Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Undersized Draft Picks, Malgin & Ristolainen

The 2020 Draft Lottery happens tonight. And, given the COVID-19 “new rules,” will it make sense? That is, will the teams who need the best players get them? We’ll soon see.

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In this post, I will review some of the Toronto Maple Leafs news and rumors. Although I usually only report on the NHL Entry Draft after the fact, I have been intrigued by the Maple Leafs change in philosophy both in the draft and in the kinds of players general manager Kyle Dubas chooses.

As a result, I want to look at some of the undersized players that might be available to the team during round two of this draft. At the same time, I want to introduce a rumor that the team is looking for a trade for a Sabres’ defenseman.

Item One: Two Undersized Draft Options for the Maple Leafs

As part of my research for writing these posts, I regularly read the work of other Maple Leafs commentators. Earlier today, The Leafs Nation reviewed a number of draft choices that might be around when the Maple Leafs come to pick. Here, I’m interested only in those who – by most hockey standards – are considered undersized and who might be available to the team in round two.

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As Maple Leafs fans know, the team doesn’t have a first or third-round pick this year. The Carolina Hurricanes owns Toronto’s first-round pick in the Patrick Marleau trade last summer and the Colorado Avalanche owns their third-round pick as part of the Tyson Barrie trade.

Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau Andreas Johnsson
Former Toronto Maple Leafs Patrick Marleau celebrates with Andreas Johnsson (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

However, Dubas has six choices in the final two rounds and is likely to take some flyers on character players. In total, if he’s done his homework and gets lucky – and the first of those two is a certainty – the team has 10 draft picks in 2020, which is tied for the fourth-most in the NHL.

Choice One: Emil Andrae (Defenseman, Sweden)

If Emil Andrae is available when the Maple Leafs can choose, he might become a Dubas choice. He’s an 18-year-old Swedish defenseman who played for both the SHL and top Swedish junior league. Andrae is considered one of the top-10 defensemen in this draft and perhaps even top-five. He’s 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, which is small for a defenseman.

That said, he scored almost a point per game from the blue line in the SuperElit in 2019-20 and led the league’s defensemen with 38 points in 40 games. Although his size raises question marks for some teams, that isn’t the case for the Maple Leafs. He’s strong and has solid defensive instincts.

As The Leafs Nation post noted, the left-handed defenseman:

“Eats forecheckers for breakfast, mixing in head fakes and dekes that leave oncoming attackers in the dust. Andrae’s mobility and deceptiveness make him a big-time controlled zone exit threat.”

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In short, Andrae is a “very smart,” small, and skilled defenseman with top-four potential. He’s perfect for the Maple Leafs philosophy. Plus, Dubas has a thing for young Swedish defensemen.

Choice Two: Ryan Francis (Center & Right Wing, Canada)

Not long ago 18-year-old Ryan Francis wasn’t projected high as a 2020 draft choice. However, his status has been climbing, and he had a breakout season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2019-20. Although some “blame” that on the strength of his linemates, he’s reputed to be a strong two-way player. In my mind, a great two-way player has committed to a work ethic and that’s what draws me to him.

At the same time, again there are questions about his size, which, of course, leads me to the Maple Leafs. He might be a long shot to make the NHL, but it likely won’t be for lack of hard work. And, he’s almost the same size as Nick Robertson at 5-foot-9 and 168 pounds.

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In The Leafs Nation post, the reviewer likens his game to Robertson’s and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev and agrees with me that he fits the organization’s drafting philosophy. The review also notes that he’s smart and effective at both ends of the ice. He obviously has offensive skills; and, as noted in the review, “his flaws are ones that the Leafs have shown a willingness to work with in the past.”

Should he remain on the board when the Maple Leafs have a choice, he might be a good second-round pick.

Item Two: What Will the Maple Leafs Do with Denis Malgin?

One player who’s flown under the radar is 24-year-old Denis Malgin. In mid-February, Dubas sent Mason Marchment to the Florida Panthers for Malgin, but he only played sporadically when he got to the team. He, too, is an undersized player from Switzerland who was drafted by the Florida Panthers in round four of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. His claim to Maple Leafs’ fame is that, during the 2015-16 season, he played with Auston Matthews on the ZSC Lions.

Denis Malgin Florida Panthers
Denis Malgin, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

For about two seasons, he moved up and down between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds. Although he has 192 NHL games under his jersey, he’s never played more than 51 games during a season. When he moved to the Maple Leafs, head coach Sheldon Keefe played him all over the lineup – sometimes in a top-six role and sometimes on the fourth line.

All that given, because he’s had little ice time for the Maple Leafs, it’s tough to get a read on his game. However, Dubas must have liked something or he wouldn’t have traded Marchment for him.

He simply might be part of the big picture for the team. Given the COVID-19 situation, although Malgin is a restricted free agent after the season, I can’t see him attracting attention anywhere because of the projected flat salary cap (or lower). He’s likely to sign again for about the $750,000 he’s signed for this season.

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However, the Maple Leafs do have Adam Brooks to deal with. I’m unsure how Dubas and Keefe see Brooks filling in. I’m guessing the organization sees him as being ready for a full-time role on the Maple Leafs. That leaves Malgin’s future on the team uncertain. Still, I’d be surprised if the Maple Leafs didn’t re-sign him – especially if the price is right, and I’m guessing it will be.

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Yesterday, there was a rumor the Maple Leafs were considering trading forwards Andreas Johnson and Alex Kerfoot for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. Even if that’s true, we won’t know the outcome of that trade until after the playoffs. Still, word is that the two teams are talking.

Buffalo Sabres Rasmus Ristolainen
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

On paper, it makes sense – and it would especially make sense if the Sabres ate some of Ristolainen’s salary, just like the Avalanche did with Tyson Barrie’s.

We’ll see soon enough, but I’m hoping not too soon because that would likely mean the Maple Leafs have been eliminated from the 2019-20 playoffs; and, frankly, I can wait.