Everything Falls Into Place: The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2015 Draft

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Photo Credit: Steven Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, you might not really know how to feel about their 2015 Draft.

The Leafs’ front office spent weeks outlining their goals for the weekend: acquire as many picks as they could, and draft as many high-end skill as possible. Toronto certainly accomplished the latter in the first round when they took Mitch Marner of the London Knights with the fourth overall pick, but it looked like the Maple Leafs lost their own plot as early as the second round when, after trading their second first-round pick twice, they went off the board with the 34th overall selection.

Did they correct the ship in the later rounds? Here’s your full 2015 NHL Entry Draft run down…

With The Fourth Overall Pick…

Despite some tense internal debate over selecting the extremely skilled forward in Marner or the big, smooth defender in Noah Hanifin, the Leafs would ultimately make the right call.

As I wrote yesterday, Marner to Toronto felt like destiny. He’s a great story; a local kid, small in stature but huge in skill, groomed and developed in a London Knights program run by now-Leafs executive Mark Hunter. But even more important was that he was the best player available at fourth overall, and the right call when debating whether to take the top forward or top defenceman still on the board.

All indications are that Marner will return to London next year for another season of development, but the Leafs shouldn’t have to wait long before he’s making an impact at the NHL level. Marner is an elite offensive player, and while I’m not ready to call him Toronto’s new top prospect after the kind of season William Nylander just had, both of those players are true foundational talents that the Leafs can build upon. 

It’s ok to get very excited about this kid.

Defending Dermott

After trading down in the first round from 24th to 29th, and again from 29th to 34th in the second, the Leafs surprised (and even disappointed) a good number of scouts and fans when they took Erie Otters defenceman Travis Dermott. 

Really, it wasn’t anything against Dermott in particular. The 5’11, 197lb blueliner put up 45 points in 67 games for a very strong Otters team, and was thought of by many as a second round talent (though, maybe not quite that high). What made everyone uneasy was the more recognizable names, and higher-upside players that went not only between where Toronto traded down from and from where they took Dermott, but also the ones that remained on the board after him.

With the 24th pick that Toronto flipped to Philadelphia, the Flyers picked up Ottawa 67’s forward and TLN favourite Travis Konecny. At 28th overall the New York Islanders took Shawinigan Cataractes high-scorer Anthony Beauvillier and a couple picks later the Arizona Coyotes were extremely lucky to snap up Kelowna Rockets star Nick Merkley. With the first pick of the second round, the San Jose Sharks took Sherbrooke’s Jeremy Roy, thought of as one of the better defenceman available in the entire draft.

After the Dermott selection, Charlottetown Islanders sniper Daniel Sprong right into Pittsburgh Penguins’ lap, and the Winnipeg Jets were happy to get Prince George centre Jansen Harkins.

And all the way down at the end of the second round, the Calgary Flames traded up to one pick ahead of the Leafs and took AIK’s Oliver Kylington, who many had pegged as a top ten talent at the beginning of the season. The Leafs did well enough with their own late second round pick, but if Kylington was “their guy”, that would have stung.

It might look suspect, but trading down and acquiring a second and third round pick was a smart play by the Leafs. What really seemed strange was leaving Sprong, Harkins and Kylington on the table.

There are some valid questions about the Dermott pick. Did Toronto take him too high? Were there better prospects available? Is he truly skilled, or did he benefit from feeding the puck to the first and third overall picks in this draft, Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome?

You might still feel uneasy about these questions, but I certainly felt a lot better when I did a little digging into Dermott and came across this particular write up in Brock Otten’s Top OHL Prospects Ranking, which had Dermott slotted 8th…

Easily one of the most underrated prospects for this year’s draft. He’s the number one defender for the top team in the Western Conference and that has to count for something. He was also one of the best defenders in this year’s OHL playoffs, again something that deserves recognition. Is he the biggest defender available this year (at 5’11)? No. Is he the best offensively? No. But his intelligence at both ends, overall mobility, and high intensity level make him a near sure bet to be an NHL defender. Think Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers. Dermott is the type of player every good team needs. While his offensive skill level isn’t flashy, he gets the job done by making a great first pass, being confident with the puck and running the point on the power play effectively. Defensively, he’s incredibly reliable. He rarely gets beat to loose pucks and is almost always in the right position. He also blocks shots with the best of them. As the year went on, he played more and more aggressively in his own end and really seems to excel when he’s engaged physically. The battle for top defender from the OHL was a close one this year, but I give the slight nod to Dermott because of how well rounded he is and because I believe he’s going to be a longtime NHL player.

That’s just one man’s opinion, of course. But hey, it’s a pretty convincing one.

Plenty of Skill in the Middle and Late Rounds

If you didn’t like the Dermott pick, you probably liked a lot of Toronto’s later picks a whole lot more. 

In the middle and late rounds, the Leafs grabbed a number of very skilled forwards in Boston College commit Jeremy Bracco, HK Riga winger Martins “The Latvian” Dzierkals, and a pair of team leading scorers in Quebec Remparts speedster Dmytro Timashov and Sarnia Sting winger Nikita Korostelev.

It’s true that most of these players, Bracco and Korostelev specifically, dropped pretty far from where they were expected to go for various reasons, but that’s totally fine. It’s less likely that Toronto just picked up a number of severely flawed players, and much more likely that they got tremendous value out of their picks.

Bracco, who broke records belonging to Patrick Kane with the USNTDP program, was seen by many as a borderline first round talent, held back only by his 5’10 frame. Toronto got him with the 61st overall pick.

In fact, if the Leafs had taken Bracco at #34 and Dermott at #61, nobody would have batted an eyelash. Really, everything did end up falling into place.

Korostelev, an incredibly gifted Russian import that actually spent time in the Toronto-based GTHL before landing in Sarnia, was widely regarded as a good second or third round pick. Toronto got him all the way down in the seventh round, again getting excellent value outside of the first round.

Let’s also not forget the three defenceman that the Leafs also picked up earlier today, with Lethbridge’s Andrew Neilsen, MODO’s Jesper Lindgren and Oshawa’s Stephen Desrocher rounding out Toronto’s collection of new picks.

Neilsen, the 65th overall pick, is the kind of big-bodied blueliner that the Leafs have highly coveted in the past (and the kind that drove fans crazy). A 6’3, 209lb physical defender, Neilsen still put up 24 points in 59 games in his first WHL season. Last season, Neilsen was still player AAA hockey, so Toronto is banking on this late bloomer to continue his rapid development.

Jesper Lindgren, who just happens to be a former teammate of both Nylander and Timashov with MODO’s J20 squad, has some very nice offensive upside. A nice pickup in the fourth round, Lindgren scored 33 points in 39 games this season for MODO’s SuperElit team.

And lastly there’s the newly crowned Memorial Cup Champion in Oshawa’s Stephen Desrocher. The 6’4, 198lb defender scored 23 points in 66 games this season, and was very likely recommended by D.J. Smith, his head coach with the Generals turned assistant to Mike Babcock on Toronto’s own bench.

For the first time I can remember, the Leafs took home a truckload of skill and upside. Even in their big defencemen, Toronto appeared to identify a number of qualities that make them worthwhile project picks. 

Not all of these players will succeed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Leafs defy the odds and a number of them do. Toronto was definitely one of the ‘winners’ of the 2015 Draft.

All The Picks

Mitch Marner, 4th Overall

Travis Dermott, 34th Overall

Jeremy Bracco, 61st Overall

Andrew Neilsen, 65th Overall

Martins Dzierkals, 68th Overall

Jesper Lindgren, 95th Overall

Dmytro Timashov, 125th Overall

Stephen Desrocher, 155th Overall

Nikita Korostelev, 185th Overall

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  • Brooksterman

    The one thing Mark Hunter echoed with all these picks is that they have high hockey sense/IQ. They weren’t going to take anyone without that and thus that along with they weren’t taking players that have been labeled as poor character or guys that had egos were known for not being team guys. That’s mainly why they didn’t take Sprong and Kylington. They had 3 separate times they could have taken them but twice they traded down and then took Dermott instead. Clearly there were things that turned Mark Hunter off about taking Sprong or Kylington high.

  • silentbob

    Only positive things to say about each individual pick, I like really the hockey sense/IQ aspect to these players.

    As a whole, and when you consider who was already in the system, I’m a little worried that in 4-6 years this team might be on the small side of things and have difficulty in the playoffs. I don’t agree with Dubas that its easy to trade for size (at least the kind of big players you want), so…… We’ll see, hopefully Im wrong.

    As I said in another thread, is it time to start to Matthew Tkachuk count down clock?

  • STAN

    being compared to dan girardi?! oh my god please tell me he’s closer to a poor man’s seabrook, bouwmeester, anyone but girardi. he’s awful. literally passed on how many elite picks for a guy they could have got later… he was picked too early and that nielsen guy doesn’t sound good to me especially when there was still good talent available. he sounds like nilsson aka another late pick… besides those 2 let down picks due to where they were taken, i’m very happy about this draft. probably the best i’ve seen the leafs draft in my life.

    • Harte of a Lion

      I guess that’s why your an armchair scout and not the real thing. For the reasons listed in the article, character, compete levels, lack of ego, team first players, Hunter hit a few home runs and plenty of extra base hits.
      Go Leafs, the Marlies look better and better…

      • Gary Empey

        In your reply to Jay…

        To be fair we are all really armchair scouts here. There certainly was some surprise picks by the Leafs.

        The Leafs draft team did seem to know exactly what they wanted.

        With all that speed, skill, and compete level, it should make training camp a lot of fun.

        The core better have their ass in gear or they might find themselves on the third or fourth line.

  • SEER

    I tend to agree that Marner will probably add 10 or 15 lbs. to his frame as he matures. Obviously the talent, heart and desire are there.

    But considering that the leafs have broken the Guinness world record for front office flunkies, surely or is it Shirley to quote the late great Canadian Leslie Nielsen, some one would have had two bags under the leaf table with one being a large size leaf sweater just in case young Dubas phone rang and some team was going to make an offer the leafs couldn’t refuse. The other bag would have contained a medium sized sweater for Marner so the poor kid wouldn’t half drown in the sweater on the way up to the podium.

    I’m sure the kid will always remember that moment as he pumps iron.

    It reminded me of the Canuckleheads years ago drafting J.J. Daigneault in the first round. J.J. hobbled up to the podium using crutches.

  • SEER

    So who is this year joel champagne or kenny ryan?

    You know what would be a good article – go back to the 2010,11, 12, 13, 14 drafts and compare what you thought of the players and what has actually happened with them.

    And please for everyone’s sanity lets ignore the whole seguin/kessel situation

    2009
    kadri, ryan, blacker, devane, knodel, damigo, smith

    2010
    Brad Ross, McKegg, Sondre Olden, granberg, carrick, brodin, nichols

    2011
    biggs, percy, leivo, nilson, camerensi, broll, robertson, sparks, everson

    2012
    rielly, finn, tonitato, brown, rupert, loov

    2013
    gauthier, verhage, herzog, bibeau, johnson

    2014
    nylander, valiev, piccinich, joshau, vesey, engvall

    I bet this years crop is more or less the same as the kadri/rielly/nylander draft given the top end talent but the lower rounds will more less shape out like these previous years with one or two depth players and lots of failures along the way.

    • It’s a little too early to label anyone from this draft a bust, being that the draft was yesterday. Odds are that most of these players will not become NHL regulars.

      I wasn’t really writing about the draft and my thoughts on prospects indepth back in 2010 or 2011 or 2012, so, there’d be a lot of revisionist history there. If you’re so concerned about it, feel free to come back in five years and pick apart this article.

      And really…

      “I bet this years crop is more or less the same as the kadri/rielly/nylander draft given the top end talent but the lower rounds will more less shape out like these previous years with one or two depth players and lots of failures along the way.”

      A top prospect in the first, a couple depth players, and a lot of failures? That’s not exactly a bold prediction.

      • silentbob

        I did some number crunching a while ago and an average team gets a player with about 20% of their picks (28% was the to/best success rate).

        So the leafs should get 2 players put of this draft, 3 would be really good, 4 or more would be amazing. And if they have a good or amazing year OR a bad year (1 or 0 players) this year,it will probably even out in the long run.

    • SEER

      I bet you are completely wrong about this draft bunch being the same as the others you listed… I’ve been watching intently, since 1960.. This was one of the best drafts we have had, in about twenty years..

  • MatsSundin#13

    Marincin won the game for the Oilers against the Bruins in that super long shootout last season – I feel like he’ll be a good pickup to add to this awesome draft by the Leafs.