Good news for draft and prospect enthusiasts. There will be an NHL draft. However, it might be a little different than what we’re used to. THW’s Brandon Share-Cohen wrote a great explanation of the lottery process and its implications for those who don’t win their play-in series.
What does this mean for the Toronto Maple Leafs who gave up their first-round pick this year in the Patrick Marleau deal with the Carolina Hurricanes? The original condition was that if the 2020 pick was in the top ten, then the Maple Leafs would give up their 2021 first-rounder instead. The team might be able to keep their pick if they lose their play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets and could end up in the top-10. The percentage is very low, but anything is possible.
Let’s be hypothetical here; the Maple Leafs lose their play-in series and enter in the 8-10 spots of the draft. This is a very deep draft with a lot of top tier talent, especially in the top 10. Here are some names to consider if the Maple Leafs keep their first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Once again, THW’s Josh Bell joins me to offer his take on the players the Maple Leafs could take if they have their pick.
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK, Liiga
If anyone, including the Maple Leafs, is looking for the most complete player in the draft, look no further than Lundell.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound centre isn’t the flashiest on the ice, especially for a top-10 pick, but his smarts make him a coveted prospect. He doesn’t chase the game as his vision and awareness allow him to be in the right areas at the right time. This is extremely difficult to find in prospects. Lundell has excellent body-position with the puck as he’s very strong when the play is down low. When he’s away from the puck, he always seems to be in the right areas and has an excellent stick when poke-checking and getting in the lane to break up a play.
Puck Prose’s Kyle Pereira came out with an in-depth article on Lundell with excellent visuals. The article shows his play-style while comparing it to other excellent two-way centres like Patrice Bergeron, Alexander Barkov and Sean Couturier. The similarities are noticeable. His positioning, IQ and ability to break up plays in all parts of the ice are what make him an extraordinary talent.
At only 18, Lundell has exceeded expectations at the pro level. In his rookie season, he put up 19 points in 38 games. This year, he surpassed his point totals with 28, with only 15:49 of ice time. Despite the limited time and the lack of offense, he still managed to be an impact player with his smarts and decision-making.
If he gets an increased role, there’s no doubt that the offensive production will also increase, as will his stock as a highly coveted prospect.
Bell’s Take: Lundell is a player that people are either very high on, or very wary about. He’s a two-way forward, with a lean towards the defensive side. His biggest knock against him is his skating, but it just so happens that the Maple Leafs have one of the best skating coaches in the league in Barb Underhill. Lundell is a player I’ve really liked all season. Being taken by Toronto, he’d likely need to shift to the wing or be capped as the third-line centreman. Personally, I think he has 1C potential but likely fits into the 2C role at his peak. If he were to shift to the wing with the Leafs, might he be a Mark Stone? If you recall, skating was one of his biggest weaknesses coming into the league.
Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67’s, OHL
NHL Central Scouting: 6th (among NA skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Rankings: 5th
Rossi might be a stretch, but he could go anywhere from the fifth to the ninth spot. If he’s available, the Maple Leafs shouldn’t hesitate to select the OHL leading scorer. After 65 points in 53 games in his rookie season, Rossi nearly doubled his point production with 120 points (39 goals and 81 assists) in 56 games, to earn the scoring title. If the season hadn’t been stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, who knows how many points he might have had.
Among players in this draft year, Rossi is third behind Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield in even-strength primary points per game and second behind only Lafrenière in total primary points per game.
What stands out about Rossi is his patience and decision-making with the puck. He’s an extremely crafty and skilled playmaker. He makes it look so easy to find his teammates with quick and accurate passing. Even when he doesn’t have a good outlet, Rossi pulls away, regroups, so he can accurately find someone through an open lane. That extra second gives him time to get a perfect play set up, usually resulting in a goal or excellent scoring chance.
Despite being 5-foot-9, Rossi’s size doesn’t put him at a disadvantage. He’s always engaged in the play, either being tough along the boards and in the corners or out-muscling defenders in front of the net. His quick hands and ability to stickhandle in tight spaces make him a major offensive threat. In addition, his ability to break plays up and transition quickly to offense make him a dual-threat at both ends of the ice.
Bell’s Take: Dynamic, dynamic, dynamic. If I was asked for three words to describe Rossi, those would be them. Rossi does it all. His vision on the ice allows him to dominate in all three zones at a level above his age. Similar to Lundell, if the Maple Leafs selected him, where do they fit another centreman? I think he’d have to shift to the wing as well. Imagine an Auston Matthews-Marco Rossi pairing in front of John Tavares-Mitch Marner? Oh boy. Rossi would add to one of the deadliest offensive units in the NHL and become a fixture on the team.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA- Neva St.Petersburg, VHL
NHL Central Scouting: 1st (among EU goaltenders)
Josh Bell’s Final Rankings: 11th
When an 18-year-old goaltending phenom is slated to be a top-10 pick and future Vezina Trophy-winner, you have to select him. This is the case with Askarov.
You might be thinking that Askarov doesn’t make sense. That’s fair. The Maple Leafs have a great duo with Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell, but they are great for the short-term. Andersen is going to need a new contract soon, and the Maple Leafs are already dealing with a cap crunch, so this might be difficult if his price is too high.
He didn’t have the best World Junior tournament, but Askarov’s 12-3-3 record and .920 save percentage in the VHL shows that he’s capable of putting up great numbers. He has the skillset and potential to be a franchise-changing goaltender. In one game in the KHL, he also posted a .920 save percentage.
He has great poise and size in the net. At 6-foot-3, Askarov has excellent lateral movement, as he’s able to move post-to-post quickly. He’s always square with the shooter, and his vision to quickly locate the puck allows him to have lightning-quick reflexes. Even when he’s in desperation-mode, Aksarov is there to make a highlight reel save.
Long-term, selecting Aksarov makes sense. While Joseph Woll is showing some promise and Ian Scott is recovering from season-ending hip surgery, there is some stability with Askarov as you know what you’re getting.
Bell’s Take: If the Maple Leafs get a top-10 pick in this, I think Askarov would likely be one of my targets. Woll and Scott are good goalie prospects, but Askarov is elite. He would become one of the top-goaltending prospects in the league – if not the best. The statistics that he’s put up at his age are historic, he’s won awards at his age that are remarkable. He’s wonderful to watch. While many goalies remain solid and calm in the net, he stays calm by constantly moving. It helps him stay focused, but it’s just so different and incredible to watch. Askarov would immediately become the heir to Andersen and a very good heir at that.
Rodion Amirov, LW, Ufa, KHL
NHL Central Scouting: 5th (among EU skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Rankings: 10th
Over the last few months, Amirov has been gaining more attention. Much like Lundell, his play on both sides of the puck is what stands out the most.
Amirov has excellent vision, which allows him to always be in open spots on the ice. Will Scouch has the perfect description: “A really well refined and efficient thinker” and a support player for everyone else on the ice. His IQ allows him to be one step ahead of everyone else, anticipating where the play is going to go. Being in those open areas makes him extremely dangerous, leading to an excellent pass or scoring chance.
In transition and zone entries Amirov is a major threat. He possesses great speed and footwork, allowing easy access into the zone and in finding the open areas to maintain puck possession and getting a shot on net. There are times when he gets involved in the dirty areas of the ice, but his safe-play mentality and smarts make him extremely successful.
He’s also a threat on the power play, but his ability to be a reliable penalty-killer is a big part of his game. Amirov provides excellent positional play in his own end, but when the puck makes its way into the offensive zone, his smarts kick in to be in the right spot for a short-handed shot or goal.
Bell’s Take: Amirov is a guy that’s risen up my board through the year, into the top-10. I might even have him too low still. He’s a guy that drives the play, shuts it down at the other end, and makes great decisions with the puck. I think the Maple Leafs would lean towards a winger more than a centreman in the top-10 and Amirov would be extremely interesting. Again, he’d one day slide into that top-six, and would complement whoever he’s with and improve that line. I think he’s one of the more underrated prospects at the top of this draft. General manager Kyle Dubas has shown that he’s willing to bet on Russians, perhaps Amriov could be the next in line.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgardens, SHL
NHL Central Scouting: 2nd (among NA Skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Rankings: 9th
Like Rossi, Holtz might be a bit of stretch, but there have been some rankings and mocks that have him in the 8-10 range. Originally, I thought Jake Sanderson would be a good fit, but I think that Holtz has more upside than Sanderson. Not to mention, he would thrive in an environment that emphasizes offense, like the Maple Leafs.
With his exceptional goal-scoring talent, you can expect any team, even the Maple Leafs to take him if he’s on the board. Holtz has described himself as a responsible two-way player, but of course, his play and ability to be a threat in the offensive zone is why he’s sought after.
Holtz is the perfect example of what a pure goal scorer looks like in today’s NHL. He already possesses an NHL-ready shot along with excellent release and accuracy. He has great speed as he’s able to get to all areas in the offensive zone to utilize his powerful shot. His mobility allows him to move through the ice fluidly while maintaining the puck and getting into a prime area to unleash his shot.
Holtz dominated offensively with Djurgardens J-20 (which included a 30-goal season in 2018-19) before making the jump to the Swedish Hockey League this season. After recording nine goals and 16 points in 35 games, Holtz didn’t look out of place playing against men. He’s always a threat when he’s on the ice, and his offensive instincts make him one of the top goal scorers in this draft.
Bell’s Take: Imagine this power-play unit: Tavares, Matthews, Marner, Holtz, and Morgan Reilly. How do you stop that? You don’t. You get Tavares and Marner feeding Matthews and Holtz, and it’s game over. Holtz has the best shot (alright, one of the best shots) in the class, and the Maple Leafs like to score goals. Another winger, I think Holtz would very much be on the Maple Leafs’ radar in the top-10. By having Matthews on one line and Holtz on another, Toronto could have two of the best shooters in the league. He’s able to hold his own all over the ice, but he thrives in the offensive zone. As mentioned, the Leafs are an offensive team and Holtz is an offensive player. I think he’d fit in very well.
From elite two-way players to a potential franchise goaltender, there are many talented players to be had in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, if the Maple Leafs do end up in that spot. Who do you have your eye on if the Maple Leafs end up with a top-10 pick?