What Do the Maple Leafs Need to Address at the Draft?

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft is a very significant event for a number of teams. The Toronto Maple Leafs have a huge stake in the event, as they are a rebuilding franchise on the upswing that needs another infusion of young talent. That will come in the form of drafted players the organization thinks can help the team compete in the coming years.

Mark Hunter, the Maple Leafs director of player personnel, said the team needed more skilled prospects to work around, and with that in mind he ran the teams draft. The Maple Leafs and Hunter did an excellent job. They were able to snag Mitch Marner, the incredibly talented forward, with the fourth overall selection.

What followed was drafting with an emphasis on skill, and saw the Leafs select Jeremy Bracco, Andrew Neilsen and Dmytro Timashov, among others. All players listed have high offensive instincts and make the Leafs pool of prospects that much better.

The upcoming draft is arguably even more important. The Maple Leafs still have some major additions to make, and with two first round picks plus the 31st overall, they have many options of what they could do.

First Overall

This should be a done deal for the Maple Leafs. They have been searching for their big, number one centre since Mats Sundin left the team almost a decade ago. Players like that don’t grow on trees, and if the opportunity to draft one comes along, you have to jump on it.

Auston Matthews is the perfect candidate. He’s a skilled pivot who plays well on both sides of the puck. He spent his draft year playing in Switzerland against men, a move no one had seen done before. He excelled in Europe and also left lasting impressions at both the World Juniors and the World Championships, were he represented the United States on both occasions.

He’s the logical choice for the Maple Leafs at first overall, and should instantly help to speed up the rebuild of the team.

Late First Round Pick

With the Pittsburgh Penguins moving on to play for the Stanley Cup, the Maple Leafs second first rounder will either be the 29th or 30th pick depending on how it plays out. With the Blue and White already taking Matthews first, I’d like them to address the need for a defenseman with this selection.

Chances are that Charlie McAvoy, Logan Stanley and Mikhail Sergachev will all be off the table at this point. A prospect the Buds should be looking at is Cam Dineen, the smart defenseman who played this past year with the North Bay Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League.

The NHL has changed. It used to be ruled by hitting and physical force. Those ways are still prevalent but the new breeds of players are smart, fast and skilled. Dineen fits that mold perfectly, especially on the intelligence front. He’s been known to make the smart pass and has a knack of getting his shots through traffic.

He’s exactly the type of player someone like Mark Hunter would look for. High hockey IQ, excellent skating and the ability to effectively play in all three zones on the ice. There is always the question of size, but Dineen will grow and fill out as he ages. That’s something you can work on. You can teach a player how to gain weight properly. It’s much harder to teach the mental side of the game. Dineen finished the season with 13 goals and 59 points in 68 games. He also contributed eight helpers in 11 playoff games.

Round Two Pick

The draft order is set and the Maple Leafs will be picking 31st overall to kick off the second round. This is very fortunate and many see this pick as another first rounder. To this point the Buds have taken Matthews, a talented forward, and Dineen, a smart and capable defenseman.

At this pick they have some options. The Maple Leafs need a goaltending prospect in the system. Antonie Bibeau and Garret Saprks are the two highest rated among their prospects, and both are with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

If the Leafs look at a goaltender, they have some excellent choices. Carter Hart, the netminder for the Everett Silvertips, is projected to be one of the first goalies off the board. Mock drafts have him anywhere from a late first round pick to the middle of the second round.

He’s a positionally sound goalie that displays excellent lateral movement and a never say die attitude. He’s fast and positionally sound and manages his crease exceptionally well. Another potential goalie prospect is Tyler Parsons, currently playing in the Memorial Cup with the London Knights.

Hunter has a Knights connection and hasn’t been shy about drafting them into the Leafs organization before. Many will be sceptical because he plays on a stacked Knights squad, but he’s a difference maker who will make the key saves when his team needs it the most.

It will be a very telling draft for the Maple Leafs. They team is committed to getting better and with the current management team and coaching staff all on the same page, it looks like success isn’t that far off.