It’s not a first overall, or even a top five pick in this year’s draft, but the Maple Leafs look to be on the right path which will help them stay out of the bottom for quite a few years.
They weren’t in the draft lottery as they made a massive step forward making the playoffs and giving the Presidents’ Trophy winners a run for their money. However, the Leafs will look to draft another quality prospect and build the pool of young talent when the Entry Draft rolls around.
Since I started writing for Leafs Hub, I have been giving my opinion on the top three prospects that the Leafs should look at.
As the Leafs made the post-season for the first time since 2012/13, they appear to be in the middle of the first round.
As per league rules, teams that made playoffs but were eliminated in the first round select based on the number of points they had in the regular season without winning their division.
As it stands, the New York Islanders will be selecting 15th. With teams that made the playoffs, the Calgary Flames and Leafs had the least amount of points of teams that were eliminated in the first round. As of now, they would pick 16 and 17. The Nashville Predators were tied with the Flames, but they won their matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks. If they win their series against the St. Louis Blues, then that would give the Leafs the 17th overall pick. If they’re eliminated, the Preds would pick 16th as they had less regulation wins, Calgary at 17th and the Leafs, 18th. Still a great spot nonetheless.
Even though this draft is not as deep as the McDavid or Matthews Draft, the Leafs can still land a great prospect. Defensive depth was a major concern, but there are a couple of names that stand out that the Leafs can draft with their pick.
Here are the top three prospects that the Leafs should target based on their selection and major need.
Callan Foote, D, Kelowna (WHL):
With Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander already making their mark and an abundance of forward prospects in the minors, the Leafs should shift their focus to the blueline when making their selection. Even though they have Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen looking to push for a spot, it can never hurt to have more help at the defense position.
So look no further than the son of former NHL defenseman Adam Foote, Callan.
Cal already has the making of a solid top- four, two- way defenseman in the NHL. There’s also the possibility that he can develop into a top- two defenseman.
At six- foot- four, 210 pounds, Cal already has the size that would make him a pillar on the blueline. While he’s not known for a being a physical player, he isn’t afraid to show the physicality that his father demonstrated when he was playing in the NHL.
Foote has the ability to help create rushes and offensive chances with excellent passing and a powerful shot. He totaled 36 points in his rookie season with the Kelowna Rockets and surpassed his offensive output in his second season scoring six goals and adding 51 assists.
Foote finished 11th in scoring among Western Hockey League defenseman and helped the Kelowna Rockets reach the Western Conference Final of the WHL playoffs, losing to the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games. He tallied one goal and six assists in 14 games.
Foote has the vision to read and assess the play in all three zones without making a mistake or getting out of position. He has a long reach to break up plays and has the ability to shutdown and contain players in front of the net.
There have been scouts saying that he needs to work on his skating. However, he’s a pretty mobile skater for his size. He may need to work on his stride, but it isn’t as glaring of an issue as people are suggesting.
It goes without saying that the Leafs should draft the best player available when they’re ready to make their selection. Should he still be available when they select, the Leafs shouldn’t hesitate to select him.
In terms of comparison, his play really reminds me of Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets and he has been fantastic for them on the blueline.
Nicolas Hague, D, Mississauga (OHL):
Should Cal Foote be off the board when the Leafs select, Nic Hague of the Mississauga Steelheads is another terrific option to add to our defensive depth. I’ve seen quite a bit of Hague with the Steelheads and he is very impressive when you see him live. He has the capability to become a strong two-way threat in the NHL.
At six- foot- five, 216 pounds, Hague is built to anchor the blueline for any team. He’s a very smooth skater for his size and has great offensive instinct. He also has the ability to make a strong first pass to help create a play.
Hague scored 14 goals in his rookie season with the Steelheads. In his sophomore season, he gained more of an opportunity to develop and grow his game, all while tallying 18 goals and 28 assists. He is extremely smart with the puck and can quarterback a power- play effectively.
Like Foote, Hague is playing a key role for the Steelheads in the playoffs, scoring a goal and adding 10 assists as the Steelheads swept the Peterborough Petes in their series to win the Bobby Orr Trophy and advance to the Ontario Hockey League final.
Hague is a left- handed shot, but he likes to play on the right side. He really likes to be on his off- wing when teeing up a shot from the point. Here is a video of Hague primarily setting up on the right side and utilizing his powerful shot.
Hague also has a tendency to join in on the fore-check, but is hardly ever out of position. He has great vision to read the play and determine if it’s safe or not.
While his offensive game is strong, he is also capable in playing in any situation. Hague has the ability to successfully shut down the opponent. He isn’t afraid to get physical when battling opposing players in front of the net or to lay the body in the corner.
Like Foote, he has the ability to use his size to his advantage to break up plays and gets into great position when in the defensive zone. He rarely gets beat in front of the net and has no problem shutting down the opponent’s top lines.
If we’re looking for a style comparison, I see a mix of Dougie Hamilton and Aaron Ekblad in Hague.
Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville (QMJHL):
There’s the possibility that Swedish defenseman Timothy Liljegren could fall to the mid round picks. If he’s there, then there’s no doubt the Leafs would take him.
Liljegren was a top three pick at the start of the season, but after missing a few months with mononucleosis, his stock dropped. He is a fantastic puck- moving defenseman with great agility and speed. Think Erik Karlsson.
Although he’d be a great selection, I can’t see a player of his caliber drop past the 10th selection. He’s too good to pass up on and I have a feeling a team will pick him up before the Leafs make their selection.
Should all three defenseman be gone when they pick, the Leafs should pick a forward with size and skill, which is Maxime Comtois.
Comtois, six- foot- two and 200 pounds, is a versatile forward that can play any position but is more comfortable on the wing. He’s a real threat in all three zones and possesses great vision and skill.
In his rookie year, Comtois put up 60 points in 62 games with he Tigres and almost matched that this year with 51 points. He’s a strong forward that can dig in the corners and can be a real asset in the defensive zone. He has excellent speed and can break away from defenders easily.
There’s the possibility that the Leafs can still move James van Riesmdyk when the off-season starts. In the event that he gets moved, Comtois could serve as a great replacement for him on the wing. His skill level is just as good, his skating is better and he isn’t afraid to get gritty with the opponent.
Points wise, he could very well be a solid top- six replacement for JvR and is really useful on special teams. However, he would also be a great option as a third line forward for the Leafs.
There’s a key theme with the players that I mentioned on this list. Two-way play. Babcock wants everyone to buy into his system and play strong at both ends of the ice. There’s no such thing as being a one-dimensional player anymore. Coaches want players that can be relied on in both ends of the ice and that make an impact. These three players can.
In a perfect world, I wish the Leafs had three picks so that they can select all three: Foote, Hague and Comtois. Both Foote and Hague have the potential to be excellent two-way defenders while being excellent puck moving defensemen. Comtois has power- forward labeled all over him and can be a threat in all three zones. Unfortunately, we can only select one.
All three players can bring high quality offense and shut- down defense when relied upon. Whoever the Leafs pick, the prospect pool just got better.