After another early first round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs can shift their focus to the off-season and try to improve their team moving forward. And it all begins with the NHL Entry Draft.
While the Leafs aren’t going to be drafting number one defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, there is still a lot of talent to be seen in this year’s draft class. For the Leafs, the options are limitless. There is a lot of skill, power and speed this year. The question is, who will the Leafs select when newly appointed general manager Kyle Dubas, approaches the podium to make their selection?
This year, the Leafs hold the 25th pick overall. Last year, they selected Timothy Liljegren with the 17th overall pick, improving their defensive depth. This year, there are a number of great defenseman, but also quality centres within in their selection range. While they have great depth up front with Matthews and Kadri as their one/two, the Leafs could look to stock up at their centre position with a prospect or two in this year’s draft.
Here is my annual top three prospects the Leafs should target at the NHL Draft.
Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint Firebirds (OHL):
At six- feet, 190 pounds, centre Ty Dellandrea has the making of a potential top- six centre in the league. Currently ranked 25th among North American Skaters, Dellandrea quickly moved up in the draft rankings after being ranked 76th in the mid-term rankings by NHL Central Scouting. The Port Perry, Ontario native tallied 27 goals and 32 assists (0.88 PPG) on a Flint Firebirds team that had a season they would like to forget in 2017-18. They ultimately finished last in the West Division in the Ontario Hockey League.
Dellandrea also represented Canada at World Under- 18 Tournament scoring two goals and added three assists. After watching him play, there’s no doubt that his draft stock seemed to have risen during the tournament, as he was always a threat when he was on the ice for Canada.
While some scouts and mock drafts don’t have Dellandrea in the first round, I believe he is a first round talent. It’s sad that being the best player on the worst team could dampen your draft stock. But teams definitely shouldn’t be afraid of picking him, especially the Leafs.
The first thing when I see Dellandrea plays is that he is a workhorse when he is on the ice. His work ethic is off the charts and is always making an impact every time he is on the ice. He possesses excellent size and is a very smooth and excellent skater with explosive speed when he hits his stride. With that speed, he is able to quickly leave the defensive zone and gain entry in offensive zone and set up an attack.
With the puck, it’s almost hard to contain him as he is always making something happen offensively. Dellandrea’s ability to protect the puck with his body is a one of his greatest attributes while also being aggressive when driving to the net. In addition, Dellandrea also has a gritty side to his game, which the Leafs seem to lack this past season.
While Dellandrea can be a force offensively, his defensive awareness is also a valuable asset. He wasn’t only a key factor on the power-play, but he is an extremely effective penalty killer.
Now, he may not make the roster right away, but he’ll definitely be ready in a couple of years.
Dellandrea would be a great addition as a two-way center to the Leafs who excels at both ends of the ice. He can be used in any situation and can also play with an edge. He’s the kind of player that head coach Mike Babcock would love to have on his roster, a committed centre with the ability to play in any situation.
Mattias Samuelsson, D, USNDTP (U-18):
Mattias Samuelsson is your typical, old- school defender. A physical, yet mobile defenseman with a powerful shot. Ranked 21st among North American Skaters and the son of former NHL defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, Mattias comes with a lot of potential.
At six-foot-four, 217 pounds, he is everything that scouts look for in a defenseman; size, power and speed. Samuelsson uses his body and physicality to his advantage every time he is on the ice. He’s great at closing gaps on opposing players while managing to quickly transition to offense. He is a very good, smooth skater for his size with good balance and speed. He’s very effective at one- on- one coverage and never seems to be out of position when defending.
In the latest issue of The Hockey News Draft Preview, they describe Samuelsson as “a solid, can’t fail pick.” A scout adds that he’s a “top pairing or top-four guy with a nasty streak, soft hands, high IQ and good footwork.”
Early on in his development, he wasn’t known for his offensive play but his point totals have steadily increased each year. He managed to put up 31 points with National Development Team U-18 program.
His physical presence and defensive game was on full display during the Under-18 tournament, captaining the team to a second place finish with Team USA.
In an article with Adam Kimelman, Samuelsson said he’s trying to replicate the same game that Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman, Victor Hedman plays. He does have all the tools and qualities for him to not only replicate his game, but to be a reliable defender in the NHL.
While a lot of general managers and scouts want, quick puck moving defensemen, it’s always sometimes good to go with players who aren’t as flashy but are safe and simple. Samuelsson is just that. He isn’t flashy, but he is a safe and responsible defender with and without the puck. He’s extremely effective at what he does without doing too much. And with the Leafs having puck- movers like Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Travis Dermott and Timothy Liljegren, it’s always good to have someone who can play the game like Samuelson.
Ryan McLeod, C, Mississauaga Steelheads (OHL):
If anyone remembers, I wrote an article on Michael McLeod in his draft year. At that time, Michael’s little brother Ryan, was in his rookie year with the Mississauga Steelheads.
The six-foot-three, 203 pound centre was a point per game player for Mississauga, putting up 70 points in 68 games in his third OHL season.
I had the opportunity to watch Ryan a number of times in the OHL and his days in the Greater Toronto Hockey League with the Toronto Marlboros. If anyone is wondering, Ryan is just like his older brother.
Ryan is a smart, very skilled two– way centre with an abundance of speed. It’s his best asset and it always throws the opponent off guard. The way he uses his smooth stride and the ice is similar to the skating of Mitch Marner. Just when you think he’s going one way, he’s going the other. He’s also capable of making plays at such a fast pace.
Like his brother, Ryan is viewed as a play-maker. He is capable of making an excellent first pass and has great vision. McLeod has a seen a lot of time on special teams and his ability to kill penalties and be dependable in his own zone is what stands out to me. He has great defensive awareness and a strong ability to break up plays and quickly move the play forward. McLeod is strong in the face-off dot and has the potential to be a reliable, second line centre in the NHL.
Some honourable mentions that are also within the Leafs draft selection are; Jett Woo, D, Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL), K’Andre Miller, D USNDTP (U-18), Akil Thomas, C, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL), Benoit- Olivier Groulx, C, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL), and Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL).
Jared McIsaac is an interesting case. Some people have him in the top 15, others have him lower than 20. It’ll be interesting to see where he lands because he is definitely a player the Leafs would like to have on their roster if he falls that low, which I highly doubt would happen.
Now, it’s not 100 per cent certain that the Leafs would keep the 25th pick. It’s possible that they could use this pick in a trade that could land an already established top- four defenseman. Now this is only if the right deal comes along. It worked when acquiring Fredrick Andersen.
It made sense to move a first round for an established goaltender. It makes sense now with a team that has a lot of depth to move a pick and acquire an established defenseman.
The Leafs have a number of options at the 25th spot in the draft. Last year, I was fairly accurate in predicting that the Leafs would select Liljegren. Based on the Leafs needs, they should look to add some more depth up the middle with a lot of skill and two-way play. They could also look to add another defenseman just to shore up the defensive depth.
Either way, there is a lot of skill to be had this year at both positions. The Leafs will no doubt look to add another quality piece for their future.