After the Toronto Maple Leafs’ season ended everyone’s focus turned to the 2016 NHL draft. Initially it was about the NHL draft lottery and what chance the Leafs had of getting the first overall pick. Once the Leafs won the lottery the focus turned to Auston Matthews, the consensus top pick in the 2016 NHL draft, and what effect he would have on the Leafs next season. But what seems to be almost forgotten about is the Leafs other first round pick, which the Leafs have because of the Phil Kessel trade and the Pittsburgh Penguins making the playoffs. Since Pittsburgh is now in the Eastern Conference Finals, it means that the Leafs will draft somewhere in the range of 27th-30th depending on how much further they go in the playoffs.
So the Toronto Maple Leafs will draft Matthews with their first overall pick, but who will they draft with Pittsburgh’s pick? Now since the pick will be in the range of 27th-30th it means that players that are consistently projected to be drafted in the top 20 would be picked before the 27th spot. So there are three draft rankings that I’ve used to get a sense of where players are projected to be picked: ISS Hockey, TSN’s Craig Button, and The Leafs Nation. The Leafs Nation’s draft ranking is interesting because it basically averages out multiple draft rankings to get a general consensus. So which player will the Toronto Maple Leafs draft?
If They Drop Lower In The Draft…
Draft rankings are never perfect. Every year players are drafted earlier than they are projected to be and other players surprisingly fall lower in the draft. So there’s chance a player that’s ranked at 20th ends up being drafted at 30th. Based on that, here are a few players that the Toronto Maple Leafs should draft if they somehow manage to drop into the range of 27th-30th.
Alex Debrincat RW (26th-ISS, N/A-Button, 22nd-TLN)
Alex Debrincat should really be projected higher in the draft after finishing his second season in the OHL with another 100 point year. But only being 5’7 seems to have made scouts cautious about projecting him higher. The questions for the Leafs are do they need another small winger? And can Debrincat continue to succeed when not playing with players like Connor McDavid or Dylan Strome? A skilled player, but could be a potentially risky pick for the Leafs.
Brett Howden C (20th-ISS, 21st-Button, 31st-TLN)
Brett Howden may not stick out as a player that the Leafs should draft if he falls to the bottom of the first round. But as a center with both skill and size he would be an asset to any NHL team. At 6’3 and 190 lbs Howden would give the Leafs some extra size at center. The only issue is the Leafs are expected to draft Matthews, so it would be redundant to draft another center in the first round when the Leafs already have a lot of centers in the organization. If he drops into the 27th-30th range the Leafs should draft him and worry about having too many centers later.
Charles McAvoy D (23rd-ISS, 14th-Button, 20th-TLN)
Charles McAvoy may be the best choice for the Leafs if he drops in the draft. He is a right-handed defenseman, which is something the Leafs desperately need considering most of their defensemen are left-handed. McAvoy finished the season with 25 points in 37 games while playing for Boston University. If the Leafs want to use Pittsburgh’s pick to address a specific need then McAvoy should be their choice.
In The 27th-30th Range
Will Bitten C/RW (N/A-ISS, 28th-Button, 27th-TLN)
Will Bitten could be a great pick for the Leafs considering he managed to finish the season with 65 points in 67 games while playing for the Flint Firebirds. Bitten led the team in scoring and was playing at almost a point per game pace, which is amazing when the drama surrounding Flint’s owner was also going on this season.
Samuel Girard D (N/A-ISS, N/A-Button, 28th TLN)
It’s really surprising that Samuel Girard isn’t projected in the top 30 in more draft rankings. He led the QMJHL in scoring for defensemen with 74 points in 67 games, but his lower projections may be a result of only being 5’9. Regardless of his size, Girard is one of the more skilled defensemen in the draft and the Leafs would be foolish to pass on drafting him just because of his size.
Vitalii Abramov RW (N/A-ISS, N/A-Button, 25th-TLN)
Vitalii Abramov is another player that’s surprisingly absent from most top 30 draft rankings. Abramov finished the season with 93 points in 63 games and was fifth in scoring in the QMJHL. This was his first year playing in North America, so it’s surprising to see how quickly he adapted to the North American style of hockey and became one of the best players in the QMJHL. He is another small winger at 5’9, but he is too good for the Leafs pass over if he is still available.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will have many options when it comes to using Pittsburgh’s draft pick. Do they draft a player to address a specific need the Leafs have? Or do they just draft the best available player? The one benefit they have with the pick being in the 27th-30th range is that their second round pick is 31st overall. This means that the Leafs could end up drafting two of the players on this list if one of them drops to the second round. Although the Leafs may want to use their second round pick to get a goalie early in the draft. It will be exciting to see what the Leafs do at the 2016 NHL draft and who will potentially become future Leafs.
So who do you think the Leafs will draft with Pittsburgh’s first round pick?
Toronto Maple Leafs contributor for The Hockey Writers.
I’ve been a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs since I was a kid and have always had an interest in writing. At The Hockey Writers, I get to enjoy both of my passions as well as writing about small convoluted details in player contracts and stats.