Maple Leafs’ Draft Day Approach

The NHL draft is an extremely busy time of year for scouts and general managers. Every team is developing its own strategy and list of players who they could select and have as part of the organization’s future.

Since the Toronto Maple Leafs’ rebuild began, we’ve seen a change in philosophy by drafting high-end speed and skill. Those players are slightly more difficult to come by in the later portions of the draft where the team now finds itself selecting. But who’s to say they can’t find another gem in the second round where they pick 53rd overall. Here a few things to keep in mind for what the Maple Leafs could do at the draft.

Accumulating Picks

It’s no secret that general manager Kyle Dubas has been a wizard at wheeling and dealing draft picks to try and move up and down at the draft to get the player he wants. With a number of players on his roster rumoured to be on the way out, it’s possible he could acquire another pick in the draft, be it late first or early second- round pick.

“The interesting part will be to see if Kyle Dubas sees a player dropping in the Draft that his staff loves. Will he trade up to get him?” as to told to me by North American Central Scouting Chief Scout Mark Seidel on May 29t. “Kyle is a big believer in accumulating as many picks as he can to give himself the most opportunities to hit on picks but this year may be different because it is a very good draft and I think he will be open to moving up if the right opportunity presents itself.”

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Rasmus Sandin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

While he wasn’t general manager in 2015, you can be sure that Dubas played a part in trading the 24th overall pick (used to draft Travis Konecny) to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 29th and 61st picks. The 29th pick was then swapped for the 34th, previously owned by the Maples Leafs, to select Travis Dermott. The second- round pick (61st overall) that Toronto received was used to select Jeremy Bracco. In 2018, Dubas traded the 25th pick down to 28th to select Rasmus Sandin. All three are looking really good in terms of making an impact.

One’s Loss is Another’s Gain

In 2017, Timothy Liljegren was expected to be a top two pick in the draft behind Nolan Patrick. However, after missing most of the season due to mononucleosis, he really couldn’t find his stride and his draft stock fell. This was an opportunity for the Maple Leafs to get what other teams passed on. After two seasons in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies, Liljegren is proving everyone wrong and had a strong rookie season capped off by winning the Calder Cup.

Marlies defenseman Timothy Liljegren
HERSHEY, PA – MARCH 15: Toronto Marlies defenseman Timothy Liljegren (7) skates to the puck during the Toronto Marlies vs. the Hershey Bears AHL hockey game March 15, 2019 at the Giant Center in Hershey, PA. (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Even though it’s not in the first round, the Leafs could gain what other teams miss by looking at players who fall in the draft. They may see the potential that other teams do not. Their loss could be the Maple Leafs’ gain as it has worked in the past.

“I fully expect the Leafs to get a player much higher than 53rd on their list,” Seidel says. “Traditionally, there will be some surprising picks late in the first that will cause good players to drop into the second and that is where the Leafs may strike.”

Going Off the Board?

Teams tend to have the philosophy of drafting the best available player. If for some reason, the Maple Leafs don’t have any in mind at 53, they could go off the board and select someone else. This could be said for their picks in later rounds.

Seidel believes that this could happen with the Leafs. One name to keep an eye on would be Kirill Slepets from Yarsolavl in the KHL. An overage player, Slepets was a major standout for Russia at the World Juniors in Vancouver and Victoria this year. He tallied five goals and seven points to help Russia win bronze. His speed and skill definitely fit the description for the Leafs.

Switzerland goalie Luca Hollenstein Russia's Kirill Slepets
Switzerland goalie Luca Hollenstein stops Russia’s Kirill Slepets (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

A few names that Seidel likes that might be of interest to many teams in the later rounds are Mississauga Steelheads centre Keean Washkurak, defenseman Jackson LaCombe from Shattuck-St. Mary’s and Kingston Frontenacs defenseman William Constantinou. If we’re looking to categorize all three; the safe bet is Washkaruk, the high-octane offense is from LaCombe and the work in progress is Constantinou with his defensive effort.

There’s no doubt that Dubas is going to have his hands full at the draft. Multiple options and scenarios can play out for him. The Maple Leafs will be looking to build up the prospect pool with speed and skill adding to their already talented crop. It’s tough to say if they should draft a forward, a defenseman or go with best available. The latter would probably be the best option, but I would think that Dubas would use whatever is at his disposal to try and move up and gain an early second-round pick. Or to make things better, a first-round pick.