Brendan Shanahan recently stated that the Toronto Maple Leafs will be going into a “scorched-earth” rebuild, meaning that the Toronto faithful could have a tough few years ahead. However, this also means that the Leafs will be stocking up on young talent, and the rebuild should be getting a great head start with two first round picks in the upcoming draft.
While Toronto’s first pick will end up being a selection of the very high-quality prospects available for the draft, there is quite a bit more debate as to the players available around Toronto’s second first round pick (currently 24th overall). Although there is generally less risk involved with selecting a player in the top five of a draft, it’s also important for Toronto to select a quality prospect late in the first round.
It is difficult to predict what the teams ahead of Toronto will do with their picks, but here are five players that could possibly be available at 24th and would also be a great fit for the Maple Leafs.
Joel Eriksson Ek, C, 6’2″, 185 lbs
One of the biggest risers from this draft, Eriksson Ek’s meteoric rise is due to his quality performances in the World Under-18 Championships and against grown men in the SHL. Eriksson Ek combines a sizeable frame with a tantalizing combination of skill and work ethic. While he won’t be the fastest skater on the ice, Eriksson Ek has the size and skill to play a power forward style and create scoring chances through physicality. In addition, he has been lauded for his compete level and responsibility in his own end. Recently, he has been pegged as a late first round pick due to his high long-term potential. Here is what Bill Placzek of Draftsite.com had to say about Eriksson Ek:
“Strong competing centre who plays solid in all zones. A player who at an earlier juncture projected as a low-end roster player who is strong in the dot and very responsible defensively. He is smart and comes to win every night. It isn’t like he is a deft speedster;but he most certainly continues to improve his feet and continue on the uptick as a smart strong-on-the-puck player who reads the situations and knows when to continue carrying and when to find the teammate with a pass. He needs more strength but is strong in traffic and creates space on the attack. He supports well defensively and always instinctively position himself well. He will continue to fill his gangly body out and get even stronger than he already is. There are glimpses of strong offensive instincts that may flourish as he fills out physically. Already creates space and excels in the dot.A long term player who some team will take a chance on.“
Anthony Beauvillier, C/LW, 5’10”, 181 lbs
Another player who upped his draft stock with a great performance at the Under-18s, Beauvillier is a promising young forward who has the skill to be a high first round pick, if not for his small frame. Many scouts have been impressed this season with his hockey sense, speed, and playmaking ability. While detractors point to his lack of strength as a potential area of concern, there is no debating his elite talent when it comes to offensive ability. What furthers his intrigue as a top prospect is his noted leadership ability, which was demonstrated when he was named a captain at this season’s Top Prospects Game in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Check out some of Beauvillier’s highlights below:
Oliver Kylington, D, 6’0″, 181 lbs
While the two prospects mentioned above have seen their stock rise dramatically throughout the season, Kylington is a player who was being mentioned as a possible top five pick before the season began and now sits as a late first rounder. Due to underwhelming performances in both the World Junior Championship and in the SHL against grown men, Kylington’s stock has fallen quite a bit since last October’s high rankings. However, he still possesses the elite skating ability and vision that made scouts salivate over him during his successful 2013-2014 SHL season. Kylington is viewed as one of the highest potential boom or bust prospects available for the draft, as he has the talent to develop into a potential top-pairing defender despite the inherent risk in drafting him following such an up-and-down season. However, the Maple Leafs are starved for top-end talent in their prospect pool, and with two first round draft choices, can afford to take a risk on a player with as high a ceiling as Kylington.
Jakub Zboril, D, 6’2″, 185 lbs
The 5th overall selection in last season’s CHL Import Draft, Jakub Zboril had quite a successful first season in North America. Playing on the Saint John Sea Dogs’ top pairing with fellow 2015 draft eligible Thomas Chabot, they combined to form one of the QMJHL’s top defense pairings. Blessed with good size and a knack for making smart decisions on the ice, Zboril appears to be the definition of a low-risk, high-reward prospect. His strong defensive play and offensive upside have caused comparisons to current Vancouver Canuck and Olympic gold medalist Dan Hamhuis. This scouting report by Future Considerations details Zboril’s strong two-way game:
“A good two-way blue liner…plays a complete game and relies on his impressive footwork to maintain defensive coverage as well as put himself into the offensive play…has a good top speed and all-round mobility…has a dangerous point shot that is both accurate and hard…has a physical element to his game and will step up to make a hit…clears the crease and separates opponents from the puck with his body in the defensive zone…has an active stick…good upside as an all-round NHL defender. (December 2014)”
Taking an industrious and smooth skating defenseman like Zboril would go a long way in helping to solidify the Maple Leafs’ blueline for years to come.
Denis Guryanov, RW, 6’2″, 182 lbs
Guryanov may not be as notable a name as some of the high-profile prospects available for the draft this year, but make no mistake, he has elite offensive potential and could end up being a steal for the lucky team that takes a chance on him. He produced fantastic numbers this season in the MHL, Russia’s junior league, averaging over a point per game (25 points in 23 games played). Curtis Joe of Eliteprospects.com sums up his offensive talent in this scouting report:
Very strong on his skates and uses his size to protect the puck well. Drives the net hard and knows where he will shoot before he is even in a position to do so. Possesses a heavy and accurate release on his shot, which he likes to get off near the faceoff dots; if he can’t shoot from there, he will either dangle or bull his way through to the blue paint. While he is proactive and aware defensively, he still needs to work on consistency in his own end. All-in-all, a dynamic offensive threat that has room to grow defensively.
Guryanov’s relative obscurity and lack of experience against high-level competition could make this pick look like a bit of a reach to some, as he has only played 8 games in the KHL so far, tallying just 1 assist. However, Nikita Kucherov is currently starring in the NHL Playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he also only played in 8 games prior to being drafted by Tampa Bay in 2011. There is a bit of risk associated with taking Guryanov, especially in the first round, but he could end up paying huge dividends for the Maple Leafs if they decide to take a chance on him. Check out some highlights of Guryanov (#25 for Russia) at the recently completed World Under-18 Championships:
No matter tho they decide to select, you can bet there will be a solid crop of quality prospects for the Maple Leafs to choose from. Despite already possessing a nice stable of young players, Toronto will be looking to add more elite talent to the pipeline. Hitting a home run with their second first round pick would make for a great start to a potentially long and tough rebuild.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11