For the first time in 31 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs hold the first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. For once, the Hockey Gods were on our side. And all it took was a 20 per cent chance.
Leafs fans were glued to their television screen as NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly revealed the Maple Leafs logo while announcing the number one pick. Leafs Nation exploded on Twitter with excitement and over-whelming relief that good things are continuing to happen for this club.
I know that TSN’s Jeff O’Neill (aka O- Dog) was extremely ecstatic when the Leafs won.
After a painful season where a top three pick seemed likely, the Leafs were able to speed up the rebuild process and take another cornerstone piece for this historic franchise. Some will say:
“The Leafs tanked on purpose!”
“The NHL screwed up once again!”
“Of course the Leafs got the pick!”
Let me answer these idiotic statements. One, the Leafs didn’t blow up their roster like other teams did in the past to try and increase their odds. Look at their roster at the beginning of the season compared to other teams in the league. There wasn’t a remote chance that the Leafs would be a good team. Yes, they made trades. Although, the majority of those players were on one-year deals and they got key pieces in return.
Second, the only way the NHL would’ve screwed up again is if the Edmonton Oilers won the Draft Lottery. I don’t know how many times a team can take an elite talent every year and still not find success.
Third, The Leafs haven’t had the number one pick since they drafted Wendel Clark in 1985. Also we had the best chance, but we also had the best odds of losing that pick and end up picking fourth (47.5 per cent). So before you complain, do some research.
Now, onto the reason why fans are jumping up and down like it’s Christmas Day.
“The idea of playing in Toronto, if they were to choose me, its pretty exciting… It’s the hockey mecca of the world. They have one of the best coaches in the league and it’s a very exciting place to play. Their fans are very passionate and I think everybody really enjoys watching them play.” – Auston Matthews on possibly playing for the Leafs.
Like Connor McDavid last year (and even Jack Eichel) Matthews is the top prize in this year’s draft. He is an elite level, franchise centre with great two-way play. He fits that mold of the prototypical big body centreman (6’2”, 194 lbs) in the NHL that will turn this franchise around. He just missed out on winning the Swiss league MVP as an 18-year-old, scoring 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games played, all in his rookie season.
He has been the consensus number one pick all year. He’s got the size, skill and shot to come in and be an impact player in the league. Fans are already giddy at the thought of seeing Matthews playing in a blue and white jersey.
“The idea of playing in Toronto, if they were to choose me, its pretty exciting. It would be very special,” said Matthews in an interview with TSN’s James Duthie. “It’s the hockey mecca of the world. They have one of the best coaches in the league and it’s a very exciting place to play. Their fans are very passionate and I think everybody really enjoys watching them play.”
While Matthews didn’t look interested or enthusiastic, he can’t get too complacent. And Bob McKenzie said this perfectly in the same video clip (around 5:25). He has to down play everything as it’s not fully set in stone. He needs to show that he’s mature and respectful. Everyone will say he doesn’t want to play in Canada, but in the end, it’s every kid’s dream to play in the NHL. No matter where they play.
Also, he was doing interviews throughout the night and into the early morning in Finland. I’d be pretty tired myself.
Not taking Matthews would be a huge mistake, even if Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi close the gap on Matthews as the top pick in the draft.
The Leafs haven’t had a number one centre since Mats Sundin. Just look at the impact and contributions he had made to the organization. He was a fan favourite for years. Could the Leafs have a different opinion on who to take? If they like what they see in Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi, absolutely. Laine has got an Ovehckin-like shot and Puljujarvi is a complete winger who can find the net consistently. But this is their chance to get one of the key pieces for a rebuild, a number one centre. This type of player is extremely difficult to come by. Matthews fits that description the Leafs have been desperately seeking since Sundin departed in 2008.
With a distinct possibility that Matthews is coming to Toronto, does this put a damper on their off-season plans? Do they still make a run at Steven Stamkos? Is he off the table?
It’s a strong possibility considering that they have a number one centre in sight at the draft and that they signed Nazem Kadri to a six-year deal, averaging $4.5 million per year. However, Kadri’s deal is cheap and it gives the Leafs the ability to move him. By signing Stamkos, it would take some of the pressure off an 18- year- old coming into one of the biggest hockey markets in the league. And Stamkos will be an excellent mentor with a young core of guys like Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. There are some decisions to be made at the centre position this year. Will Bozak be the odd man out? Will the Leafs move Kadri or even some of their other prospects down the middle? The Leafs front office has a lot of decisions to make from now to training camp. Even if Stamkos doesn’t come, a line of Nylander, Matthews and Marner is something every Leafs fan should get excited about. I know I am.
With a number of picks in this year’s draft (including four in the first two rounds), the Leafs are in an excellent spot to add depth and build around players like Morgan Rielly, Nylander and Marner. The decision isn’t final, but all signs point to the Leafs drafting Matthews when they’re at the podium.
Who knows? Maybe Laine and Puljujarvi won’t go away that easily and will make life difficult for the Leafs to choose. The two Finns will be high-end players. There’s no doubt about it. But the Leafs have an abundance of wingers in their system. They lack a centreman. They need a centreman. Since the beginning of the season, the options have been narrowed down from over 30 options, to possibly three, most likely one.
The Leafs would regret not taking an elite centreman in Matthews with the first pick at the draft in June.