The window is closing on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup. The front office has just as much work to do this season as the boys on the ice do. Kyle Dubas and company must empty the tank and, yes, mortgage the future to finally end an embarrassing championship drought.
The good news is there are plenty of top prospects and picks the Buds can shop around. The bad news is, they likely won’t, as the young general manager’s commitment to development and the farm team seemingly outweighs winning the Cup.
Maple Leafs Have Draft Capital
Toronto has all of its first-round draft picks for the next three years (and beyond). The team has traded away the second-round pick in the 2023 and 2025 drafts but does have the 2024 pick. It has two third-round picks in 2023 as the Ottawa Senators would do anything to get rid of Matt Murray, so they gave up a pick and retained 25 percent of the netminder’s salary.
Toronto has plenty of selections in the fourth to the seventh rounds in the next three years as well. This means there is more than enough draft capital to get a player to help the team now and not sacrifice anything from the roster. With the age ticking up on a lot of these players, Mark Giordano (38), Jake Muzzin (33) and T.J. Brodie (32), Toronto may want to spend some draft picks to get more depth on the blue line.
Maple Leafs Prospects Have Value
According to The Hockey Writers Top 100 Prospects, the Maple Leafs have four young guys in the top fifty in the league. That’s only taking into account the young guns in the system. There are plenty of other guys who have been improving in Toronto’s development structure and could crack a lineup on another team.
At this point, Nicholas Robertson may have just worn out his welcome in Toronto. The second-round pick in 2019 has drawn a lot of attention for a kid who has only played 16 NHL games. His early debut with the Maple Leafs may have set the bar and expectations too high for the Pasadena, California native. He has a surprise appearance in the lineup for the play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019-20.
Related: Maple Leafs Who Must Be Traded – Now
Injuries have not been kind to the gifted skater, but he is yet to break through for the blue and white. Still, other teams are likely pretty high on the left winger who lit up the Ontario Hockey League for the Peterborough Petes. THW has him slotted in at the 50th overall for NHL prospects.
Topi Niemelä may be best known for the overtime heartbreaker at the World Juniors. Canada’s Mason McTavish made the save on Niemelä’s shot that would’ve won gold for Finland. However, the Finnish defenseman will be known for much more in his career. There is little doubt that he will be patrolling the blue line in the NHL. But the third-round pick from the 2020 draft still has some work to do. That said, every NHL general manager is on the hunt for defencemen, and this prospect, who is ranked number 26, would provide a decent return if Toronto shopped him.
Matthew Knies appears to be the steal of the 2021 draft. Toronto picked him in the second round after the American had fallen off the radar by most scouts. He had been projected to go early in the first round, but he had limited playing time in his draft year and somehow fell to Toronto.
Teams have already been sniffing around the prospect. It was leaked last season that there were talks with the Chicago Blackhawks. While Knies will be a good player, Toronto could use that future talent to grab some help for today’s team. THW has him ranked number 24.
Current Maple Leafs Could be Traded
The usual suspects appear at this junction of the article. Alex Kerfoot has never been off this list, and he is now entering the final year of his contract. It would make sense to move him to address other parts of the roster. William Nylander is the only piece of the core four that could possibly be traded. Given his breakout year and the fact that Toronto has no problem scoring, Nylander could be shipped out to help fortify the backend.
In case you are wondering, Rodion Amirov is the fourth Leafs’ prospect that appears in the top 100 list. He is ranked 37. The Russian was diagnosed with a brain tumour and missed the end of the KHL season. However, there has been positive news around Toronto’s first-round selection, 15th overall in 2020, as he may return to action. That said, there is no way the Maple Leafs would be trading him right now.
With just two years left on Auston Matthews contact, an aging John Tavares and a senior citizen defensive group, the time is now for Toronto to offer up some of the future to secure a better chance at a Stanley Cup this season.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.