A few days ago, TLN Jon Steitzer wrote about the idea of the Leafs trading down from their current draft positions of 4th overall and 24th overall in order to stockpile more picks or assets. For a team that doesn’t have a whole lot going on in their prospect pool besides William Nylander, that’s not a half bad idea.
But what about going the other way? What about trading up in the draft?
Yes, it would require the Leafs to deal assets they might not want to, and yes, the memory of trading up for Tyler Biggs is still fresh in our minds. Still, let’s not pretend that trading up is a guaranteed bad move. It’s an option that the Leafs need to consider, because good organizations consider all angles and explore all opportunities.
The Fourth Overall Pick
We don’t need to spend much time on this because it’s very, very, very unlikely that the Leafs would be able to trade up even if they wanted to. The top two picks are as locked in as you can get – Edmonton will take Connor McDavid and Buffalo will take Jack Eichel. There’s no point in either team trading down, and if you were persuade them to, it’d cost you a small fortune.
As for Arizona in the three spot, it really doesn’t make sense for Toronto to aggressively try and move up one spot. After the top two picks, there’s another tier of talent that includes Noah Hanifin, Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner. The Leafs are better off staying put, and taking one of the three.
The 24th Overall Pick
If any, this is the pick that the Leafs would probably try and move up from, but they’d need to be very careful if they do so. The cost to move up somewhere between 5-7 spots in this range will cost Toronto a 2nd round pick, and since they don’t have one this year, it could cost them one of their two next season as well as ‘interest’ (think a fourth or fifth this year).
Why would the Leafs do that? Well, there’s a few prospects in particular this year that could slide for some pretty stupid reasons.
Matthew Barzal is a very highly regarded centre that could slip due to an injury-shortened season. Same goes for skilled centre Travis Konecny, who too many people think is too small for a top twenty pick. Evgeny Svechnikov, a high-scoring winger, had the audacity to be born in Russia – that’s gotta be worth at least a small drop. And dare I mention Lawson Crouse, the big two-way winger, who might maybe deserve to be a top ten pick?
If any of those guys are still sitting there after fifteen or so picks, do you sit on your hands and hope for the best? Or do you get proactive? If any one of those players have been labeled by the Leafs’ scouting staff as a can’t-miss prospect, and are still on the board as the 24th pick creeps closer, it wouldn’t be the worst idea for them to reach.
The 65th Pick
In recent years, moving up in the third round has usually cost a 4th round pick. If the Leafs want to move up from 65th and into the second round (where they currently don’t have a pick), it will probably cost them at least that. The good news, if they decide to do so, is that Toronto currently own two 4th round picks (their own, and one picked up in the Daniel Winnik deal with Pittsburgh).
That being said, the third round is where things get really muddy in most drafts. A fourth round pick might move you up five to ten spots, but all of the players in that range are likely to be so similar, and have such an even chance at becoming regular NHLers, that it’s likely best to stay put.
One of the few situations where it might make some sense to move up is if a particular goaltender is available that Toronto would really like to get their hands on. Everyone knows and loves the BPA school of thought, but drafting goaltenders has always been a bit of a crapshoot. This year’s crop of top goaltending prospects are expected to go somewhere in the second and third rounds – if one of them drafted creates a domino effect and Toronto doesn’t want to miss out, maybe that’s worth a 4th round pick to reach up and get what they want.
The issue is that the Leafs need to be 100% sure of themselves before pulling the trigger on any trade-up deal. Toronto needs to add as many high-end youngsters to the organization as they can, but they certainly can’t afford to throw away lottery tickets.
We know that Toronto will pick up a blue chip prospect with the fourth overall pick, but coming home with two in the first round would be a big step forward for the organization. They’re early enough in the rebuilding process that they might be willing to take bigger risks on the draft floor.