Maple Leafs Panel is a weekly feature that is published every Monday here at The Hockey Writers. It’s a feature where THW Contributing Editor Lukas Hardonk as well as THW Toronto Maple Leafs correspondents Mark Ascione and Stephen Stoneman answer three questions that concern the Maple Leafs each week. To catch up on previous editions, click here.
Question: Given the Maple Leafs won’t select in round three nor four of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, how should the team approach selecting in the second round with the thirty-fifth overall pick?
Lukas Hardonk: The fact that general manager Brian Burke and his staff don’t have the pleasure to select in the third and fourth rounds could very well come back to bite them in the future. This is, of course, is due to the fact that many current NHL regulars and a handful of league stars were drafted late. There is no doubt that could happen again this summer, but the chances of it happening for the Maple Leafs has been significantly reduced.
The Leafs must be very cautious in who they select in the second round. Luckily for them, they have the benefit of a high second round pick meaning they could still snag anyone who falls out of the first round. There certainly isn’t a shortage of talent 35 picks into the draft, so the Leafs will still have the option to draft based purely on skill and not on current needs. Based on that fact alone, why not take someone who you are confident will be a bright NHL player down the road?
Mark Ascione: A high second round pick is not going to be a sure-fire NHL star, but I think the best option for the Leafs is to watch for players who might slip down from projected first round rankings and simply get the best guy out there. Burke always seem to focus on something and that’s what he goes after. I think there can be the temptation to say “okay, we got the right guy at number five, now let’s go after the guy who could be a good third-liner one day.”
Whether it’s a player who slipped from the first round, or perhaps one of the top-ranked goalies, the franchise just needs good, young players who have the best chance of making the NHL. Burke and his crew can really show their worth if they land a player who can make the NHL in three years with the thirty-fifth selection.
Stephen Stoneman: I look to the 2009 NHL Entry draft as a real example of what could be available with the thirty-fifth overall pick if the scouting staff really has their act together. With the thirty-third overall selection, the Colorado Avalanche went with Ryan O’Reilly of the Erie Otters, who was overlooked by twenty-nine other general managers.
Since then, he has played 236 games, second only to John Tavares (the first overall pick) and has managed 107 points, which included a team-leading 55 points this past season. Of course, two selections later at the thirty-fifth overall pick, the Los Angeles Kings selected big and strong blue liner Kyle Clifford. Clifford has also had a good start to his career with 157 games played and a Stanley Cup.
The options at the thirty-five slot are plenty. If it’s up to me, I stay patient and make the thirty-fifth selection knowing that I’ve taken two of the best thirty-five available players in the world and added them to my roster. If the Kings did one thing on the road to winning the Cup, they stayed patient.
Question: This is a simple prediction question. Who do you think the Maple Leafs will select with the fifth overall pick?
Lukas Hardonk: This question is a very difficult one to answer given we don’t know who will still be available when the Leafs take the microphone for the first time. It was initially thought that the Leafs would easily manage to get their hands on Sarnia Sting forward Alex Galchenyuk, although many scouts and prospect writers now have him going as high as third overall, if not second. That doesn’t mean the Leafs will miss out on some great talent, though.
The Leafs could still land a big, rugged defender like Cody Ceci, a large centre like Radek Faksa, or even a little blue liner such as Morgan Rielly. All three would fit nicely into the Leafs’ system, although one would have to believe Faksa would be the favourite out of the three solely because he is a forward. For this writer, it simply comes down to this: who is available when it’s the Leafs’ turn, Galchenyuk or Faksa?
Mark Ascione: With the way the rumours are circulating about picks being traded, it’s difficult to say who the Leafs will take since some players will be gone by the time the Leafs select. I think most have projected it will be Galchenyuk and I think that would be an excellent choice; a centre with some size and a high skill level. Even if Galchenyuk has already been selected by the time it’s the Leafs’ turn, one of Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Murray and Morgan Reilly should be available.
If it doesn’t play out that way, then again, I think they need to get the best player available regardless of position. I believe the Leafs are not as deep at the prospects level as we’ve been led to believe, at least not in top-level talent, and we know that the team has great needs at forward and has a lot of bodies on the blue line. But even if it means drafting another defenceman, taking the best player will give the team a better chance at making trades down the road to acquire missing pieces.
Stephen Stoneman: It goes without saying that Nail Yakupov will not be available when it’s time to make the fifth overall selection. Trying to project picks two through four has been next to impossible, but you can be assured that the player the Leafs get at fifth overall will be a top-level talent, perhaps even jumping to the top of their prospect list.
If I had to pick one of them, I would certainly go with Alex Galchenyuk. Galchenyuk’s season-long knee injury is perhaps all that is bumping him down the chart, as many proclaim that he would be vying for the first overall selection had he played this year. For Brian Burke, Galchenyuk is appetizing at the five slot for many reasons, but one of the keys has to be that, although he has the razzle-dazzle in the offensive zone, Alex can also play well in the defensive zone.
If he’s not available, anyone of Ryan Murray, Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Matt Dumba or Griffin Reinhart will do the trick. Let’s remember that this is about staying patient.
Question: There are numerous romours about the Leafs potentially acquiring another top-five pick in order to draft both Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov. Do you think this would benefit the team in the long run, or would it have to trade away too much to make it worth the prize?
Lukas Hardonk: It’s unknown what it would take to pry the first overall pick away from the Edmonton Oilers, the second from the Columbus Blue Jackets or even the third from the Montreal Canadiens. However, it’s been made clear that the price is steep and we shouldn’t expect any of those teams to move their selection. So the question now becomes, why the Leafs?
There is no doubt that Yakupov and Galchenyuk are very talented players, and there isn’t much doubt that Yakupov is so talented that he will go first overall on Friday. Thinking only about that, just what would the Leafs have to surrender to move up in the draft to select Yakupov alone? Let’s say that at the bare minimum, GM Burke would have to surrender two roster players, the fifth overall pick and a prospect. Again, that’s considering the bare minimum.
Now let’s say those two roster players are Mikhail Grabovski and Carl Gunnarsson. There goes one of the Leafs’ top centres and possibly their most reliable defender. As well, the Leafs would miss out on a different top-five draftee and a potential NHL regular. Those are four solid players for the price of one, who no one can guarantee will be a 90-point man in the NHL at any point in his career. Simply put: don’t mess around and sit tight.
Mark Ascione: I’m not confident the Leafs have enough to swing that deal. The rumour seemed to involve Luke Schenn at first and that’s a difficult piece to give up. Schenn is only 22 and few defencemen are really good at his age. I think Schenn can still develop into a very good player, likely around the same time a guy like Nail Yakupov or Alex Galchenyuk develop. Then add in whatever else would be required for the deal and it could prove to be too much, which is simply because the Leafs don’t have many players other teams covet.
I think the cost to draft twice in the top five will be too high. One benefit would be if the Leafs could get some form of cap relief in the deal, such as if someone like Mike Komisarek, Tim Connolly or Matthew Lombardi were sent the other way.
Stephen Stoneman: The fact that Brian Burke is even pondering a blockbuster of this size in this draft year would shock me. If Toronto is able to swing this deal, they would have to mortgage much of their future. You do have to admit, it would prove to be an exciting endeavour to sit down and watch, but I am one Maple Leafs writer that is betting for the lacklustre in terms of the Leafs moving up to get both the one and five selections.
The thing about the draft is that you don’t have to hit a home run to be successful. Look at the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, who had a flurry of first overall selections in the late 80s and early 90s. But it was their selection of Joe Sakic with the fifteenth overall pick in 1987 that cemented their franchise; not Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan nor Eric Lindros.
While the pressure to perform is fierce in Toronto, sometimes the best moves you can make are the trades you didn’t make.