At this point, I thought that I would be writing about the Toronto Maple Leafs and their run in the playoffs. With another early first round exit, it’s time to focus on the Maple Leafs offseason– starting with the NHL Entry Draft.
The Maple Leafs are without a first-round draft pick as a result of them sending it to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Foligno. The Maple Leafs won’t be selecting until late in the second-round, unless general manager Kyle Dubas manages to snag a first-round pick like he did with Kasperi Kapanen last year before the draft. That’ll be another discussion if that happens.
This year it will be an unpredictable draft where the talent pool wasn’t as deep as it was last year. However, there are plenty of intriguing prospects that could be in and around the Maple Leafs range where they’re projected to pick 57th. Whether or not Dubas lands that first-round pick, he can still find some talent on the second day of the draft like he did last year. Here are five picks that Dubas could target come the NHL draft.
Olen Zellweger, D, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
If there’s a player who fits the description that can fit right in with the Maple Leafs’ system, it’s Olen Zellweger. He put together good numbers in the WHL’s return to play, recording 11 assists and 13 points in 11 games with the Silvertips. If a full 68-game season was played, he would be on pace for 80 points in just his second season.
According to Pick224, among draft year defenseman with a minimum of 10 games played, Zellweger ranks second in primary points per game (P1/GP) with 0.63 and third in even strength primary points per game (EV P1/GP) 0.45. The Silvertips also scored 72% of their even strength goals when he was on the ice. It’s safe to say that when Zellweger is on the ice, great things happen offensively with his playmaking and puck moving abilities.
While he’s undersize at 5-foot-9, Zellweger plays a much bigger and high tempo game, which stood out during the World U18 Championship. He registered seven assists and eight points in seven games at World U18 Championship, en route to a gold medal for Team Canada.
Even before the tournament, I kept a close on eye Zellweger as I thought he could be someone who can fly under the radar. Clearly, he had a major impact as his decision-making and quick puck movement stood out. His speed allows him to move the play quickly and hard to contain on the cycle. He’s constantly thinking at a quick pace, evaluating his passing options and routes. He doesn’t crack under pressure and protects the puck extremely well, getting out of tough situations with his explosive skating. Even when defending, he does a great job staying in position on the rush and closing gaps on the puck carrier.
Zellweger would be a very great option for the Maple Leafs given his ability to play a high-tempo game from the backend. While he’s offense driven, he’s very capable of being responsible defensively.
Brent Johnson, D, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Central Scouting: 38th (among NA skaters)
Baracchini’s Ranking: 49th
It’s possible that Brent Johnson might be gone before the Maple Leafs pick. If Zellweger is gone and if Johnson is available, you can bet that he could definitely be a target if he somehow drops on draft day. Given Johnson’s rank with Central Scouting, they have the chance to draft a reliable defender.
Committed to the University of North Dakota for 2021-22, Johnson brings a strong and effective two-way game as he’s always making an impact offensively and defensively.
When defending against the rush, Johnson does a really great job at staying with his assignment. He provides strong one-on-one coverage and is able to keep the puck carrier to the outside and mitigate any chance in a high danger area. In a detailed video breakdown, Will Scouch explains that he’s able to defuse any situation when he does make a mistake– showing that he doesn’t crack under pressure.
In his rookie season with the Stampede, Johnson did extremely well offensively as he was able to produce 32 points in 47 games played. Among draft year defenseman with a minimum of 15 games played, he has the most even strength primary points with 19 and was third in EV P1/GP with 0.40. In addition he ranked second in even strength goals with nine – very impressive numbers for his first full season in the USHL.
Johnson does a great job of breaking up plays defensively with his positioning and active stick. He’s smart with his playmaking and puck movement and rarely makes a decision that ends up costing his team leading to an odd-man rush against. He isn’t flashy like other defensemen in this draft, but by doing the simple things, he’s successful in that regard.
While the Maple Leafs have Timothy Liljegren and Topi Niemala as options for the future on the right side, Johnson would give them some depth moving forward. He has the potential to be a reliable second or third pairing defenseman and smarts make him a welcome addition to this organization.
Matvei Petrov, LW, MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva (MHL)
Central Scouting: 35th (among EU skaters)
Baracchini’s Ranking: 63rd
If there’s one player that could be very intriguing for the Maple Leafs, it’s Matvei Petrov. Drafted first overall by the North Bay Battalion in the 2020 CHL import draft, he had a strong draft year, scoring 22 goals and recording 42 points in 58 games. If there was an OHL season, he probably would’ve been a major point producer on the Battalion as well.
He already has great size and possesses a very strong offensive toolset that makes him a real threat in the offensive zone. He knows how to create space and get to the open areas, waiting for an opportunity to receive a pass and get a great scoring chance.
What stands out the most about Petrov is his shot. He has a really great release, getting the puck off in a snap and has great accuracy picking his spot. He likes to bide his time and when he sees the right opening, he’s able to go to the open space to get his opportunity to fire the puck on net. In the offensive zone, he doesn’t rush and he takes his time to make the right decision with the puck.
While Petrov has strong offensive awareness, his ability to constantly give it his best every shift is another great quality to his game. FC Hockey’s Brandon Holmes alludes that he has great work ethic. While he may not always come out on top, he’s always willing to jump in and engage in a puck battle in order to gain possession.
While the Maple Leafs have a great core of wingers with Nick Robertson and Rodion Amirov, Petrov has the offensive instinct and work ethic that might make him a forward to target as they look for players with a strong mindset and attitude.
Jack Bar, D, Chicago Steel (USHL)
Central Scouting: 41st (among NA skaters)
Baracchini’s Ranking: 53rd
At 6-foot-2, 194 pounds, Jack Bar already has a great frame to be a defenseman in the NHL. But it’s the tools that he possesses that could make him a quality defenseman for any team, including the Maple Leafs. The Chicago Steel is known for developing quality NHL prospects and they have quite a few in this year’s draft with Matthew Coronato and Mathew Samoskevich.
After recording 52 points in 49 games with St. Andrew’s College, Bar did very well in his first season in the USHL with 15 points in 34 games played– 11 of those 15 points were primary and came at even strength. He was even named USHL Defenseman of the Week back in March.
Committed to Harvard University, Bar is a very fluid skater with a long stride and great speed. He’s very mobile and is able to turn sharply with ease to avoid any sort of sustained pressure. With that he has a knack to move the play forward and join the rush for an attack. He follows the play extremely well and is always in position. He’s smart to know when to pick his spots and when to back off and prioritize defense.
Bar does a great job in one-on-one situations. He has the strength to box out players in front of the net and tie them up effectively and negate any second chance opportunities. He knows how to get in the shooting lane by blocking a shot or breaking up a play with his stick. He does a great job at closing the gap on the opposition and takes away any space to deny anything from happening.
Ayrton Martino, LW, Omaha Lancers (USHL)
Central Scouting: 46th (among NA skaters)
Baracchini’s Ranking: 33rd
I’m higher on Ayrton Martino than Central Scouting. Like Johsnon, I feel that Martino could be gone before the Maple Leafs make their selection. Given that he’s only ranked just inside the top 50 North American skaters, he’s definitely in the Maple Leafs range to select him.
Given Martino’s ability to gain possession and his smarts, he’s just the kind of player that could thrive in their system. He’s a very strong playmaker as he’s quick with his puck movements and distribution to find his teammates. But it’s his transitional game that shines whenever he’s on the ice.
Martino is able to quickly shift gears from defense to offense whenever he pressures the opposition, creating a turnover. He’s quick to read and anticipate plays in order to break it up and gain possession. His speed allows him to close in on the puck carrier and get the advantage to break free leading to a prime scoring opportunity.
Martino is a major threat offensively with his passing but he does have a really great shot and has no problem using it. He has the ability to hurt you on both the power play and on the penalty kill, making him useful in any situation. That mentality to constantly want to get the puck on his stick is what makes him a prime target for a team like the Maple Leafs.
While this draft may not be deep as last year, there is still a lot of promising prospects that could make an impact for the Maple Leafs. Despite not owning a first, they’re going to add a quality player with this pick.
Statistics from Pick224.
Peter is in his third year with The Hockey Writers, covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and heading the Draft and Prospects section. He has previously interned at The Hockey News and worked on Toronto Marlies broadcasts for Rogers TV. He currently is the co-host of the podcast Sticks in the 6ix and a frequent guest on Maple Leafs Lounge. Aside from hockey, he also enjoys drumming, animation and impressions/ voices.