I’ve been scouring through a few mock drafts in the last couple of days to get a handle on the kind of player the Maple Leafs will get. The consensus seems to be that Toronto is going to be taking a big forward, after a year of taking two smooth-skating defencemen Morgan Rielly and Matt Finn early in the first and second rounds.
One problem with the Leafs system is that they don’t have any “wow” forward prospects on the farm looking to come up. Since selecting Nazem Kadri, none of their forward prospects have become wicked productive in junior hockey or considered for Team Canada at the juniors, so it’s tough to get excited about them. Tyler Biggs was on the American gold medal-winning team this past winter, but in a supporting role. At 21, I think the Leafs really, really, really need to go for skill over size more than anything else.
So, uh… who are people giving us?
Frederick Gauthier, Rimouski Oceanic
Brian Burke may be gone, but the blue print he left behind is easily discernible after it paid dividends this season. The Maple Leafs evidently believe bigger is better, and given their emergence as a team, there’s no reason to stray from that thinking now. A fairly strong defensive cupboard means they’re more likely looking at a forward. Gauthier is a safe pick. He plays a solid, two-way game and is a presence on the draw — the type of player every team needs in close games.
I made the “safe pick” point about Gauthier a few weeks back and think it’s the wrong move. Safe guys that are sure bets to make the NHL are a dime a dozen. Nobody ever goes after the “safe guy” in free agency or gets excited about the “safe guy” in free agency but that’s where it’s best to get the “safe guy”. Jay McClement and Clarke MacArthur, both added to the Leafs via unrestricted free agency, were two excellent pickups and also the “safe guy”. They signed for little risk, but both have been exceptional as Maple Leafs so far.
Kerby Rychel, Windsor Spitfires
Eye On Hockey’s Chris Peters leans Gauthier as well, but…
I could see the Maple Leafs looking for a center in this position, which would make Frederik Gauthier a possibility, but I think Rychel may be too attractive to pass up here for Dave Nonis. After a 40-goal season in the OHL, Rychel is generating more buzz. He also plays with an edge and may be able to round out into a punishing, scoring power wing.
I like Rychel a lot too. He’s less “toolsy” than Gauthier and attractive in the late half of the first round. One issue with him is the early birthday. A couple of years ago, friend of the blog Rob Pettapiece found that players younger on draft day were more likely to out-perform expectations. In the first ten picks, this shouldn’t really matter, but after those ten, anybody selected is unlikely to be a real key player on a team. Drafting for home runs becomes important.
My only knock on Rychel is his birthdate: October 7th, 1994.
Kerby Rychel (OHL: 68GP, 40-47-87). A power winger with decent size, good bloodlines (his father is former NHL’er Warren Rychel), a strong physical game and outstanding scoring totals, Rychel is somehow not in the upper tier of the 2013 Draft Class. A big part of the reason is skating: it’s often criticized and seen as only average-ish. Beyond that, he’s more of a meat-and-potatoes generator of offence than overly creative, which has some wondering how high his ceiling is in the NHL.
Bob McKenzie also had Rychel ranked at 21, although there was no team consideration there. Included is Craig Button’s scouting report about Rychel, which includes the line:
He may not be the most fluid skater but he’s a very effective skater and he gets to where he wants to go.
That is the most roundabout way in history of saying a guy is not a good skater.
There are *other* prospects?
Well, of course there are.
TJ Maughn of Arctic Ice Hockey has the Leafs taking the Kraken from Klagenfurt Andre Burakowsky, who seems like a more home run swing type of player.
Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus has “really gifted defenceman” Robert Hagg at No. 21.
Yahoo’s Buzzing the Net mock saw them taking Everett defenceman Mirco Mueller.
If the draft goes exactly like McKenzie’s list (it won’t) I’d take Nic Petan with that pick, but I’d be tempted to spend the pick on another offensive defenceman in Josh Morrissey. Laurent Dauphin and Anthony Duclair are also interesting guys to watch due to high point production in their rookie seasons.