“I’ve often said the plan is not some unique plan. The challenge in Toronto is not to come up with the plan. The challenge is to stick to it. That’s the hard part. Our vision is, indeed, to draft and develop our own players.” -Brendan Shanahan
June 26th may well represent the official beginning of a new era and mentality here in Toronto. A mindset differing from the one we’ve come accustomed to. A directive from management that will see the team cultivate its own youth through patience and proper development. The recipe for success is out there, and the Leafs hope to pattern themselves with those who have done it “the right way”. This “right way” I elude to is void of quick fixes and stop gaps. It has the stomach to steer clear of reactionary moves and it stays the course no matter the stormy waters. There is proof that the formula, if you will, can result in consistent success. We’ve seen it put into place with the Detroit Red Wings over the past two decades. Tampa Bay, under the guidance of Stevie Y have begun construction using the same blueprint. Myself, I look to the Montreal Canadiens of the ‘70’s and how they nurtured their young talent. It’s a beautiful thing when done correctly, but I must warn you. The desired result from this formula coming to fruition is dependant entirely upon the variables.
Before I get too carried away with algebra, let me explain further in hockey terms. You can have a plan, a wonderful plan, but without the right mix of players you have zilch. We’ve seen that first hand last season. In order for Toronto to have success pulling off this mother of all rebuilds that Leafs Nation has longed for, one necessary element stands out more than anything other. More than anything else and as simply as I can put it, the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs depends on who they select with their draft picks.
Nobody needs to tell this to Leafs fans. Spend a day in the Toronto Twitter-verse or right here on LeafsHub.com in our community/comment section and you’ll quickly see it is the number one topic and focus from dusk to dawn. Look, it is what it is. This hockey team means the world to us and maybe, just maybe, this time the men are in place to get it done. Can anyone think of a better man to head up our draft team than Mark Hunter? Starting at this year’s draft table, the potential is there build this team properly.
That brings me to the special guest we’ve called upon for this piece that’s very important to us. The speculation, the banter, the debate on who our Buds should select and why has been enjoyable and spirited. Sure, we at LeafsHub.com could tell you are thoughts and our draft strategy, but the readers deserve more. They deserve to here from a man on the front lines, who’s in the rinks night after night. A hockey man with a plethora of experience that quite frankly none of us can provide. A professional scout and more who has done it all and continues to build on a resume that includes the following:
- Former NHL Scout; Minnesota Wild (NHL)
- Former Assistant GM; Erie Otters (OHL)
- Former OHL Head Scout; Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
- Former Commissioner; NOJHL
- Former NHL Draft Insider; Hockey Night in Canada
- Former NHL Draft Specialist; The Hockey News
- Former NHL Draft Insider; ESPN
- Former National Radio Co-Host with Jeff Marek; HNIC Radio on Sirius & Leafs Lunch
- Chief Scout; North American Central Scouting (NACS)
- Various National Media appearances including Off the Record on TSN, Sun Newspapers, The National Post &The Globe & Mail
- Former Junior A General Manager; Espanola & Sudbury (NOJHL)
It’s with great pleasure that we share with you the draft insight of Mark Seidel.
Jude: Let’s charge out of the gate, Mark. Leafs Nation have talked draft long enough and now we want input from a trusted voices such as yourself. So let’s hear it, who do you have us taking at 4? How does this play out?
Mark: I feel that the Leafs will have to decide between Marner and Hanifin with the 4th overall pick. Hanifin has a chance to become a franchise Defenseman and I have always believed that you build your teams from the back-end out. Having both Hanifin and Rielly going forward would be a solid start for the Leafs. Conversely, there will be the temptation to go after Marner because he has such a high ceiling and has a chance to become a superstar in the NHL. He isn’t as small as many suspect, although like many young players, he needs to get MUCH stronger. He has a unique offensive arsenal that would be very tempting for the Leafs going forward and although he doesn’t have the size you would covet in a #1 centre down the road, Marner & Kadri could make a formidable 1-2 combo down the middle as the league continues to trend towards skill…The outlier in the mix is Lawson Crouse and although it’s less likely that the Leafs would take him at #4, there is a lot to like about his overall skill set. He is big, mean and skates exceptionally well. Crouse can also go to the net on the PP or play on the PK with his foot speed and long reach. Many that criticized Vancouver for taking Horvat a couple years ago are now realizing how important he was to that team this year. He will have a HUGE impact for the Canucks in the future and Crouse is a bigger, faster, meaner version of Bo Horvat! Neither will ever put up huge numbers, but they are big time keys to a winning team in the NHL.
Jude: Looking into the later portion of round one, where the Leafs own Nashville’s pick, what names stick out to you as both a possible steal, as far as high end talent, or possible fit/target for the Leafs?
Mark: It is so hard to say because you never know who will fall into their spot and there is always the possibility of them moving up if someone they really love is still sitting there in the teens. There are a couple kids I REALLY like that some teams and rival companies have lower down their lists. These include: Jake Debrusk who is the son of former tough guy, Louie Debrusk, and Brandon Carlo from Tri-City. Debrusk is a ballsy kid that has some offensive touch, but has a very high hockey IQ. Although his game is completely opposite to his Dad’s, he has that same work ethic that made Louie so successful. Brandon Carlo struggled in the latter part of the season, but he has a long frame and moves surprisingly well for a kid that big. He also has a big shot and some bite to his game. If the Leafs pick Hanifin at #4, then I’d expect them to draft a forward with their 2nd pick because the grading of players at that spot is very similar. This is of course, unless something outrageous happens and somebody REALLY drops in the draft. If the Leafs take a centre with the 1st pick, then I’d expect them to simply draft the best player available at their next pick.
Jude: Going further with that line of questioning, as the draft goes on, who has caught your eye that may be guys to watch in the mid to later rounds? Possibly guys with a quality that has made them drop or rise that would make them attractive. Whether it’s overlooking something or drafting specifically for a particular special quality.
Mark: It’s tough to say, but there a couple kids that have some attractive attributes. Cameron Lizotte from the Peterborough Petes has caught my eye. He is certainly going to go a little later in the draft, but he plays HARD on every shift. He will hit, fight, block shots and give a 100% effort on every shift. Those are guys that you win with. Another guy that has ties to Kyle Dubas, who they may covet a little later on, is Blake Speers from Sault Ste. Marie. He is a very smart, dedicated kid that can score, check and skates very well. I believe he has some Andrew Cogliano in him. Dubas will know the kid better than anyone, but I know a lot of teams that are hoping he falls a bit, so they can scoop him up.
Jude: Noah Hanifin is a bit of an unknown commodity here (something LeafsHub.com is hoping to help change with an in-depth story/interview currently in progress), so let’s remove him from the conversation for the time being. It’s the big debate in Toronto and what’s your honest opinion, Dylan Strome or Mitch Marner? I’ve done pieces on each and see the value in both. Can you elaborate on why Strome is ranked above Marner, and do you share that sentiment?
Mark: They both put up big numbers this year in the OHL and I’d say the biggest difference in how they are being ranked is Strome’s size vs. Marner. Strome is a big strong centre that team’s love to build around; while, Marner is incredibly talented, but he lacks the size and strength that Strome possesses. Thus, it seems that most scouts like Strome slightly better. Strome still needs to keep working on his feet as he isn’t fluid enough yet, but he showed this year that despite not playing much with McDavid, he will become an offensive producer at the NHL level. There is less risk with Strome, but I honestly believe that the ceiling is higher for Marner because he is so dynamic and smart. He has a chance to become a real superstar.
Jude: Character is something that we think will be most prominent in the Leafs’ mindset when selecting. Are there some guys you’ve scouted that their hockey smarts and character shine through?
Mark: Character has always been vital in the selection process, but it is becoming even more important. There are plenty of great kids that will run through a wall. The key in the late rounds is to find those kids that may have had a down year this year, but are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. A couple years ago, we touted Remi Elie and Tyler Bertuzzi as two such guys. We, unlike everyone else, were not surprised that they became 2nd round picks, and their careers are headed towards a very bright future. It sounds scary, but the HARDEST thing for us to find as evaluators are kids that play HARD every single shift. We can find kids that can skate, shoot or score as there are lots of them, but to find a kid that truly plays balls out every shift is incredibly hard to do. That is why I love the Lizotte kid!
Jude: The Leafs recently cleared out the majority of their scouting staff, is a position in Toronto something that you’d be interested in?
Mark: I was fortunate enough to have already worked in the NHL as a scout with the Minnesota Wild. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I’d love to get back in. A chance to work with the Leafs is something that I would cherish, but in all reality, they have a bright group of guys running the operations who are extremely well connected, so they will bring in the best group of scouts that they think will allow them to be successful. If I was considered for a position, I’d be honoured, but I don’t think it will happen. I have a strong passion for Junior hockey, so I’m also keenly interested in working my way towards becoming a GM in the OHL as I move forward too.
Jude: Goaltending seems to be a difficult position to evaluate at times. Would you agree with that sentiment, and who are some of the goalkeepers that head up this draft class?
Mark: Goaltending is THE most misunderstood position in ALL of sports and that includes the scouting of it. Part of the difficulty comes from calculating the mental component that a good goaltender has to possess. We are required to evaluate 17 year old boys and determine how they will mentally handle the pressures of being 24 year old men & starters in the NHL. This causes us all to make BIG mistakes. As for this year, I think it is an average draft class in net, but in my opinion, the clear frontrunners are Ilya Samsonov, the Russian kid and Mackenzie Blackwood, the Barrie Colts’ star goaltender. Both have good size and are very solid technically. Thus, they should be the first two goalies selected.
Jude: Quantity and quality is an interesting topic when discussing draft strategies. Each situation is different, but do you have a philosophy or preference when it comes to A) loading up on picks, or B) trading picks to move up and get the player you targeted?
Mark: It really is a case by case scenario. When you are on the draft floor and a kid falls to a spot where you think he represents incredible value, your team will want to move up to select the player. I think each draft has to be individually evaluated and it is my philosophy to grade the class into different “Tiers.” This way you have an idea where the value drops on groups of guys and then you match that up with where your picks are located. For example, if you think there is a distinct 3rd Tier of players from number 12 – 26 and you don’t have a pick until after 26, you may want to consider moving up. However, realistically, those decisions are based on a particular player that you really covet. As for the general principle, I’m an evaluator. I truly believe that the more picks we have, whether they be 4th round or 7th round picks, the more successful draft we will have. There are ALWAYS players that have warts, but do some things that a scout LOVES. So, if you have a few extra late picks, you can scoop those guys up late and work on developing them. The LA Kings have been masters of this philosophy lately!
Jude: Just from your own general experience and feeling, do you think there will be any picks in the top half of the draft that could be made available if a team comes calling? Specifically, Toronto is thought to be seeking a second high pick, giving them three 1st round picks this year. Is that conceivably possible?
Mark: Toronto is in a difficult position because the players that I think they want to move out have either contractual or character issues. Thus, it will be hard to put something together that would secure them another mid 1st round pick. It is a pretty good draft, so teams are reticent to give up a potential stud for another team’s problems. If they package some things together, they might get another late 1st rounder, but I’d be surprised to see them get into the Top 12. I can tell you for certain that the Leafs’ staff is working as hard as anyone out there right now. Both in terms of trying to scout and having discussions with other teams to explore ALL avenues to make the Leafs better. I’m a big fan of both Mark Hunter & Kyle Dubas, so I think the Leafs future is very bright, but patience will be necessary.
Jude: For decades now, you’ve been around the game, the draft process, and have as much experience as just about anyone out there. This is why we are leaning on you today. In your opinion, is this as good a draft as you’ve seen? Can we expect more of the same next year? There really seems to be some incredible talent who are eligible these next couple of drafts.
Mark: This is a very good draft. The Top 2 players are as good a 1-2 as I have ever seen, but this overall group won’t equal the 2003 draft class in my opinion. There are some VERY good players in the Top 10, then it falls off a bit, but generally it will be a good draft. As for next year, it will be great to watch some of those kids like Matthews, Chychrun, Puljujarvi and Jones. As scouts, we are ALWAYS optimists when it comes to the following draft and then by Christmas, guys will be whining that it isn’t as good a draft as many had forecasted. It is as predictable as the sun coming up tomorrow and it happens at EVERY level. It is just human nature that the more we watch and analyze these kids, the more warts& faults we find, but I fully expect the 2016 NHL Draft to be above average.
I think after hearing from Mark, it’s obvious why I reached out to him and we at LeafsHub.com are extremely grateful he not only took the time to answer our questions, but his insight was everything we could have hoped for and more. I’m quite certain that we’ll be seeing the initials GM after Mark Seidel’s name in the not so distant future. In the meantime, we can only hope he’d be willing to share his thoughts with us again when we called upon.
Once again, sincere thanks to Mark and be sure to follow @MarkSeidel for all his deep draft thoughts he’s so well respected for.
And don’t fret Leafs Nation, we are in good hands with Mark Hunter. He’s got this. See you on the draft floor!!