Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke has come under a ton of scrutiny over the last couple of years due to the Kessel Trade. But now his ability to acquire two first round picks in this draft have been unfortunately overlooked. The question now remains, what should he do with the first round picks?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are a team lacking a lot of top line offensive talent, so Burke could potentially go for two boom or bust prospects in the latter half of the first round. Another route to go may be potentially packaging the two picks for a higher pick in the first round. Does Burke call on Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli again in an attempt to move into the top 10?
Defense should not be an area of need for Toronto, with the re-emergence of Dion Phaneuf’s offensive prowess, and the further maturation of shut-down defenseman Luke Schenn, they are set on the blue-line. Toronto also acquired one of the ducks top prospects last season in Jake Gardiner and immediately signed him to an entry-level contract.
Matthew Puempel is one of the most dynamic scoring wingers in the draft, but his season was derailed early by injury. Puempel has the ability to light the lamp and will most likely be available with the Leafs first pick in the draft. In 55 games this year, Puempel scored 34 goals and registered 69 points, a slight increase from last year. One thing that needs to be considered is Puempel’s minus 33 rating last season. One has to hope that it’s a product of the team he plays for, and won’t translate to him being a defensive liability in the NHL.
Perhaps the most skilled, and intriguing prospect in the draft is 5’6” forward Rocco Grimaldi. Grimaldi enjoyed a ton of success playing for the US National Development team last year, and has committed to the University of North Dakota. He would immediately become the most skilled prospect the Leafs have, but there is the issue of his size. Can Grimaldi use that size to become the next Martin St Louis, or will become another player that couldn’t make it because of his size?
In an interview with USA Hockey Magazine’s Caryn Switaj, Grimaldi emphasized his leadership qualities being what he is most proud of, “For me, I like to be a leader. I can trust myself making right decisions and hopefully people will follow after that.”
If Brian Burke wants to go for a safer pick, he would need to hope a player like Boone Jenner is available late in the first round. He does everything well; he skates hard, kills penalties, and has good enough offensive upside at this point in his juniors career.
Jenner enjoyed success playing for the Oshawa Generals this year, and has polished himself into a great all around player. Boone Jenner is the type of player you win championships, and teams are lucky if they find a guy like that in the later rounds.
Brandon Saad has fallen considerably in the year leading up to his eligibility, so he may be available when it’s time for the Leafs to make their selection. Saad has great size, but will definitely be a project player and is a few years away from cracking an NHL line-up. If he falls on draft day, Leafs fans should be very happy with the pick.
Saad was very impressive two years ago while playing for the US National Development team, but failed to really impress scouts this year while playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL. Despite this, he managed to finish out the season at a point per game pace in the playoffs.
In an interview with Yahoo! Sports’ Naete Sager, Saad was asked what the biggest asset he would bring to a team would be, “Probably hard work and character. Without hard work, that playmaking ability is never going to exist.”
An American player that emphasizes hard work and character as his biggest asset…sounds exactly like a Brian Burke
pick to me.
The final direction Burke can go with his picks, is the route of trading up. If a team like Boston is looking to trade down to acquire more picks and prospects for depth, Burke could put together a package to re-acquire the pick lost in the Tomas Kaberle deal. This of course would be under the condition that a player they were really high on would fall to them with the ninth overall pick. In a year were the draft is considered “weak” by many scouts, the price will not be as high to trade up, especially considering the depth in the latter half of the first round.
Brian Burke has kept quiet thus far on what he plans to do, and don’t expect him to be talking anytime soon. Burke has always played his cards close to his chest, and his tight-lips should come as no surprise to anyone that has followed this team.
Follow Patrick Kearns on Twitter @THWpkearns for prospects info and updates