As you probably already know or I doubt you’d be taking the time to read this story, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL’s Draft Lottery, giving them the number one overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. It’s about 98% certain that they’ll use that pick to select Center Auston Matthews from the ZSC Lions of the Swiss NLA league. Matthews starred as an 18 year old playing against grown men this season, scoring 24 goals and adding 22 assists for 46 points in 36 games. Matthews also had 7 goals and 4 assists in 7 games as one of the leaders of team USA’s bronze medal effort at the World Junior Championships in Finland over the Christmas holidays. He’s also chipped in 3 goals and 3 assists playing against grown men, including many NHLers at the Men’s World Hockey Championships in Russia. Simply put, Auston Matthews is the prototypical #1 center Leaf fans have coveted since Mats Sundin left town.
What I’m sure you also know is that the Leafs also hold Pittsburgh’s first round pick, obtained along with Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrington, and Nick Spaling in the Phil Kessel trade last summer. That pick is 30th after the Pens run to Stanley. What will they do with that pick? That question is a little more complicated to answer, but lets try a few scenarios on for size.
Trading back: Now this scenario i was a fan of this strategy last year. The Leafs prospect cupboard heading into last June’s draft was pretty bare. They added a key piece at 4th overall in Mitch Marner, who looks to be an up and coming star, and also held Nashville’s pick at 24th overall after a trade the previous February. The Leafs played that strategy to a tee, trading with Philadelphia to get picks 29 and 61, then trading pick 29 to Columbus for picks 34 and 68, so in reality they turned the 24th overall pick, into the 34th pick, 61st pick, and 68th pick. With these picks they were able to add 3 prospects that have impressed this season in junior in Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzerkials. They also managed to steal a couple of really good prospects who fell in the draft for various reasons in Dmytro Timashov and Nikita Korostolev. Additionally, the Leafs were able to use a 4th round pick they had gotten from Pittsburgh in another trade to acquire Martin Marincin from Edmonton. Marincin has developed into a regular defenseman for the Leafs, even playing alongside Morgan Rielly on the top defensive pairing this season after the trade deadline. The trade down strategy was exactly what the Leafs needed last year to replenish a prospect pool that had been ravaged by mistakes of previous regimes. But that was last year. This year the Leafs hold 2 1st round picks, 2 2nds, 2 3rds, 2 4ths, 1 5th, 2 6ths, and a 7th, for 12 total picks, as well as 3 2nd round picks in 2017. They certainly don’t need to acquire more picks, unless they can do see by moving back a spot or two and still getting the player they covet.
Picking where they land: This strategy has some merit, as it could land talented players like Pascal LaBerge or Alex DeBrincat. They could certainly not be faulted for this, although it’s probably the least intriguing of the options.
Trading up: They’ve stockpiled picks for two years, stocked up prospects, done everything right, but at this point, with the prospect pool they’ve managed to accumulate, it’s about quality of draft picks, not necessarily quantity. Combine this with the fact that several of players that may or may not make the Leafs this season require waivers to be sent to the AHL and could be lost for nothing, the time is right to strike. I personally think trading up in the best strategy for the Leafs this year, I even have a target in mind. The Colorado Avalanche currently hold the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft. I’d offer them a package of Pittsburgh’s 1st round pick, one of the 3 second round picks that the Leafs hold in 2017, and one or possibly two of Matt Hunwick, Scott Harrington, or Josh Leivo in order to move up to 10th overall to select Clayton Keller, possibly the 4th most talented player in the draft but likely to fall to the 10-12 range due to the fact that he’s smaller than some other prospects. If Keller were to be drafted before then, it likely means that one of Alex Nylander, Olli Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun, or Mikael Sergachyov are there for them and that would be well worth the price they paid.
What do you LeafsHubbers think? Up or Down?