Could The Maple Leafs Target A Defenseman in 2016 Draft

The Toronto Maple Leafs look to be on the road to having a pretty high pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. The questions are: exactly where will they pick and who will they pick?

Of course, if the Leafs win the lottery and draft first overall, this all becomes very easy. The Leafs would then take Auston Matthews and it would all be over and done with. Of course, if history tells us anything, the Leafs don’t have that kind of luck. If the Leafs drafted anywhere from second to fifth overall or later, the Leafs pick could be anyone. Most people are talking about forwards like Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine, Alex Nylander and Matthew Tkachuk.

However, let’s look at what the Leafs have done in recent years. The Leafs have taken defenseman in later rounds recent years, but the last time the Leafs took a defenseman with their first pick was Morgan Rielly back in 2012. The Leafs first picks since then have been Fredrik Gauthier, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. Now, Gauthier could be the Leafs’ third-line center in the future, but Nylander and Marner are the Leafs future offensive stars.

Morgan Rielly
Morgan Rielly, the last defenseman the Leafs selected with their first pick of a draft. (Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)

Time For A D-Man?

Now, defenseman take a lot longer to develop than forwards most of the time. So it will be a while before we know if the Leafs have anything in Rinat Valiev, Travis Dermott and the other defensemen the Leafs have picked in the past two years. The thing is, the Leafs haven’t gotten that defenseman with star potential since Rielly. They drafted Stuart Percy in 2011, but that was with the 25th overall pick. The Leafs haven’t used a top-10 pick on a defenseman since Rielly. Perhaps it’s time they should it again.

The top defensemen in the draft are Jakob Chychrun and Olli Juolevi. Chychrun has been talked about as a high pick for a year or so while Juolevi really increased his stock with his performance in the 2016 World Juniors. Of course, Finland winning the entire tournament sure helped him along.

Chychrun has played for the Sarnia Sting for the past two seasons, being drafted first overall by the team in 2014. That franchise has churned out Steven Stamkos, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk in the past seven years so they have a habit of having pretty good talent go through the city. He will also be a second-generation NHLer as his father, Jeff Chychrun, played parts of seven seasons in the NHL, mostly with the Philadelphia Flyers. His dad was an enforcer during his time and the younger Chychrun brings toughness to his game as well. He is already 6’2″ and was listed at 214 pounds last September.

Juolevi made his North American debut this season, playing with the London Knights. He previously played for Jokerit’s junior teams in Finland. On top of this year’s World Juniors, he has competed for Finland in under-16, -17 -18 tournaments. If there’s a d-man the Leafs have got a long look at, its him as the Leafs are obviously keeping tabs on one of their top prospects Mitch Marner, who also plays for the Knights.

In a mock draft from (updated January 11), Chychrun and Juolevi go back-to-back at the sixth and seventh overall selections. If that is around where they will go, the Leafs would need to get better to be around that area. Right now, without the lottery, the Leafs would be selecting second overall. There they would obviously select either Puljujarci, Laine or Nylander.

Who do you think the Leafs will draft? Or rather, who do you want the Leafs to draft when the time comes?