The Toronto Maple Leafs are in rebidding mode. The franchise has determined that the plans of the past simply did not work for a variety of reasons. The coaching staff wasn’t strong enough and couldn’t motivate the players. That problem was solved by the addition of Mike Babcock.
The front office lacked determination and the smarts to make the right choices for the organization. Under Brendan Shanahan, the Leafs now boast one of the best management teams in the NHL. Kyle Dubas, Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello make up the core and appear to already be on the right track.
The last and most crucial component is the players themselves, and by extension, how the Maple Leafs drafted and developed young talent. In short, drafting was easily one of their weaker aspects. That has slowly started to change. They hit pay dirt with Morgan Rielly in 2012. William Nylander and Mitch Marner both look to be fantastic prospects and the Leafs will need to build on them with their first round pick in 2016.
The most recent World Juniors tournament was a great showcase of some draft eligible players and what they bring to the table.
Matthew Tkachuk: Forward
If the name sounds familiar to you, there is a very easy explanation. Matthew, who is currently a power forward for the London Knights of the OHL, is the son of Keith Tkachuk, a former NHLer who has a place in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Hockey appears to run in his blood, and in his draft year, Matthew looks dominant on a loaded Knights squad.
Tkachuk isn’t the fastest skater, but he’s incredibly smart and willing to go to the front of the net to set up or score goals. He plays with a physical edge which sets him apart from other top prospects. In 31 games with London this season, he has 15 goals and 61 points.
Tkachuk may not be a pure scoring forward, but he’s instinctive and smart. He also had an excellent World Juniors that saw him finish with 11 points in seven games and a bronze medal to boot.
Olli Juolevi: Defenseman
The second London Knight to grace this list, Olli Juolevi, has rightfully earned a place on the top ten for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The young defenseman was a stud for the gold medal winning Finns and was arguably the best defender in the entire tournament.
He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds and has had a wonderful first season in the OHL. Juolevi has played in 28 games and has put up four goals and 19 assists for 23 points. He also had a great World Juniors and finished with nine assists, an all-star selection and a gold medal in front of his home country.
Juolevi is known to be a smooth and confident skater who can play in both the offensive and defensive zones with little trouble.
The young Finn may be a perfect fit for the Maple Leafs blueline who will be looking to add another young and skilled defender to their ever growing pool of prospects.
Patrick Laine: Forward
Patrick Laine really made an impression at the most recent World Juniors. Playing on a stacked Finnish squad, Laine came into the tournament having been overshadowed by fellow draft eligible forward, Jesse Puljujärvi. By tournament’s end, both players had made massive impressions, with Laine in particular improving his draft positioning and status.
He’s got great size for a young player and stands at 6-foot-four and 209 pounds. The big winger has a knack for scoring goals and utilizes a very heavy shot in traffic. His frame also provides a physical element to his game. He had an incredible performance at the World Juniors where he scored a goal a game and tallied 13 points in seven contests.
He definitely used the tournament as a spring board to cement his status as a top draft eligible player. He would be a great pick for a Leafs team that could use some size in their forward corps.