The Toronto Maple Leafs – like any other NHL team – are made up players, but what will the team look like in the future? That’s one of the most interesting aspects of being a fan, the makeup of a team evolves over time as players come and go.
NHL teams are created in many different ways: by signing free agents, trading for players, and through the draft to develop young players. In this post, I want to review that last aspect of the Maple Leafs’ roster-building – through the NHL Entry Draft. Specifically, I want to review the work of general manager Kyle Dubas at the most recent draft held in 2019.
The Maple Leafs entered the draft without a first-round pick. Still, Dubas added six young prospects to their talent pool. The early returns show that Dubas, or whomever he charged with that task, was a wise judge of talent.
In the second round (53rd overall), the organization picked 17-year-old Nicholas Robertson. In the third round, they chose Finnish defenseman Mikko Kokkonen (84th overall). In the fourth round, the team had two picks and used the first (115th overall) on Quebec Major Junior League center Mikhail Abramov and then Nick Abruzzese (124th overall). In the fifth round, the team chose Mike Koster (146th overall), and the team’s final selection was the seventh-round pick of Finnish right-shot defenseman Kalle Loponen (204th overall).
How are these players doing? In this post, I want to review this season’s body of work for the first three Maple Leafs draft choices – Robertson, Kokkonen, and Abramov.
First Maple Leafs 2019 Draft Pick: Nick Robertson
Robertson came into the draft averaging over a point per game with the Peterborough Petes during the 2018-19 season (27 goals and 55 points in 54 games). He didn’t slow down in 2019-20. In fact, he ended the season with the Petes by scoring 50 goals in 43 games.
Robertson is smaller, but he has both on-ice creative flair and a competitive personality. During the draft, when asked about his size, he compared himself to the feisty former-Maple Leaf Trevor Moore:
“I don’t think it’s a factor at all. Trevor Moore, he’s a guy from California, he’s not the biggest guy but you see how effective he was in playoffs. He’s a skilled player, I think the tenacity makes up for my size as well as my skill.”
The 18-year-old Robertson became the first Canadian Major Junior hockey player to score 50 goals during the 2019-20 season – and that’s after he missed time recovering from a broken finger and represented the United States at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship that ended in January 2020.
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In short (no pun intended for the under-sized Maple Leafs prospect), Robertson had big goal numbers and small game numbers.
Second Maple Leafs 2019 Draft Pick: Mikko Kokkonen
In the third round, the team’s 84th-overall pick was Finnish defenseman Mikko Kokkonen. During the 2018-19 season, the 18-year-old, left-handed defenseman scored three goals and 19 points in 56 games with Jukurit in Finland’s top league. He also played at the high level international tournaments as part of Team Finland when the Finnish U18 World Juniors won the championship in 2017-18.
This season, Kokkonen’s scoring numbers with Jukurit were down (only three goals and seven assists in 39 games); however, he’s proven himself to be a good all-around player who’s gaining experience playing in Finland’s top tier, as well as for Team Finland at the 2020 World Junior Championships (scoring two goals in seven games and being named Player of the Game in Finland’s semi-final loss). Although he’s young, he held his own as a third-pairing defenseman.
His reputation is as a steady defenseman, who needs more offense in his game. Scouts loved his “character” but suggested he should work on his skating. However, Kokkonen doesn’t lack confidence. When interviewed about playing in Finland, he noted: “I want to be that player who can be on in the last minute of games and get the winning goal.”
In short, Kokkonen’s scoring and overall game have been improving because he’s young and playing at a high level in Finland.
Third Maple Leafs 2019 Draft Pick: Mikhail Abramov
The Maple Leafs used their first fourth-round pick (115th overall) on Quebec Major Junior League center Mikhail Abramov. Abramov entered the draft with 16 goals and 38 assists in 62 games with Victoriaville, a showing that earned him QMJHL Rookie All-Star Team honors in 2018-19. Before joining the Tigres, he played in the CSKA Moscow system in Russia.
Abramov had a great 2019-20 QMJHL season with 35 goals and 76 points in 63 games. The 5-foot-9, 154-pound Russian is a playmaker with good on-ice vision. In fact, he’s good enough that the Maple Leafs recently signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Interestingly, the 18-year-old Abramov led his team in scoring by 35 points, the next highest scorer had 19 goals. In 125 career QMJHL games, he has 51 goals and 79 assists. He was also named to the QMJHL All-Rookie Team in 2018-19.
In short, Abramov might not have the overall skills of a first-round draft pick, but he has enough vision and hockey sense that the Maple Leafs were willing to sign on the dotted line. Obviously, they believe he has a chance to play in the NHL.
Grading the Maple Leafs 2019 Draft So Far
During the past season, Robertson, Kokkonen, and Abramov’s play have shown the Maple Leafs that they chose well at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. All three had strong seasons and look like they have the talent needed to make the team – eventually.
So far, the Maple Leafs’ draft philosophy has looked good.