Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing out the string of a long and painful season.
Losing in the NHL comes with a silver lining though, as this unwatchable iteration of the Maple Leafs is exceedingly likely – the likelihood sits at 69 percent according to sportsclubstats.com – to finish 27th in the league, thereby acquiring a 9.5 percent shot at landing the top overall pick at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Landing that top pick and selecting Connor McDavid, a true generational talent, would be a game changer for the Maple Leafs (or any other team). Though to hear Dave Nonis tell it, there are perhaps some other names in this upcoming draft class that could fundamentally alter the trajectory of the franchise as well.
Read on past the jump.
“There’s a couple of players in the draft that could alter the fortunes of a team,” general manager Dave Nonis told ESPN’s Craig Custance (Insider only) when asked about what landing the No. 1 overall pick would do for the franchise. “Obviously, McDavid is the guy people are focusing on in this draft, but there’s more than that. Whoever is fortunate enough to get one of those two or three guys will take a pretty big step forward in the development of their team.”
Perhaps Nonis is just being tactful, but it would seem that the Maple Leafs’ current general manager and presumably the organization he still works for, isn’t rushing to put all of their eggs in the McDavid basket.
If we’re into reading between the lines, it’s fun that Nonis says there are “two or three” guys that can immediately help a team take ‘a pretty big step forward.’ McDavid and surefire No. 2 overall pick Jack Eichel are obviously the first two, but the third?
A savvy operator in the context of handling hockey media, Nonis could already be laying the groundwork for branding whomever the Maple Leafs select with their top pick as the third “game changing” prospect from the class of 2015.
Now wouldn’t we all like to know which one of Dylan Strome or Mitch Marner, Nonis believes is more likely to be a player who helps a team take a major step forward.
Nonis also suggested to Custance that it’s not really about nailing one pick at the top of the draft, it’s also about accumulating a high volume of quality young assets.
“You’re putting the pieces together, you don’t know how quickly they’re going to develop,” Nonis continued, on the subject of a timeline for the Maple Leafs’ latest rebuild. “Having picks and young players is the only way to do it. We were able to put a larger number of picks in the bin. Now we have to make good on them.”
The Maple Leafs have two additional pick at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, including the first-rounder they acquired from the Nashville Predators in the Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli trade and the fourth-rounder they received from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Daniel Winnik.
It’s worth noting though that the Maple Leafs do not own their second-round selection, which will be a pretty good pick, as a result of the Jonathan Bernier trade. They also conditionally dealt their seventh-round selection to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the ill-advised Matt Frattin deal.
It’s possible that the Maple Leafs will pick up even more picks in a variety of possible deals ahead of the draft or on the draft floor itself. With rumours continuing to fly around Dion Phaneuf, for example, the Maple Leafs will surely be a team to watch closely in late June.
Obviously landing McDavid would alter the landscape for the Maple Leafs in a variety of ways, most notably in that it would reasonably accelerate the timeline of this upcoming rebuild. More likely though, the Maple Leafs will still land a pretty decent piece with their probable top-five pick, continue selling veteran pieces for future assets, and look to further hoard young talent by capitalizing on mid- and late-round selections.
As former captain Mats Sundin quite rightly put it this week when discussing the club finding excellent young players through the draft, “I don’t think that there’s any other way.”
Unless the bingo balls bounce their way, and even if they do, Maple Leafs brass needs to take a longer view of rebuilding this club. It could be a long and painful process, but on the bright side, enduring it might seem like a cinch when compared against the balance of this current season.
Read Custance’s full ESPN Insider piece here.