Earlier in the week during the Monday Mailbag, I was asked who I would draft if I held the fourth overall pick in the upcoming 2016 Draft (to which I answered Matthew Tkachuk, which is apparently wrong). We followed up on this again in Wednesday’s WWYDW article and it garnered an enormous response from you fine folks. Today, we’re going back to that same well (perhaps out of laziness) and asking some of our own staff who they’d pick if it were them on the draft floor. They did have some pretty strong opinions earlier in the week, so this should be fun.
With a very defined top 3 in this draft, it’s inevitable that the Leafs will draft 4th at best. With us accepting that, it’s time to accept one other thing: Matthew Tkachuk should not be taken 4th, under any circumstance. Sure, his point totals are impressive, but the amount of secondary assists he has is worrisome for future production. His overall game is still worthy of a high pick, but there are better choices at 4.
Jakob Chychrun would be my top choice at 4th overall. An unfortunate (for Chychrun) combination of the two Finns being really really good, and his game being over-dissected has led to him falling down draft boards. But his size, skating, and skill is too hard to pass on. In addition to him being the choice at 4, it also helps that he’s a D-man. The Leafs are pretty loaded organizationally at forward, and even though a bunch of young d-men have impressed at the NHL level this season, they need another bonafide top 3 on the back end. Chychrun is that guy.
Additionally, based on all potential options at 4, Chychrun is the only one that is even partly Canadian. It’s an easy choice.
If I’m the Maple Leafs and I’m drafting 4th overall, I am running up to the podium and drafting Jakob Chychrun as quickly as possible. 19 years after his uncle Luke Richardson was drafted in the top-10 by the Leafs, Chychrun is the type of defender that every team needs to be successful. Beyond Rielly and Gardiner, the Leafs blue line depth chart is troubling. There’s Travis Dermott and not a whole lot else. Sure Dermott could end up being a fine NHLer but the potential Chychrun possesses greatly eclipses that of Dermott.
It may sounds that I’m advocating the idea of drafting based on positional need as opposed to drafting the best player available. In this case you’d be doing both. After the top-3, the prospect pool gets very muddied this year. Fourth through ten (or even 12) are going to be interchangeable on a lot of boards and come down to a team’s preference. Personally I believe Chychrun is the best defenseman in the draft and the recent hype talk about Juolevi is a based a little too much on hype coming out of the World Juniors. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Juolevi (he was in my top-10 when everyone else had him in the 20s in October) but and no point have I thought he’s a better prospect than Chychrun. Juolevi will a good NHL defender but he’s more of a low risk, lower reward type of player. Juolevi will be very good, Chychrun could be great.
He had a rough start to the season, but has been the best defenceman in the OHL since Christmas and is showing the growth that was expected coming off of his rookie season that many thought was on par or better than Aaron Ekblad’s a few years ago. Chychrun is the type of two-way, huge minute players that can anchor a defense for more than a decade, and with Mike Babcock at the helm he’s exactly the type of defender the Leafs need. Watching the impact Ekblad, Jones and Hanifin have had already in their short NHL careers, it would be a tough pill to swallow seeing the Leafs pass on a future #1 defenseman like Chychrun.
I hate to be the “pedigree” guy, but I think there’s an argument for the Leafs drafting Alex Nylander at fourth overall and I’d be fine with it if that’s the way they go. There’s plenty of talk out there that 4-12 are almost interchangeable at this draft, but if Toronto is thinking about re-uniting the Nylander brothers and sending the fanbase into all-out hysteria, the easiest way to ensure that is taking the younger one right there at fourth overall and not leaving it up to chance that he may or may not be there a couple spots down the line.
In terms of other forwards that will be in the conversation at that selection, the main target appears to be Matthew Tkachuk, but as others have mentioned, there have been some concerns over how much of his own offense he can create. Nylander is not far off Tkachuk in primary points per game this year (0.579 to 0.649 at even strength), and when you consider the latter plays for an absolutely loaded Knights squad, it’s tough to say if any gap exists there at all between these two. And while we’re always careful to keep our expectations in check after the World Junior tournament, it’s undeniable that the young Nylander looked dominant at times as a draft-eligible with his flashy skill, which certainly put some minds at ease about his potential. He’s a major playmaker, no question.
If it’s essentially a wash talent-wise between a couple options when the Leafs select at fourth, I’d go ahead and take Nylander and get the bros together, send the fanbase into a stir, and have the jerseys flying off the racks for the next ten years.
Alex Nylander pic.twitter.com/mKSAclfxON
— Ryan (@ryanfancey) October 2, 2015
If the Leafs pick fourth, I’m not entirely against the idea of trading down by a pick or two. It sounds a little crazy, but with Matthews and the Finn’s being the consensus top three, the Leafs might be able to pick up a couple of extra assets if they can play their cards right with teams eager to pick a specific prospect.
Toronto has a couple of blue chip forward prospects in William Nylander and Mitch Marner, with a lot of secondary players following behind them. Defence, though? Lots of good, young depth, but nobody who stands out, particularly in that age group as Morgan Rielly goes from prospect age to plain ol’ young talent. Olli Juolevi and Jakob Chychrun aren’t totally out of the #4 conversation to begin with, but with Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc Dubois earning a lot of hype in traditional circles, it wouldn’t be a shock to see one of the two top defencemen drop to the 6-8 range. Going down to, say, 7th or 8th gives you a high chance of nabbing one of the two while also adding a slightly older prospect, more picks, or a roster player in a position of immediate need.
Worst case, you miss out on them and get one of Tkachuk or Dubois later than expected, or you settle for Alex Nylander. It’s an out there thought, but something to consider no less.