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.
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
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