We Break Down Mark Hunters Options
It was a season to forget for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were, once again, in a playoff spot in January and then it turned into a multi- car pile up creating a massive traffic jam on the 401. The Leafs only had 9 wins in the second half of the regular season, a 5-on-5 goals for/against percentage of 0.80 (26th overall), a .415 points percentage (27th) and 2.51 goals per game (24th). That is a disaster!
The Leafs ended up with a top- five pick and a potential chance to draft a generational talent in Connor McDavid. Once again, the Leafs couldn’t catch a break and the pick ended up going to the Edmonton Oilers.
While McDavid won’t be in the blue and white, there are a number of great prospects with high end potential that could be added to the Leafs prospect pool. The Leafs have the fourth and 24th overall (via Nashville) selections in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in Sunrise, Florida, and potentially more.
Obviously McDavid and Jack Eichel are the top prizes for the draft, but there are a number of great prospects that come after them that will have a significant impact on any team. Here are the top three players in the Maple Leafs sights come Draft day.
1 – Dylan Strome, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
At a decent size for the NHL, 6-foot-3, 187 pounds, Strome finished first in the OHL as the leading scorer with 45 goals and 129 points ahead of fellow draftees Mitch Marner and Connor McDavid.
While some people point to his success with McDavid as his teammate, Strome is capable of producing even without the phenomenal centre. While McDavid was out with a broken finger and winning gold with Team Canada at the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championship, Strome tallied 40 points (12 goals and 28 assists) in 17 games without McDavid. So we can throw that theory out the window right now.
Strome has great offensive vision and loves to have the puck on his stick. He’s always strong on the puck in the offensive zone and generates a number of chances with his puck-handling and long reach that scouts attribute as one of his best assets. While he is a big body, he needs to add a physical element, which will make him a number one centre on any team, including the Leafs. Strome’s skating ability isn’t the greatest, as speed will be an area of concern. However, another year in the OHL as Erie’s top centre, he will have the time to get more physical and work on his skating ability.
When he’s not near the puck, Strome also likes to help defensively. In a video profile with NHL.com, Strome states that he would do anything to win, whether that be helping out on the back-check, blocking a shot or even earning some penalty-killing time.
The Leafs are desperately looking for a solid two-way, number one centre. Well then, look no further than Strome. With first overall pick William Nylander already making strides in his development, Strome shouldn’t be too far behind to help the Leafs in the future.
2 – Mitch Marner, C/RW, London Knights (OHL)
Although he may not have the best size (5-foot-11, 160 pounds), Marner is still a highly offensive talent, even drawing comparisons to another 5-foot-11 forward in Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Marner finished second in scoring to Erie Otters’ forward Dylan Strome with 126 points in 63 games played. Marner is an extremely dynamic player with great offensive awareness and vision and will add a scoring touch to any team, including the Leafs, who had a dismal time trying to get the puck in the back of the net in the second half of the season. He reads every play so well, whether it’s the offensive zone or defensive, expect to find Marner there making a difference.
While he has a great shot and speed, Marner is also capable of playing in a strong defensive position. He can anticipate a play so easily that it will lead to turnovers and quality scoring chances. With his speed, Marner will instantly be the first forward back in a back-checking role.
Marner definitely needs to add more size. After a few more years in the OHL with London, Marner will be an offensive powerhouse in the NHL. Should Strome be gone, expect Marner to be next on the Leafs list of potential prospects.
3 – Noah Hanifin, D, Boston College (H- EAST)
At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and a strong year with Boston College, Hanifin is showing that he will be a top pairing defenseman in the NHL. Hanifin tallied 5 goals and 18 assists for 23 points this year.
Hanifin is an elite skater and can handle the puck so smoothly while making a strong outlet pass in the process. To add to his great offensive talents, Hanifin has a powerful shot and will mostly likely see a lot of power-play time in the future. Hanifin is just as strong defensively as he is offensively. He has a strong ability to block and corner forwards and will never get out of position or be outmuscled. While the Leafs have guys like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner up full time and Stuart Percy, Matt Finn and others developing in the system, adding Hanifin will give the Leafs depth in their defensive prospect pool and a potential top four pairing guy who can handle 20 plus minutes a game in the future. With rumours of Phaneuf on the trade market, adding Hanifin makes a lot of sense. The Boston, Mass. native will still need to develop his craft as a mobile, two-way defender but it shouldn’t take long for him to make it to the NHL.
The 24th pick:
The Leafs have a number of options with the 24th they received from Nashville that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli the other way. If the Leafs select a forward (which I think they will), they should look to a defender with their second pick.
After watching the World U-18 tournament, the Leafs should take a look at Sherbrooke Phoenix defenseman, Jeremy Roy.
Ranked 21st among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, at 6-foot-0, 188 pounds, Roy already has got size as a defenseman. Being classified as a two-way defender, Roy has excellent skating abilities and a strong offensive skillset. While he’s not a “shoot the puck first” guy, he gets his offensive output from his passing. Roy had five goals but notched 38 assists with the Phoenix this year. At the Under 18 tournament, Roy posted three goals (hat-trick vs. Latvia) and an assist and was selected as one of the top three players for Canada.
Roy is just as strong defensively as he is offensively. Roy is always aggressive on opponents and he is capable of closing the gaps on forwards, never giving them an opportunity to get a shot on net.
Other prospects in the Leafs range with the 24th pick include Oliver Kylington of Farjestads, Daniel Sprong of the Charlottetown Islanders or even his teammate Filip Chlapik.
Other Picks in the Mix?
With the Leafs planning on going in a different direction, Captain Dion Phaneuf and top scorer, Phil Kessel, are on the trading block. The Leafs will be looking to add a few more first round picks if they choose to deal them both at the draft.
Like Cody Franson, Phaneuf should fetch a late first round pick. He’s able to eat upwards of 20 minutes a night, along with power-play time. Since he got to Toronto, it looked like Phaneuf was pushed to the limit and wasn’t able to handle the pressure of being a first pairing guy. He’ll be a strong second pairing guy on any team.
Along with Phaneuf, the Phil Kessel rumors continue to swirl. In an article written by Matt Larkin of the Hockey News, the Montreal Canadiens could use his services as a sniper and can add a scoring touch that they lacked in the playoffs this year.
There were rumors that the New Jersey Devils were also interested in the services of Kessel. This makes things interesting because, like the Canadiens, the Devils desperately need offense as well. If this was to go through, there’s no doubt that New Jersey’s first round pick would be coming back in return. This would give the Leafs the fourth and sixth overall pick in this years draft.
There is also the possibility that the Leafs could trade up to the third overall pick. Strome has been ranked third and fourth on different scouting lists, so drafting him isn’t a 100 per cent guarantee. If the Leafs are so inclined to draft him, they should swap picks with Arizona. To sweeten the deal, they should also add a third round pick. Or maybe the fourth pick would be enough. There are a number of scenarios that can pan out for the Leafs.
If we mange to get Arizona’s third overall and we keep our first and both Strome and Marner are available (perfect world scenario), they could potentially be our dynamic duo for years to come. Add William Nylander, Connor Brown, Andreas Johnson and Brendan Leipsic in the mix, we could have a deep group of forwards for years to come.
Here is a mock draft by NHL Staff Writer, Mike Morreale:
Should we get New Jersey’s pick and we swap picks with Arizona then we are in line to draft the number one and two scorers from the OHL. (Remember, this is a mock draft. Nothing is set in stone).
The possibilities are endless in what are trying times for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Either way, the Leafs are going to get a quality pick this year.
What do you guys think? Who should the Leafs draft or what do you think they should do come draft day?(please feel free to comment below)