Special thanks to Mr. Button for taking the time to respond to these questions. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the knowledge and experience that he brings to this subject, and we’re humbled that he would share it with us leading into the draft. Thanks, Craig!
John Forman: “The two most common draft strategies seem to be “draft the best player available” and “draft a player to fill a specific need on your team”. Which do you favour? Does it change during the draft, say, in the later rounds?”
With an 18 year-old draft, it is virtually impossible to address the specific needs on your team. You can address some shortcomings and ‘needs’ in your prospect cupboard and that is the only place I would try to address need.
newkb: “Craig, who do you feel might be a steal if the Leafs could get them with their second (24th overall) first round pick?”
Steal is a relative term. Every team thinks they have unearthed a gem in the draft or ‘stolen’ a player at a certain point. The reality is that all teams evaluate players differently and it is imperative that teams follow their own template and philosophy of what they are looking for. I evaluate and rank players who I feel will be the best NHL players in 4-5 years time, once maturity has taken place for the vast majority of players. You also have to evaluate where you can get a player in the draft. Taking a player 2 rounds ahead because you think it’s steal, is not a prudent way of managing the draft. Take players in the areas you are comfortable with. I love Mitchell Vande Sompel but he may be a player the Leafs can take at a different point but he is just one example of a player.
Michael Mazzei: “What are your thoughts on Mikko Rantanen. Do you think he has the capability to become a number one center in the NHL and how high is he currently ranked for you? Cheers!”
Mikko is a winger and he reminds me a lot in style and type of player to that of Jere Lehtinen. We had him in Dallas and he won 3 Selke trophies. He made any player he played with better and helped the team be better also. I think Mikko can add the same type of contributions.
Sean Tierney: “Who is the one player that you’ve projected outside of Round 1 that has the best chance to develop into a difference-maker at the NHL level?”
There is quite a few but the ones I think can be difference makers are already in my top 30. I think Brock Boeser is an excellent player. So if I had to look at a few players outside of my top 30 who could develop, I would suggest Swiss Center Denis Malgin or Dutch born Daniel Sprong.
Wayne Baxter: “Assuming you were running the Leafs:
1. Would you entertain the idea of trading the 4th overall pick for another 1st round pick and another pick and /or additional picks or players?”
I would definitely consider the idea to add picks. I am not trading too far out of 4 but considerations could be trading 4 to New Jersey for 6, 36 & 41. 4 to Carolina for 5 & 35. Those are things I would consider.
2. If the answer is YES and considering the talent level in the 1st round, how many draft positions would be prepared to drop from the 4th overall pick to complete a trade?”
Probably the farthest I would consider would be to #8 with Columbus to get that pick and #34.
Jordan Angle: “With the recent lottery pick going to Edmonton, many have speculated that 2014 3rd overall choice Leon Draisaitl might be available as the oilers may need to fill different roster holes. If Draisaitl was in the 2015 draft, where would you have him ranked and why?”
Hard to say but Leon is a very good player. He’s a center and I would say not much after Dylan Strome.
Robert DeRose: “Since 2006, the Leafs have demonstrated an above average ability for finding NHL talent in the later rounds of the draft. However, their success rate for earlier draft picks has been slightly below average. Why do you think this is? Do you recognize any consistencies in their draft philosophy that would suggest this occurrence? Which 2015 prospects seem to fit Toronto’s mould for later round draft picks? Thanks for your time!”
I am of the mind that you need skill, smarts and competitiveness and this should be the foundation of what you are looking for in players. Be patient and allow players to develop in the due amount of time. They traded a lot of 1st & 2nd round picks and then trade players who were 1st round picks. Rask, Steen, 12th overall, offer sheet for Kessel. Impatience has been a hallmark of their draft and development strategy and has impacted them negatively.
Jordan MacKenzie: “The Leafs hold two 4th round picks in the upcoming draft. Can you name a couple of players that are 4th round projected that catch your attention and why?”
That’s a hard one. It will be players they have rated much higher that I am sure of. To narrow down the field is almost impossible that that point. That is why it’s imperative that teams look for qualities in players and then stay committed to drafting those types. Ask me after the draft, if I feel they have players drafted in those spots who have good potential to develop.
Eric Hussey: “As a GM were you ever swayed to pick a player by your staff that you weren’t 100% comfortable picking yourself?”
You have to trust your staff. The key for a GM is to convey what you want in players, the philosophy you have and then let them do the work. You can question and I believe you do so to ensure they have confidence in their picks but when GM’s start getting too involved in the actual selection process, they are making a mistake. They haven’t put in the time watching and evaluating the players and that is always a dangerous proposition. If you don’t like the recommendations, then consider getting different people to make them.
Anonymous: “Outside of McDavid and (assuming Eichel) is there anybody ready for the NHL this upcoming season?”
The late birthdates, Rantanen, Meier & Svechnikov and Crouse because he is physically mature. I don’t think they are necessarily ready but they have a better chance because of their physical maturity.
Leafs Hub: “Finally, If you were sitting at the Draft Table with Shanahan, Hunter, and Dubas….who do you pick at #4?”
Based on my ‘Mock’ it’s Marner. So skilled and dynamic and I factor in the 24th pick as part of the consideration because looking at them in unison helps clarify in my mind. By that, I mean that there is no player like Marner at 24 but there is some defensemen that are good prospects IMO, that can add on that front at that point.