With a few simple words Mike Babcock got a lot of fans talking. He made a promise that management would address the lack of toughness on this team. Mike tends to be a man of his word so we believe him. So now we’re all wondering and debating how exactly they go about it. Some people are in camp Matt Martin and I respect that, even if I do not share that view. Others would be much more inclined to sign Milan Lucic due to his terrific mix of toughness and skill and let’s face it, these people are much smarter because they’re right!!
But I digress, this is not meant to be an article about which free agents would best assist in the overall improvement of team toughness. Besides, with the current team we would need Lucic AND Martin plus another couple of guys to really take care of the problem. Instead, this is meant to be an article about guys that could help us with this problem down the road. After all, any free agents we get now will only really be patchwork. This is something that needs to be addressed through the draft just like every other problem that has faced the on ice product recently. By going through the draft you flood the organization with grit and only then will we truly solve the problem.
So without further ado, here are a few guys from this years draft that I would like the Leafs to call on to help us out down the road:
Max Jones: I’ll get this guy out of the way early because he seems to be the consensus favourite here at the Hub. Standing at 6’3″ and weighing in at just over 200lbs, Jones has the size to handle himself against most already and he still has time to grow. He plays an aggressive game and loves to look out for his teammates as well. It’s not just his physicality that draws the love of the fans though, he has combined that with some decent offensive numbers by putting up 28 goals and 52 points in 63 games for the London Knights this year…. oh yeah, did I forget to mention he’s from Hunter’s old Knights team? If he is still on the board when the Leafs pick late in the 1st round, like Button seems to think he could be, then be prepared to hear the Leafs call his name.
ISS Rank: #14
CS Rank: #14 (NA skaters)
Craig Button: #42
Logan Stanley: If you want size then Stanley has it in spades and does he ever know how to use it!! Standing at 6’7″ and weighing 225lbs, Stanley is basically a wookie on skates. His offensive game needs a little work but is said to have improved quite a bit as the season wore on. His skating and mobility are good for a kid his size and he uses his stick and body well to ward off attackers. Aside from that he can play a nasty, in your face game and is willing to drop the gloves when needed. This would be a terrific pick by the Leafs.
ISS Rank: #25
CS Rank: #19 (NA skaters)
Our friend Button: #30
Keaton Middleton: We’ll stick with the massive blueliners for a moment and talk a little about Keaton Middleton. Standing tall at 6’5″ and weighing in at a blimey 235lbs, Keaton is bigger than big. What he isn’t is an offensive threat, but for blueliners that can sometimes be considered a bonus rather than a requirement. Our cupboards are stocked with solid two-way defenders, what we lack is guys that can be described as a physical force and make no mistake, that is the only way to describe Keaton Middleton. His skating needs some work, which is a common thread with players his size, but its said he has a good stick and closes gaps well. He’s a project that could give the team that drafts him a reward at the end of the day thats as big as he is.
CS Rank: #71 (NA skaters)
ISS Rank: N/A
Craigs Rank: N/A
Josh Anderson: This Prince George Cougars defender can best be described as a stay at home defenseman with a nasty streak. His defensive positioning and willingness to play a physical game are what make him special. He’s a big boy at 6’2″ and 220lbs and is one of the younger players in the draft. This means he has time to not only keep growing his body but also his overall game.
CS Rank: #60
ISS Rank: N/A
Mr Buttons Rank: #73
Givani Smith: I will admit that I saved Givani Smith for last because he is my favourite on this list. If you want NHL comparisons the best way I can describe him is a mix between Wayne Simmonds and Matt Beleskey, with Belesky’s production being a nice projection. There are also a couple of more reasons he is my favourite. First and foremost, he doesn’t project to go in the 1st round. I know this sounds like an insult more than a compliment but it’s not. There are many players over the years that projected as big, mean and offensive NHL players but ended up being Biggs bu….. umm… I mean big busts instead. My preference at this point would be to shoot for high offensive players with our 1st round picks. Our cupboards may look like they are overflowing with those types of players but one could argue it only looks that way because we are used to having nothing at all. Don’t get me wrong, if they draft a Logan Stanley or a Max Jones early I won’t complain, I just like the thought of taking a flyer on a guy like Smith a little later in the draft more. Enough about that though, let’s talk about the actual player.
Givani is a 6’2″ 205lb winger that plays for Guelph. He is at his best when he drives the front of the net and creates havoc there. He picks up rebounds and buries them because, well why not? They’re easy goals for the taking and this lunch pail player isn’t above the dirty work. His teammates are going to respect him for having their backs and his opponents are going to get frustrated by his forechecking ability and in-your-face style of hockey. He’s a true power forward in every sense of the term. His skill level seems to be glossed over because the other parts to his game stand out much more but he has good hands in tight to the goal and in traffic.
CS Rank: #54
ISS Rank: N/A
Yer boy Craig!!!: #51
Well, there you have it, a few players that may help us down the road with a bit of grit and swagger. I’ve named my favourite but I want to know yours!! Obviously you shouldn’t restrict your list to the one above, but please help to educate me on this years draft and let me know which guys I missed that could be the next Wayne Simmonds (2nd round) or Milan Lucic (2nd round) because those are the guys that really pull a team together to create “team toughness”.