The Toronto Maple Leafs’ decision to keep the 15th overall pick and draft for defensive help is still up for debate. Their second-round pick, 44th overall, could be useful in expanding their prospect pool.
Toronto was originally slated to pick 50th overall; they didn’t have a first-round pick until they received the Pittsburgh Penguins’ pick in the Kasperi Kapanen trade. After their early exit in the qualifying round, the Maple Leafs moved up six spots in the draft to 44th.
This year’s draft is deep, and first-round talent will be found in the second round. General manager Kyle Dubas should get another great prospect like Nick Robertson who he drafted in 2019. Here are five names that could be selected with the 44th pick.
As always, I’m happy to have THW’s resident scout and prospect writer, Josh Bell, offer his insight into the players.
Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Mary Greyhounds, OHL
If they select Braden Schneider with their first-round pick, the Maple Leafs could draft another prospect with great potential in the second round. It’s an added bonus that O’Rourke is on a team that Dubas is familiar with. The team has already drafted former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Mac Hollowell, so why not go for the team’s captain?
Drafting O’Rourke at No. 50 could be a tall task but considering he is ranked between No. 35 and the early 40s could be great news to bolster their defensive depth. It would be worth it if Dubas decides to move up to ensure they can select him.
O’Rourke has a very complete and strong two-way game and he is the type of defenseman that many teams will covet. He already plays with a pro- mentality and is reliable in any situation. He is a 200-foot player capable of making an impact in all three zones. He’s always one step ahead and is able to get into position quickly.
At 18, O’Rourke’s smarts and decision-making skills are what make him an excellent defender. He is great in his own end, able to disrupt the play while staying in position and providing excellent one-on-one coverage. He has good speed to move the play up, with a strong and accurate outlet pass. He has a great wrist shot from the point and likes to use his body to his advantage to gain an inside edge on his opponents when joining the rush.
He also brings an “in your face” style, making him a nightmare to battle against. But what stands out the most is his ability to lead at such a young age, named captain of the Greyhounds at 17. Players like him are hard to find and knowing Dubas’ connection with the Greyhounds, O’Rourke is a player that should interest him.
Bell’s Take: O’Rourke might be one of the most obvious choices for the Maple Leafs with the Kyle Dubas-Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds connection. It also makes sense because the Leafs need defensive-minded defenders that can be leaders on the backend. Honestly, that could very well be O’Rourke’s scouting report. He’s solid in his own end and can play in all situations – he’s a coach’s dream. Don’t get me wrong though, he can also chip in offensively through some very good passing. He could be a perfect complement to the offensive defenders that Toronto has in place for the future.
Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL
Central Scouting Rank: 16th (among NA skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Ranking: 41st
In a perfect world, Justin Barron would hear his name called relatively early in the draft, as he was considered a top-15 pick at the beginning of the season.
A strong sophomore campaign with the Halifax Mooseheads, where he recorded 41 points, was a good indication that he was primed to take a major step forward in his draft year. However, Barron had a challenging 2019-20 season that wasn’t what anyone expected. He was diagnosed with blood clots that forced him to miss three months and it was difficult for him to get back to form. As a result, he’s scattered among many draft boards and rankings.
Despite the bumpy road, his skillset still makes him a great defensive prospect to be had in this year’s draft. He provides a steady all-around game, and he has great mobility when leading a rush or gaining entry into the offensive zone. He has a great shot from the point and is able to move down low and be a more dangerous shooter.
Defensively, Barron has great positioning and is strong with his coverage on the rush or in front of the net. He’s able to keep any attacking forward to the outside and is great at separating his opponent from the puck. His two-way game is the main reason why teams were so high on him to begin with.
While he could go anywhere from the late first round to the mid-second, Barron is going to make a team very happy. A right-handed, all-around defenseman with an edge is what the Maple Leafs need to add.
Bell’s Take: Let’s not forget that Barron was being touted as the second-best defender of this class before the start of the 2019-20 season. There were even some that thought he could top Jamie Drysdale for the top spot with a big year. Ultimately, that big year didn’t happen. But a large part of that is the blood clot that took him out of commission for a large part of the year. He’s going to be drafted in the first two rounds in this draft, and if he can get back on the development path he was on prior to 2019-20, the Maple Leafs could wind up with an absolute steal in Barron. He’s great in his own end and dangerous in the offensive end, making him a two-way presence that opposing teams will need to keep their eye on in all situations.
Vasili Ponomaryov, C, Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL
Central Scouting Rank: 48th (among NA skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Ranking: 35th
If the Maple Leafs decide to select a forward, there are many excellent options to be had in the mid-second round. Shawinigan Cataractes centre Vasili Ponomaryov should be on the Maple Leafs’ radar.
The team’s centre depth could use a boost to their prospect pool as there are no promising prospects at that position. He was dominant at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup registering, two goals and four assists in five games, winning a gold medal. He also had a great rookie season in the QMJHL recording 49 points in 57 games.
Offensively, he’s a great stick-handler and is able to make quick moves in tight areas along the boards and in front of the net. With that, he’s able to be quick and elusive on his feet, having great footwork and speed. He has a great shot and quick release whenever he gets to the open areas of the ice. Even though he has an average frame (5-foot-10, 180 pounds), he’s able to use his strength and size to protect the puck and drive to the net.
Defensively, he is just as good, being a dependable player on the other side of the puck. He’s extremely patient when waiting for the right opportunity to make a move on his opponent. His speed allows him to close gaps on the opposition and give them very little room to work with. On top of that, Ponomaryov’s competitiveness and work ethic is an extremely valuable asset, as he’ll do whatever it takes to help his team win.
Bell’s Take: Out of all the players on this list, Ponomaryov is one that I very much think will be gone by the Maple Leafs second choice. The Russian forward is a two-way threat that never takes his foot off the gas. He shows creativity and elusiveness when the puck is on his stick and he is always battling hard. He almost reminds me of a Zach Hyman, and that’s a role I could see him one day playing with the Maple Leafs in the middle six. Ponomaryov is a player I’ve had in the first round or just outside of it all season, so I think he’ll be gone by the time the Maple Leafs make their pick, but he’d be very much a player Dubas would have his eye on.
William Villeneuve, D, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL
Central Scouting Rank: 99th (among NA skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Ranking: 76th
Another right-handed defenseman that could be picked in the second round, Villeneuve possesses an excellent skillset for a player that can make an impact in all three zones. He saw a major increase in goals (nine), assists (49) and points (58) in his sophomore season. Villeneuve doesn’t possess any wow factor to his game, but his ability to keep things simple makes him excel when he’s on the ice.
Villeneuve possesses a great shot from the point. He has a quick wrist shot and also has a really good one-timer. He has great power when he winds up to get it on net or even set up his teammates for a rebound or tip-in. He has great vision when making crisp and clean passes. Whether it’s faking a shot or even making a long stretch pass, he always seems to connect with his teammates.
Villeneuve plays a very responsible defensive game as well. He has great positioning in his own end and vision in order to anticipate and break up a play. He has no problem taking a passing lane away or getting in front of a shot and blocking it.
Much like O’Rourke and Barron, Villeneuve could be one of those impact defensemen that can benefit a team like the Maple Leafs. Even if the Maple Leafs do move their 15thoverall pick, they can select a steady two-way player in Villeneuve in the second round. He will be a great value to have as he is slated to be a late second or even an early third-round pick.
Bell’s Take: Villeneuve is a very interesting player to me, that frankly could be ranked much higher than he is on most draft boards. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tumble down on draft day as well. The right-shot defender is a very agile player and while he doesn’t necessarily have straight-line speed, he has good, four-directional mobility that allows him to create space for himself and make a play. The Maple Leafs have Barb Underhill helping players improve their skating, and this could go a long way for Villeneuve. Overall, he is a very intelligent defender that could really be a “boom-or-bust” player down the line. As of now, I’d lean more towards the “boom.”
Martin Chromiak, RW, Kingston Frontenacs, OHL
Central Scouting Rank: 30th (among NA skaters)
Josh Bell’s Final Ranking: 45th
After making the jump from Slovakia to the Frontenacs of Ontario League mid-season, Chromiak didn’t look out of place at all, scoring his first goal in his first game. He averaged over a point per game with 1.18 (33 points in 28 games). Playing with potential 2022 first overall pick Shane Wright and fellow 2020 draft pick Zayde Wisdom, Chromiak’s presence was felt as the line found instant chemistry together.
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Chromiak has great vision in the offensive zone. Whether the puck is on his stick or getting to the open areas on the ice, he always makes something happen. He’s got great speed and quick hands, which makes it difficult to contain him.
Chromiak’s shot is his best asset. His release is extremely quick and generates a lot of power when shooting the puck on net. He’s got great accuracy and is capable of shooting from all areas on the ice. Whether it’s on the power play or at even strength, he is there. According to Pick 224, Chromiak has a primary points per game of 0.89 and an even-strength primary points per game of 0.68, which is pretty good considering he was a late arrival at the junior level.
Bell’s Take: Ah, Chromiak. After starting the season fairly low on everyone’s draft board, the Slovakian left-winger came overseas to play in the OHL. And oh, what an impression he made. Some were even considering him on the bubble of the first round after he exploded for 33 points in his first 28 OHL games. He’s a younger player in this draft, less than a month away from the 2021 NHL Draft class. Sound familiar? (Nick Robertson). Now, I’m not saying that Chromiak is near that Robertson level in 2019-20, but we could be in store for a big season, similar to what we saw with the 2019 NHL draftee. Chromiak is another one of those go, go, go players like Ponomaryov, that battles hard to get the puck back for his team. Again, a Zach Hyman-type. That could be exactly what the Maple Leafs need – if he’s still available.
There a plenty of options for the Maple Leafs with their second-round pick. Who do you think they should draft in the second round? Have your say in the comment section.
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.