Profiles Courtesy of EliteProspects.com).
1. New York Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski-QMJHL
It will be 972 days since the organization sent a letter to their fans asking for patience as the club set out to rebuild the storied franchise after some early post-season exits and an aging core. In that time, they have now moved up in consecutive drafts after winning the lottery and eventually pick Lafreniere. Some talks have swirled around the possibility of trading the pick, but when you have a chance to add a franchise winger (who looks to me like a hybrid between Taylor Hall and Nathan MacKinnon) to a core of Panarin, Zibanejad, Kakko, Trouba, Fox, Shestyorkin and an abundance of more young talent in the pipeline… you choose that player and don’t think twice about it.
2. Los Angeles Kings: Tim Stutzle, C/LW, Mannheim-DEL
Not since 2014 have I heard such polarizing debates on who should go #2 in the NHL draft. Funny enough it also involved a German and Canadian born player in 2014 (Reinhart vs Draisaitl). Time has shown us that Buffalo made the wrong decision drafting the Canadian 2nd overall and the word around Los Angeles seems to suggest they don’t want to make the same mistake Buffalo did. The Kings feel like they have the depth down the middle and certainly aren’t afraid to take another. I think Stutzle wins out here based off a small but important sample size at last years World Juniors. He has the vision of a Huberdeau and skates decently similar to Barzal. The question lies for this kid, will he end up on the wing or down the middle?
3. Ottawa Senators: Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury-OHL
Doing this exercise absolutely killed me as a Leafs fan because no matter how I sorted it out… the Atlantic division is going to keep getting harder as our rivals are quietly drafting some of the games elite talent. The Senators should be over the moon if Byfield falls to them at #3. Two words, Evgeni Malkin… that is how good this kid can be, he is the perfect blend of speed, skill and strength. I have never seen a kid of his size have as good as hands as he does since our very own Auston Matthews came into the league. Ottawa can slot this guy in beside Brady Tkachuk for years to come, someone who I feel would have a 1st overall grade if he was a 2019 or even 2021 draft eligible.
4. Detroit Red Wings: Cole Perfetti, C, Rimouski-QMJHL
Last year everyone thought Steve Yzerman was going to dip into their Michigan backyard and select one of the standouts from the USNTDP and he surprised everyone by reaching for German defenceman Moritz Seider and he seems to have made a great choice so far. This year it seems like he is going to merge both strategies by reaching into his backyard to select Perfetti a few slots higher than where I think his talent deserves. Cole thinks the game at an elite level and has the hands to make the plays his brain tells him to make… similar to a Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The question will be if his speed and athleticism will translate to the next level, the good news is those can be developed with a few good off-seasons.
5. Ottawa Senators: Lucas Raymond, RW/LW, Frolunda-SHL
Again, this hurts to write as a Leafs fan but Ottawa can now solidify their future of an elite Top-9 forward group with this pick and never look back. Raymond compares his own style of play to a Mitch Marner shows you the amount of confidence this kid has. Creative, elusive, economic in his movement… he has all the makings of a top-line winger in this league. Now imagine adding him and Byfield to a group that already has Tkachuk, White, Norris, Pinto, Batherson, Logan Brown and Connor Brown… on top of a Top-4 of Chabot, Bernard-Docker, Brannstrom, and Thomson. The future looks EXTREMELY bright in Ottawa.
6. Anaheim Ducks: Jake Sanderson, LD, USNTDP-USHL
There are a lot of different players the Ducks can go with here but I don’t think they pass on the most-complete defenceman in the draft in Sanderson. Made in a similar mould to their own Hampus Lindholm, where he has just about all the tools to be a Top-4 defenceman for a very long time in this league.
The Devils again are a team where I think feel like they can go in many different directions with this pick. They have a need for some right-handed skill up-front to play with their two cornerstone center’s. But they also have a need for some puck movers on the right-side of their defence. The best player available wins out here in tremendous fashion, Drysdale impressed in spurts at the WJC as an under-ager and seems like he’s made of similar ilk to Cale Makar… and we all know how that turned out for Colorado.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgarden-SHL
Buffalo under a new regime and budget cuts seem like the toughest team to predict in the Top-10. I think they will be keeping their eye on the two prospects from the Ottawa 67’s but at the same time I think the talent of Holtz is just too good to pass on here. He has found a way to turn all his tools into a very effective toolbox against men in the SHL. He is very similar to Daniel Sedin in the way that he can just process the game at a very high level which puts him in opportunities to score goals in bunches.
9. Minnesota Wild: Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa-OHL
Minnesota GM Bill Guerin has emphasized the need of adding center depth to the organization. That leaves two options to pick from at #9 and I feel Rossi is the superior prospect here because of his offensive punch. I’d compare his skillset to Claude Giroux but Rossi is a much better skater.
10. Winnipeg Jets: Anton Lundell, C, HIFK-Liiga
Winnipeg has a picked a Finnish player with their last three first round picks (2016 – Laine, 2017 – Vesalainen, 2019 – Heinola) and I think they’ll make it four with Lundell. He is a very cerebral on the ice and it allows him to succeed on both sides of the ice which he has shown in Liiga against men. A possible Selke Trophy winner similar to what we see with Bergeron, O’Reilly and Cirelli.
11. Nashville Predators: Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa-OHL
I think that Nashville opts for the talented winger who reminds me a lot of Mark Stone to help round out their Top-6 forward outlook. They do have some depth up-front but after a few years of scoring troubles… it is time Nashville starts to invest in scoring talent at the draft.
12. Florida Panthers: Braden Schneider, RD, Brandon-WHL
Some of you might be thinking why Florida would draft another right-hand shot defenceman when they already have Ekblad, Weegar, Stralman and Pysyk. But we have to assume that a cash-poor team like Florida will have an internal cap much less than the $81.5 million set by the league. Weegar and Pysyk need new deals this off-season and Ekblad has been tied to some trade rumours (hopefully the Leafs are in on them *fingers crossed*). This should open the door to bring in a Trouba-like defenceman on an ELC who is closer to playing in the NHL then some might think a mid-first-rounder would be.
13. Carolina Hurricanes: Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA-KHL
Trying to project where Askarov goes is an extremely difficult task. There are about 6 or 7 teams choosing in the Top-15 that could use a bonafide starting goaltender of the future that is touted as the best goalie prospect since Carey Price. All reports indicate that Askarov does not make it past Carolina come draft day.
14. Edmonton Oilers: Dylan Holloway, C/LW, Wisconsin-Big Ten
The Oilers have found themselves some tremendous depth on their defence even with the possibility of Klefbom missing the entire 2020/2021 season. Young players like Jones, Bear, Broberg and Bouchard should add some fresh faces to the Top-6 rounded out by Nurse and Larsson. With that being said, Edmonton lacks any sort of young talent up front outside of McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and Yamamoto. Holloway is a perfect blend of speed, physicality and soft hands in tight, similar to Gabriel Landeskog but a better skater.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs: What are the options?
So finally we get to our Leafs, and my conclusion from this exercise is Kyle Dubas will be spending a lot of time on the phone at the beginning of Tuesdays draft. If I were in Dubas’ shoes I would leave no stone unturned and make sure any team picking after 5th overall knew that you’d be interested in moving up in the draft if it meant that you could get one of Drysdale, Lundell, or Askarov. Even if you think it’s a long shot… I would be calling Ducks GM Bob Murray to see if he’d be interested in the 15th Pick + Johnsson + Dermott or something of that ilk. Dubas also has the option of keeping the pick and taking someone like Seth Jarvis or Hendrix Lapierre who are both centers and can significantly improve the clubs outlook at the position behind Matthews and Tavares. The Leafs could also look for a partner to trade down, which we know Dubas has done before. Maybe the Ducks will give us the 27th and 36th pick for 15th overall, and the Leafs could come away with a couple of the following players: Centers – Ridly Greig, Mavrik Bourque or Wingers: Rodion Amirov, Jan Mysak or Defenceman William Wallinder, Helge Grans.
Either way… Tuesday will be a franchise altering day whether they keep the pick or not. Here is to hoping Dubas swings for the fences and hits a home run.