With playoff hopes long gone and the Leafs basically on autopilot to finish off the season in the McDavid zone, a lot of talk around the team will now cover everything happening off the ice, good or bad.
For most who follow the team, the next thing to truly look forward to is some roster movement at the NHL draft in June, but it appears the organization will pursue some new young players through the college free agent route over the next few weeks as well.
The chances of landing an impact player from the pool of undrafted options in college is a small one, but teams have had success here in the past. The Leafs themselves have even filled their top line center spot by going down this path, which seems strange considering Tyler Bozak is barely old enough to attend high school, but here we are.
TLN’s own Jon Steitzer wrote about where the Leafs should focus their efforts if they’re to go back to school in the coming weeks, and some of the names he tossed out there have been garnering plenty of interest from a number of NHL teams, as Lance Hornby reports.
The Leafs are intensifying their hunt for graduating or early-exiting, undrafted college players south of the border.
Right winger Casey Bailey of Penn State, a 6-foot-3 junior, is drawing lots of interest from all NHL teams. Defenceman Kenney Morrison, a hard-shooter from Western Michigan, and Colgate right winger Kyle Baun, grandson of Leafs great Bobby Baun, are others mentioned often.
Two of those three names were covered by Steitzer last week, and he had some thoughts on how these players might fit in with the organization.
On Casey Bailey (Penn State – Big 10):
If the Leafs are interested in adding an offensive prospect Bailey is probably the best bet. At the very least he’d help the Marlies put up points next season which may continue to be a challenge for them.
And regarding Kenney Morrison (Western Michigan – NCHC):
Depending on if the Leafs see any value in bringing back players like Kevin Marshall, Andrew MacWilliam, or Eric Knodel, there may be interest in bringing in another defenseman for the Marlies next season and roll the dice on some upside existing with Morrison. With potential call-ups to the Leafs this season he might add value over call-ups from the Solar Bears for the Marlies.
In terms of numbers, Bailey has scored at a 1.18 points-per-game clip this season with 40 points in 32 appearances as a forward, while Morrison notched 15 points in 34 games played (0.44 average) from the blue line.
Baun has 28 points in 34 games for Colgate of the ECAC, and perhaps it should be assumed we reach Peak Leafs and the team pulls out all stops to sign him due to the family connection.
The Leafs seem to have dialed back on exploring the college free agent market since the days of Christian Hanson and Brayden Irwin, but in a time of blatant teardown and rebuild, they’re going to attempt to add youth in every form over the next little while. With a focus on scouting and development from two well-versed front office figures in Dubas and Hunter, hopefully this time around the venture is a little more successful. While both hail from the major junior system and have focused on development of players younger than those of the college ranks, their apparent ability to recognize talent and put in place a proper plan for extracting it could be a major positive.