2016 NHL Entry Draft— Who Will The Maple Leafs Target

March 1st, 2016 No Comments

The Leafs need to upgrade down the middle and between the pipes.

The Leafs need to upgrade down the middle and between the pipes.

With the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline come and gone, most NHL fans are setting their sights on the playoff races. For the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the only certainty about the 2016 NHL Playoffs is that Toronto won’t be participating in them! But I digress…

When the 2015-16 NHL Season began, fans of the Blue and White knew full well that this season was all about accumulating draft choices, reducing contracts and creating cap space for upcoming free agents this summer and beyond.

In hindsight, it appears as if Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello accomplished his mission.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Maple Leafs will enter the summer with a projected cap hit of $54,183,334. Given the Projected Salary cap for the 2016-17 season is set at $71,400,000, that will leave the Leafs with approximately $17,200,000 worth of cap space with which to fill their roster.

Of course, those numbers represent what the Maple Leafs will have to spend without the benefit of Lamoriello A) working some more trade magic or B) creatively burying some of their more dreadful contract/s (cough, cough… Joffrey Lupul).

While the Free Agent Frenzy is always an exciting time for NHL fans, with the Maple Leafs clearly in tank mode this season, it will be difficult for Lamoriello to convince top-end free agents to join the Maple Leafs this summer. Difficult, but not impossible, which gives many fans hope that Lamoriello can pull another rabbit out of a hat by landing a franchise player via free agency say, like, Steven Stamkos?

While adding the likes of Stamkos to the mix is all but a dream, it is clear that the Maple Leafs will be in the market for some key free agents in the not so distant future.

In the meantime, Lamoriello and Co. have their hearts set on making a splash at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Toronto currently have 12* picks for the upcoming draft, and a total of 28 over the next three Drafts.

In 2016 the Maple Leafs managed to hold onto all of their own picks, rounds one through seven.

Beyond their own draft picks, should the Pittsburgh Penguins make the playoffs this season, the Maple Leafs would receive the Penguins first rounder (from the Phil Kessel trade). They also own the Washington Capitals second round draft choice (from the Daniel Winnik trade), the Colorado Avalanche’s fourth round draft choice (from the Shawn Matthias trade) and the St. Louis Blues’ sixth round draft choice (from the Olli Jokinen trade).

Of course, The Leafs may also decide to surrender a third-round pick to either the Detroit Red Wings (compensation for signing head coach Mike Babcock) or the New Jersey Devils (as compensation for signing general manager Lou Lamoriello). But with the 2016 NHL Entry Draft expected to be a stronger crop than the 2017 Draft, it would be prudent of the Maple Leafs to hold onto to those picks this summer, electing to send those compensatory picks to Detroit and New Jersey in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Given the teams struggles this season and current spot in the NHL Standings, it would appear as if the Maple leafs have a very good shot at landing a top three pick in this summers NHL Entry Draft.

Depending on whose list you consult, as it stands right now, the top three prospects appear to be Auston Matthews (C), Jesse Puljujarvi (RW) and Patrik Laine (LW). Matthew Tkachuk (LW) and Jacob Chychrun (D) round out the top five.

Should the Maple Leafs “earn” the top pick in the Draft, it is almost a certainty that they will draft Matthews— the consensus number one overall pick.

If the Maple Leafs fall down in the Draft order, they would be happy with either of Laine or Puljujarvi. Of course, there is a chance that the Maple Leafs could select Chychrun or Tkachuk (a London Knights forward), but the hope is they will land a top-three pick.

For arguments sake, we are going to buck the current trend of the Edmonton Oilers landing the first pick overall and predict that your beloved Maple Leafs will, indeed, land the number one pick.

This would mean that the Maple Leafs would draft Matthews, finally landing a franchise centre— something they have not employed since Mats Sundin patrolled the middle of the ice at Maple Leaf Gardens/the ACC.

For their second pick of the draft, we will make the assumption that the Penguins make the playoffs, thus giving the Leafs a second first round draft choice.

With Matthews drafted, the Maple Leafs would set their sights on drafting a player ranked around 20th in the draft (based on where Pittsburgh should finish the season).

Current draft rankings list players such as Max Jones (LW), Riley Tufte (LW), Kiefer Bellows (C), Logan Brown (C), Sam Steel (C) and Brett Howden (C) in/around the 20th slot.

With the Maple Leafs already landing their franchise centre in Matthews, look for the Maple Leafs to further solidify their crop on the wing, taking London Knights (OHL) forward Max Jones.

Listed at 6’2” and 189 pounds, Jones is a gritty player who plays hard, likes to play in the paint and is known to have a high compete level. He would be a tremendous compliment to any of Toronto’s future top two lines. And, of course, the fact Toronto Maple Leafs head scout Mark Hunter knows this kid so well given his time and experience with the London Knights is impossible to ignore!

Which brings us to the second round. Toronto will have two picks, which, by our estimations, will play out as the 1st pick in the second round (31st overall) and the
60th overall pick (via Washington).

At 31st overall, there are several players that might catch Hunter’s eye.

Known as more of a stay-at-home defenseman, 6’7”, 220 pound Logan Stanley of the Windsor Spitfires has been working on his offensive numbers (5 goals, 11 assists, plus+12 rating) which has some scouts slotting him in as a late first round draft pick.

Should Stanley fall past the 30th slot, look for the Maple Leafs to give Stanley a solid look, shoring up their already impressive stable of young defensive prospects.

Stanley, would be a great addition to already strong group of defensive prospects which includes Morgan Rielly (NHL), Jake Gardiner (NHL), Connor Carrick (NHL/AHL), Stuart Percy (AHL), Rinat Valiev (CHL), Travis Dermott (CHL), Jesper Lindgren (Europe), Frank Corrado (NHL), Viktor Loov (AHL), Scott Harrington (AHL/NHL) and Eric Knodel (AHL). That said, maybe their second round pick would be best used addressing another position?

Some drafts show Brett Howden (LW) and Sam Steel (C) falling beyond the 30th pick. Let’s face it, every year, there are examples of players falling in the draft, if either of these players escapes the first round, they would be worth considering, especially Steel who, while lacking in size in the minds of some, was listed as a top ten pick in many mock drafts before the 2015-16 season began.

Otherwise, look for the Maple Leafs to chose from a list of players that could include, Stanley (D), Libor Hajek (D), Sean Day (D), Dillon Dube (C) or Riley Tufte (RW).

With Matthews drafted, the Maple Leafs would employ Nazem Kadri (NHL), Tyler Bozak (NHL), William Nylander (AHL) and Fredrick Gauthier (AHL) and Matthews (potenailly at the Draft) at centre. While the futures of Kadri and Bozak are clearly up in the air, a trio of Matthews, Nylander (who can also play the wing) and Gauthier is an impressive list of prospects.

The Maple Leafs currently employ two very talented young goaltenders— Garett Sparks and Antoine Bibeau. While Sparks played in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last night, both players are expected to get a look down the stretch.

Both netminders have put up excellent numbers in the AHL this season with the Toronto Marlies. While it will be nice for both netminders to assume the number one/two role with the big club, it says here the Maple Leafs should continue to stock the cupboards with goaltending prospects.

Which brings us to our final option— netminder, Carter Hart.

As good as Sparks and Bibeau have looked, neither one of those prospects came to the Maple Leafs organization with the hype that Hart would arrive in Toronto with.

At just 17-years of age, Hart just might be the best goaltending prospect in junior hockey.
Hart currently suits up for the Everett Silvertips where, in 58 games played, he has registered a record of 34-20-3 to go along with a tidy 2.12 goals against average and an excellent 0.919 save percentage.

At 6’0” tall and 165 pounds, Hart has a lot of filling out to do before he will be an NHL goaltender. But, outside of size, he has all the tools to be a number one goalie at the NHL level, including a calm demeanor, quick glove hand and excellent agility.

Hart played for Team Canada at last summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament where he posted a 1.50 GAA. Given his success, there is a good chance he could be selected as Canada’s next World Junior Championship goalie.

That kind of pedigree can go a long way and, in a city like Toronto where pressure mounts quickly, a goalies mental stability is extremely important. It’s not often you get the chance to draft a number one goalie, Hart might just be that guy.

With the 60th pick overall, look for the Maple Leafs to draft some size. While Toronto’s prospect roster is full of speed and skill, they could benefit from size throughout the lineup, so a late round second round pick is a good place to look for it.

At 6’5”, 167 pounds, Defenseman, James Greenway would be a great option. 6’3”, 209 pound forward, Evan Fitzpatrick— 6’3”, 176 pound defenseman, Jakob Cederholm— 6’7”, 224 pound forward, Stephan Falkowsky— or maybe the likes of 6’6”, 235 pound defenseman, Keaton Middleton (no relation to Rick Middleton)???

While we would love to speculate on the rest of the Maple Leafs’ picks, it is very tough to speculate past the first two rounds.

What we can say is that Toronto needs to upgrade in all positions, so there really is no telling which players they are targeting. The biggest need is down the middle and between the pipes. That is why we would put a premium on landing Matthews or one of Bellows, Brown or Steel in the early rounds in hopes of bolstering the centre position, while looking to upgrade in net with the addition of Hart.

One thing is for sure, Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello is not afraid to pull the trigger on a deal, so don’t be shocked if the Maple Leafs move one or more of their picks in an effort to move up in the draft in order to land a player they feel they must have.

The 2016 NHL Entry Draft will be an exciting time for Maple Leafs coaches, management, scouts, general manager and, of course, the fans.

Your beloved Maple Leafs finally bit the bullet and bottomed out/tanked…time will tell if all of their “efforts” will pay off.

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