It was an interesting and unpredictable draft this year. Just when you think the obvious was going to happen, something comes out of left field.
As it was expected, the Buffalo Sabres selected future number one defenseman, Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick and Andrei Svechnikov, a highly skilled power forward went number two to the Carolina Hurricanes. While the 2017 draft had some really great names, the talent level seemed to be a little better in this year’s class. There was a lot of unpredictability and off- the- board picks this year. Ty Dellandrea went to Dallas at 13th overall. Joe Veleno, a top 15 pick, slipped to the Detroit Red Wings at 30.
Meanwhile, talents such as Serron Noel, Akil Thomas, Ryan McLeod, Bode Wilde and Mattias Samuelsson went untouched in the first round, which is kind of shocking considering their positioning and skill heading into the draft.
Meanwhile, the drafting philosophy for the Toronto Maple Leafs the past couple of years has been focused on drafting the best player available while managing to focus on positional needs. While this isn’t his first draft, Kyle Dubas is now at the helm in his first draft as general manager of the Leafs. The philosophy isn’t changing at all. Even when it was Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello were making the choices, it was strictly drafting the best player available.
No matter what, Dubas is focused on adding to the already talented group of prospects the Leafs already have. Their prospect pool is as deep as it has ever been with most of those prospects winning the Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies recently.
The Leafs originally had the 25th pick, but Dubas traded down to 29 and got another pick (76th overall) from the St. Louis Blues.
Once again, I’m happy to have Chief Scout at North American Central Scouting, Mark Seidel, in this article to provide his comments and insight on the prospects the Leafs drafted this year.
Round One, 29th Overall: Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL):
Mark Hunter found some familiarity in drafting Mitch Marner in 2015. Now, it was Kyle Dubas’ turn to go that route from his former junior hockey club.
Dubas selected Rasmus Sandin, a smart two-way defender, with ample amounts of skill and confidence whenever he is on the ice. While he’s not the biggest defender, 5- foot- 11, 186 pounds, he plays a game where he is constantly making himself noticed at both ends of the ice.
A Canadian Hockey League Import draftee (52nd overall in 2017), Sandin originally started the season with Rogle in Sweden but left to play in North America. Usually the transition from European to North American ice is difficult, but Sandin didn’t look out of place.
Sandin is extremely confident with the puck. He isn’t flashy, but he always keeps things simple to make the right play whenever he is on the ice. He hardly ever makes a mistake and is rarely out of position on defense. Whenever he plays, it’s hard not to see the same style that Travis Dermott plays. Craig Button has even described Sandin as a “Top 3 all-around defenseman” and compared him to Josh Morrissey. He even replicates his game around Duncan Keith.
He has high-end vision and has great passing instincts, as he put up 33 assists and 45 points in his rookie season. That is good for 0.88 points per game. He’s an excellent puck mover in transition and is able to set up a play and gain offensive zone- time. Sandin’s patience allows him to look for a player in an open spot, or finding an open spot on the ice for himself to create space for his teammates.
Sandin’s skating is being described as average at best. He’s not very fast to get to top speed but he glides so effortlessly that allows him to break away from opposing players. Another area of improvement is strength, but these areas can be improved on over time.
Dubas also added this about Sandin: “I think he plays the position the way we want it to be played,” Dubas said in an article by Kristen Shilton. “He defends very, very well, and he had to defend some difficult minutes, especially [during playoffs], but he did that the whole season. He moves the puck extremely well and as the season went on his level of competitiveness showed better and better. He was just an all-around defenseman we were very happy with.”
Defense was an area of concern for the Leafs this past year where. The fact that Sandin was able to play excellent defense for the Greyhounds when it mattered most shows that he’s capable of playing in those moments when the game is on the line. Be it on the power- play, penalty-kill or even in the dying minutes to protect a lead. Dubas has the confidence that Sandin will be a game changer and Sandin in turn, wants to be a major part of this team.
Here’s a video displaying the skill and patience that Sandin has.
Round Two, 52nd Overall: Sean Durzi, D, Owen Sound (OHL):
The Leafs continued to fill out their defensive pool by selecting Mississauga native Sean Durzi from the Owen Sound Attack.
Durzi went undrafted last year. This year, he was on a mission to prove that he is worth the selection.
At six- feet, 188 pounds, Durzi is a smart, steady and mobile defenseman with good offensive instincts. He had 38 points in his draft year last season and improved to 15 goals and 34 assists in 40 games this season. His offensive production would’ve continued to increase had it not been for an injury this year. He has a really strong and accurate shot and is capable of being a strong set up man from the point.
Durzi has a really good and smooth stride and great speed. With that he’s able to quickly move the play up and distribute the puck at a fast pace. His speed is one of his biggest assets to have.
Defensively, Durzi is just as good in his own end as he is in the offensive zone. He is able to shut down the passing lanes and is difficult to get by on one-on-one coverage. He is constantly aware of his surroundings. He’s a got a good reach with his stick that forces opponents to make another move and create a turnover and clear the puck out of his end.
Durzi will most likely get some time in the American Hockey League. And with Sheldon Keefe behind the bench, we can expect his development to be in really good hands.
Round Three, 76th Overall (From STL): Semyon Der- Arguchintsov, C, Peterborough (OHL):
With the pick they received from the St. Louis Blues, the Leafs went with a small, diminutive forward in Semyon Der- Arguchintsov.
Der- Arguchintsov has incredible creativity and skill as a playmaker and has the ability to get to the open ice. He has excellent vision, speed and skill. He always seems to be one step ahead of the play, making him very hard to contain and stop. He has the ability create plays at a very fast pace and is patient with the puck to create time and space for his teammates.
The Leafs select SDA, otherwise known as Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. Youngest player available this year. Puck skill for days. But size and compete level are concerns. As he gains strength, he could be a heck of a player. Boom or bust pick for sure.
— OHL Prospects (@BrockOtten) June 23, 2018
Coming in at 5-10, 160 pounds, his size is the only issue as he can get knocked off the puck easily, which may be his only weakness. Though he’s not afraid or never backs away from a challenge. But when the puck is on his stick, he’s very elusive. He has endless potential.
Round Three, 83rd Overall: Riley Stotts, C, Calgary (WHL):
At six- feet, 170 pounds, Riley Stotts is an interesting pick. In his game, he doesn’t have one attribute that stands out, but he doesn’t have any weaknesses to his game either.
We could never get a great handle on Riley Stotts because he is what we call "a tweener". Not big but not small. Good skill but not a pure scorer. Plays hard. Interesting guy but we will see how he does in Calgary with a full year.
— NA Central Scouting (@MarkSeidel) June 23, 2018
But what we do know is this, he’s a very skilled centre with size that competes hard in every area of the ice. Stotts will do whatever it takes to win. He’s a really fast and smooth skater that’s able to beat defenders effortlessly while managing to be an offensive force. He is extremely patient and creative with the puck to create time for himself and his teammates.
Being on a Swift Current Broncos team was in it to win it, Stotts struggled and saw limited ice time. He was then traded to the Hitmen after putting up three points in 22 games. After the trade, Stotts saw an increased role with his new team, putting up 41 points (17 goals, 24 assists) in 47 games played.
Chief Scout at North American Central Scouting, Mark Seidel had this to say about Stotts. “He was given more opportunity and he jumped all over it,” Siedel says. “His game is very solid in all the facets required but he isn’t ultra skilled. He is fearless and smart while having good hockey IQ. I expect him to have a big year in Calgary while he fills out & should begin to become a dominant player.”
The trade was what Stotts needed to get his offensive game going to improve his draft stock. Being a top player on a poor team, Stotts took this as an opportunity to really show his true impact and be a leader on and off the ice.
The way he plays is almost similar to the way current Leaf Connor Brown plays. He is a Mike Babcock type player.
Round Four, 118th Overall: Mac Hollowell, D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL):
Kyle Dubas found himself in familiar territory again, drafting defenseman Mac Hollowell from the Greyhounds.
Hollowell, is five- foot- nine, 170 pounds. While he is small in stature, he’s extremely effective at moving the play forward. He has great skill and patience with the puck and has great vision to create plays at a high level. Hollowell finished fifth among OHL defenseman in scoring with 56 points in 63 games.
In this interview from the Sault Star, Hollowell is looking to improve his strength and defensive game in hopes of becoming a more well- rounded defenseman.
Like Durzi, he is an over-ager and was looked over in the draft last year. He might look to start his pro career off in the American league. Dubas knows his work ethic and ability to continue developing as a player.
Round Five, 149th Overall: Filip Kral, D, Spokane (WHL):
At six-foot-one, 171 pounds, Kral is a very smooth and mobile skating defenseman with the ability to move the puck very well. He’s got good poise and vision on the ice.
In his rookie season with the Spokane Chiefs, Kral put up nine goals and 35 points in 54 games in his rookie season in North America. Kral also won gold for the Czech Republic in 2016/17 at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.
“He was always known for being a skilled offensive defender that had great feet and he showed that in Spokane this year but his defensive game continued to improve,” Seidel says. “He started to use his size more effectively and although he will never be mistaken for a defensive defenseman, his game evolved to the point of becoming a more complete player.”
Seidel also added that his defense was hindering him from becoming a “legitimate” prospect, but his play since Christmas changed everyone’s opinion at the scouting service.
The potential is there for Kral. He needs to improve physically and he needs to make better decisions with the puck. But he has all the tools in place to be an effective, well- rounded defender.
Round 6, 156th Overall: Pontus Holmberg, LW, Vasteras (Swe3):
The Leafs traded their 2019 6th round pick to get this pick that was originally owned by the Buffalo Sabres. The Leafs then selected Pontus Holmberg, another player who was overlooked in last year’s draft.
At 5-10, 174 pounds, Holmberg is smart and creative winger with great speed. He has a strong ability to maintain puck possession as well as the vision to create time and space and find his teammates.
Here is what Seidel had to say about Holmberg: “It was undoubtedly the biggest flyer the Leafs took all weekend because he has good skill, he isn’t a player we expected a team to trade up to get. He has some offensive ability & he skates well but it is hard to project a role for him in the NHL down the road.”
With Vasteras, Holmberg tallied 7 goals and 30 points in 36 games played.
Round Seven, 209th Overall: Zachary Bouthillier, G, Chicoutimi (QMJHL):
Bouthillier has great size for a goalie, coming at six- foot- two and 185 pounds. He had a 3.42 goals against average and .894 save percentage. He’s really aggressive and likes to challenge shooters.
I really haven’t seen much of Zachary Bouthillier play. However, Mark Seidel has.
“Bouthillier was one of our favorite goaltenders in this draft because he started off the year nowhere to be found but the more we watched, the more we liked,” Seidel says. “A very athletic goaltender that can over-challenge at times and get himself into trouble but with the goalie coaches that the Leafs employ, they will address that. He was phenomenal value in the 7th round.”
Round Seven, 211th Overall: Semyon Kizimov, RW, Togliatti (Rus Jr.):
Like Bouthillier, I don’t know or have seen much of Semyon Kizimov. All I know is that he is a strong, offensive player with a physical edge. He’s put up some impressive numbers at the junior level in Russia.
In 2016/17, he put up 14 points in 10 games with Togliatti U17 team. This year he put up 18 points in 30 games played.
Here is what Seidel had to say about Kizimov: “The only reports that we have for Kizimov are from the World Junior A Challenge where he was significantly overshadowed by kids like Denisenko, Ishakov, Romanov & Morozov. He was one of the most physical Russians and he took the puck into the dirty areas but based on those viewings, we didn’t expect him to be an NHL draft pick.”
At this stage in the draft, Kizimov could be one of those “fly under the radar” picks for the Leafs.
It’s no surprise what Kyle Dubas was doing during the draft, drafting highly skilled players both at the forward and defense position who are patient with the puck. Majority of the players aren’t big in terms of size, but there’s always the be patient approach for them to add some weight and get strong during the off- season and of course during their development.
Overall, Kyle Dubas stuck with the plan and trend that the NHL is heading to, ample amounts of skill and speed. It’s not known how many of the prospects will see consistent NHL time. But, they do have a lot of great pieces to move into the lineup when the time is right in order to remain a competitive force for years to come.