It’s that time of year again where the off-season is officially kicked off with the NHL Entry Draft.
While the draft this year is not as deep as last year’s draft, there are still of number of skilled players throughout the board, especially in the top three. The Toronto Maples Leafs were lucky to win the Draft Lottery and they now have the opportunity to select an elite level, franchise centreman.
It was no surprise that Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine went one, two.
Because it’s the draft, we’re going to expect some surprises. And it happened when the Columbus Blue Jackets selected Pierre-Luc Dubois of the Cape Brenton Screaming Eagles. Nothing against Dubois, he is an excellent player was possibly going in the top five. He can play a strong 200-foot game, but a lot of people, including myself had Jesse Puljujarvi at three. For more on Dubois, I highly recommend reading this piece by Jude MacDonald.
And the movement of players didn’t stop there as Sarnia Sting defenseman Jacob Chychrun fell to the Arizona Coyotes at the 16th pick. Clayton Keller jumped up to the top 10 being selected by the Coyotes at seventh overall.
The young stars of tomorrow have done all they could to showcase their talents this year. And with their hard work, they have all found a place to start their professional careers.
Now, let’s recap with what was an eventful weekend for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they continued their rebuild. Which, by the way, seems to be rapidly progressing.
Round One, First Overall: Auston Matthews, C, Zurich Lions (Swiss-A):
Since the Leafs won the draft lottery, there was very little doubt that the Toronto Maple Leafs would pass up on a franchise number one centre, something they’ve been desperately trying to add to their team since Mats Sundin left.
Well Leafs fans. Say hello to Auston Matthews.
At six-foot-one, 210 pounds, Matthews has the size to be a strong presence up the middle with the Leafs. He’s a fierce competitor and never gives up on the play. He has elite level skating, great hands and strong play in both the offensive and defensive end, which is a necessity if you are playing in the middle of the ice. He has a powerful shot and has the ability to evade opponents with his strong skating. Add all this with his phenomenal hockey sense and IQ and you have the complete package for a centreman.
He already has shown that he is fully capable of playing with men as he dominated the Swiss- A League, scoring 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games played. He then helped the United States win bronze at the World Junior Hockey Championships, tallying seven goals and 11 points. Matthews wasn’t done there as he continued to showcase his talents at this years’ World Hockey Championships finishing the tournament with six goals and nine points.
If you weren’t able to watch the World Hockey Championships, here is a video of Matthews’ performance during the tournament. Pay close attention to the clip at 2:30 as he uses his hands skating and size to his advantage:
Director of Scouting of International Scouting Services, Dennis MacInnis had this to say about Matthews: “Has all of the pedigree that teams look for in a franchise centreman. Can really dangle for size, outstanding one on one ability, shows great patience and playmaking to go with a great release and shot.”
“In our opinion, he was the best player available. Not only being the best player, he satisfies a need at centre and is a complete player, on who can play 200 feet,” said GM Lou Lamoriello. “When you have the ability to get a player like that, it’s really a no brainer.”
“You can see that he’s a very mature kid, he understands how the things that go along with playing the game,” said president Brendan Shanahan.
There’s no doubt that Matthews embodies the same style as centres Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles. The Leafs now have that type of player who is the complete package at the centre position.
Round One, 30th Overall: The Frederik Andersen Trade:
Like last year, the Leafs didn’t make a selection with their late first-rounder. Instead of selecting a player with the pick that was originally acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Phil Kessel deal, the Leafs swapped this pick to land another key piece that the Leafs desperately lacked, a number one goaltender.
They, potentially, now have that with Frederik Andersen.
The 26-year-old native of Herning, Denmark was rumoured to have been on the move, as the Ducks were starting to favour John Gibson as their number one goalie. At six-foot-four, 220 pounds, Andersen is extremely athletic, has great vision and is very well composed in the crease. He had a 22-9-7 record and is 77-26-12 in three seasons with the Ducks.
It’s safe to say that with this deal, Jonathan Bernier’s time Toronto is coming to an end. He hasn’t lived up to the team’s expectations since being brought in for the 2013/14 season. Andersen has the potential to be that guy the Leafs can rely on in the crease.
Andersen ranked 10th among NHL goaltenders with a 2.30 goals against average and 17th in save percentage with a .919. Bernier wasn’t even ranked in the top 30 in each category.
With ample picks in the next few years, the Leafs were able to part ways with some of them in order to add a key piece for the franchise. They were able to get Andersen at a bargain with a late first round pick and a second round pick in next year’s draft, while not giving up anything of high value.
Round Two, 31st Overall: Yegor Korshkov, RW, Yaroslavl (KHL):
Kind of a surprise with this selection considering the players, such as Pascal Laberge and Jordan Kyrou, were available early on when the Leafs selected. But clearly the Leafs saw something in him.
Korshkov brings great size to the table. At six-foot-three, 201 pounds, Korshkov also brings great skill and offense to the ice. He has great speed and is hard to keep up with for a player of his size. With that, he is able to combine those attributes, use his size to his advantage in the offensive zone and drive aggressively to the net. He is also known for his great playmaking skill and ability to read the play. While he isn’t known for being a physical player, he shouldn’t shy away from making a hit considering his size.
Korshkov had 12 points in 41 games played with Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League. He was a key player in the MHL playoffs scoring 19 points in 15 games played en route to the championship title. He had a great impact with the Russian junior team winning a silver medal this year.
It should be noted that Korshkov is an over-age player and was passed over in last year’s draft.
Korshkov, BTW, is a 19 year old who wasn't drafted last year. Played very well at the WJC. Could be pro ready sooner rather than later.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 25, 2016
Round Two, 57th Overall: Carl Grundstrom, RW, Modo (SWE):
While the Leafs have an abundance of skill, they are now looking to bolster the bottom six of the roster.
Grundstrom is a hard-working player who could be used in a third-line, checking role. At five-foot-eleven, 194 pounds, Grundstrom is a guy that could get under people’s skin. Like Korshkov, he has knack for driving to the front of the net while still providing a strong two-way presence. He always fights for puck battles and never gives up on the play.
Judging from the scouting reports, he sounds like a player the Leafs already have in Leo Komarov. This seems like the type of player that Mike Babcock would love to work with as he has a great work ethic and drive.
Grundstrom didn’t have the best offensive season with Modo, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists. He will be relied on heavily as a role player with the Leafs.
Round Three, 62nd, Overall: Joseph Woll, G, NTDP (USHL):
Despite the Frederik Andersen deal, the Leafs took a goalie to help add to their goaltending prospect pool with Joseph Woll.
Since coming into the Development program, Holl has come a long way in his development. Woll brings great size to the crease at six-foot-two, 198 pounds along with great athleticism. Woll has great rebound control as well as lateral movement. He has the ability to recover quickly and has great vision and positioning.
Woll went 20-9 with a 2.14 goals against average and .918 save percentage.
Woll is a great addition considering the Leafs lack depth at the goaltending position. Woll could surpass Antoine Bibeau and Garret Sparks in the depth charts.
Round Three, 72nd, Overall: James Greenway, D, NTDP (USHL)
The Leafs went with the NTDP route again with there in James Greenway.
Greenway is listed as six-foot-three, 213 pounds and is a great two-way defender with an aggressive, physical side as well as great speed. He has a great reach to knock the puck off of player’s sticks and is really difficult to play against.
I had the opportunity to talk to Mark Seidel, head scout of NACS for his take on the newest Toronto Maple Leafs at the draft. Here is his take on Greenway: “Greenway is a massive kid that has good skills, awareness and skating ability. He sometimes leaves you wanting more but in terms of future upside, he is extremely blessed in that area. Excellent value with this pick and should ultimately play in the NHL.”
He was one of the standout players for Team USA at the World Under-18 Championships, where he helped the team to a bronze. He tallied 1goal and six assists in seven games. Greenway tallied 22 assists and 27 points in 64 games played with the NTDP.
Greenway is a great addition on the blueline. He has the ability to be a top four defenseman, but I see him more as a third-pairing defenseman.
Round Four, 92nd Overall: Adam Brooks, C, Regina (WHL):
At five-foot-ten, 174 pounds, Brooks proves that size isn’t a factor.
He tallied 38 goals and 120 points in his fourth year with the Regina Pats. Brooks brings high-end speed and skill to his game. He is a strong playmaker but has a great shot to go along with his vision and offensive ability. He isn’t the flashiest player, but he always seems to be generating offense and plays at every part of the ice.
While he needs to grow and add some weight, Brooks has the tools to be an effective offensive powerhouse with the ability to also play on the penalty-kill. He could be one of those “under the radar” type of guys.
Round Four, 101st, Overall: Keaton Middleton, D, Saginaw (OHL):
Keaton Middleton is a towering defender.
Coming in at six-foot-five, 233 pounds, he brings a strong defensive presence with great vision smarts to the ice. He isn’t afraid to show his physical side as he doesn’t mind getting involved in a physical altercation.
Here is a video of Middleton taking down Winnipeg Jets’ first round draft pick Logan Stanley:
When he’s not dropping players in a fight, Middleton is able to play a steady defensive game, using his size and reach to his advantage. Even with his size, he has a great stride. Like Greenway, he can be extremely difficult to play against as a result of his and gritty play in front of the net.
Middleton has the opportunity to be a third line pairing defenseman, while still managing to help out on special teams by killing penalties.
Round Five, 122nd Overall: Vladimir Bobylev, C/W, Victoria (WHL):
Bobylev is a towering winger at six-foot-two, 205 pounds, who has knack of finding the back of the net.
In his second year in the Western Hockey League, he put up 28 goals and 67 points in 72 games with the Victoria Royals.
His skating is a great asset along with his vision and defensive abilities. He also has great puck-handling and passing and is able to use his size to his advantage when protecting the puck in the offensive zone. His skating doesn’t seem to be a hinderance. Despite his size, Bobylev has a great stride and speed when he’s on the ice.
Seidel: “He is a re-entry into the Draft who is a ’97 that up until this year, has had a disapointing start to his career. This year he was much better as he started to put his game together in Victoria. He moves ok for a big kid that plays a North American style game and finally put up points this year in the WHL after a very disappointing inaugral season with the Vancouver Giants.”
Round Six, 152nd Overall: Jonathan Walker, LW, Victoria (WHL):
The Leafs added to their smaller-skill pool with the addition of Walker in the sixth round.
At five-foot-eleven, Walker has great offensive vision and possesses a great shot. His skating and speed is what stood out for the Leafs when selecting the Royals winger. His puck-handling and hands make him a great player when evading opponents. Add that with his speed and you got a dangerous player in the offensive zone. They liked what they saw in Bobylev, so why not take his line-mate?
He tallied 36 goals and 84 points with Victoria of the WHL this year. Over the past two seasons, Walker had tallied a total of 139 points.
Seidel: “Speed is the asset that Walker will bring to the Leafs prospect pool. He is small and needs to add strength but the former defenseman played a lot of forward this year so he may become a swing man (I like him as a forward) who understands the game well, competes and plays the game fast.”
Round Six, 179th Overall: Nicolas Mattinen, D, London (OHL):
The Leafs went the London Knights route towards the end of the draft. If anyone knows his Knights well, it’s Mark Hunter.
Mattinen is a body defenseman at six-foot-four, 220 pounds. He is able to play a physical defensive, yet simple game. He uses his size to his advantage to knock opponents of the puck. While he’s not known for his offense, he has an extremely powerful slap shot. He saw limited ice time this year as the Knights went on to win the OHL and Memorial Cup. When on the ice, he was a key player.
Here is an analysis from Charlie Clarke (@LWOScharlieocc), a beat reporter for the London Knights:
“He hasn’t had much playing time in London, 7th or 8th best defenceman on the team really – when Jamieson was injured in the playoffs him and Evan Bouchard kind of shared the 6D role. He’s a big, reliable defenceman – not a world-class skater, but is decent in a shutdown role. Takes away passing lanes, and occasionally joins rushes. Not a swing for the fences with this pick but not bad either.”
It’s safe to say that the Knights will look different next year. Leafs fans can expect to see more of Mattinen as he will earn more ice time.
Round Seven, 182nd, Overall: Nikolai Chebykin, LW, MVD (Rus. Jr.):
Nikolai Chebykin was the last selection for the Leafs at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Cheybkin is a big hulking winger standing at six-foot-four. He tallied 35 points in 39 games with his junior club HK MVD Balashikha. He has great size and is able to drive to the net effectively.
Like Korshov and Bobylev, Chebykin is an over-ager but his experience is something that shouldn’t be looked over.
Seidel: “Another big kid that skates well and has shown he has some finish. I thought he should have been taken last year but he was bypassed. He isn’t afraid to go to the net or tread into the dirty areas. He will never be a top 6 guy but he could slot into the bottom 6 in a couple years.”
It’s safe to say that the Leafs goal this year at the draft was different compared to the 2015 Draft.
Last year they emphasized high-end speed and skill. This time was more about trying to add a great mix of size, skill and physical presence on both the blueline and at the forward position.
Maturity and age also played a key factor, as prospects like Chebykin, Bobylev and Brooks were overagers taken throughout the draft this year. Because they’re a year older, they might have a better opportunity to make a statement while other prospects continue their development.
Since this was managements goal and some prospects have the ability and size to step in contribute at the pro level, I think we can say that this draft as a success like last year.