3 players the Maple Leafs should consider drafting with the 1st overall pick

In case you’ve spent the weekend in a self-created hole in a park blasting Views on your headpones and haven’t heard yet: the Toronto Maple Leafs won the NHL Draft Lottery on Saturday night. In late June, the Maple Leafs will take to the stage at the First Niagara Center to draft first overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.

Which name should they announce? Let’s break down three possibilities.

1. Auston Matthews

The Maple Leafs should draft Auston Matthews. That’s all there is to this. He’s the consensus first overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. 

Matthews spent this season lighting up the NLA (Switzerland’s top men’s league) with the Zurich Lions. In 36 games playing against men, Matthews scored 24 goals and contributed 46 points – insane production from a 17-year-old. He added another 11 points in seven games at the U20 level, proving that he can roast players in his own age group.

People are somewhat less effusive about Matthews’ skating then they are about the rest of his game, but that’s often the case for young players and it’s something that young men can improve. 

Here’s what ESPN’s Corey Pronman has to say about Matthews’ particular gifts (Insider link)

Matthews is a prospect of equivalent talent to Buffalo’s Jack Eichel at the time of Eichel being drafted, and is the favorite to be picked first. Matthews’ pure skill level is the highest in this draft class. The things he can do with the puck border on freakish, considering his frame. He also has above-average speed and great hockey IQ. He has been on a tear in the NLA since returning from the WJC. While some may scoff at the league and say his numbers aren’t impressive in a global sense, recent studies have shown the NLA has actually surpassed the top Finnish league, and is nearly on par with the AHL, with many ex-NHLers making Switzerland their post-North America destination.

Sounds pretty decent.

Here’s how Justin Fisher summed up the decision facing the Maple Leafs, if they were fortunate enough to land the first overall pick (which they have now):

We normally take some time during each prospect profile to talk a little about how this player or that player would fit in well with the Leafs going forward. Sometimes, we shy away from certain players because of a preference for another, or a glaring hole in their game, or maybe because there are so many similar players already within the system. None of this applies with Auston Matthews.

Toronto is already blessed with a couple blue chip forward prospects in William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but quite frankly, neither hold a candle to Matthews. We’re talking about a generational talent (you know, the kind that comes around every year) and a true face-of-the-franchise type player. In fact, Matthews is so good that he could single-handedly shift the Leafs offseason priorities – it’s not unreasonable to think that Toronto shies away from offering Steven Stamkos a big, expensive contract if they feel Matthews can fill that top-line centre role for the next decade at a significantly lower cost.

If the Leafs win the lottery, Matthews is a no-brainer. While Laine and Puljujarvi may have closed the gap in recent months, Matthews is still the top prize available. Not only would Matthews immediately become Toronto’s best player, but he’d also change aspirations and expectations immediately – if all goes well, we could comfortably toss out all of the ‘Tank Nation’ jokes we haven’t made yet.

Basically the Maple Leafs can’t screw this up. That is unless they don’t select Matthews first overall.

2. Auston Matthews

Matthews has been the anointed top pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft for several seasons. That’s generally how it works. If a player is truly great, they’re usually famous in hockey-centric circles by the time they’re about 15.

Matthews has all the tools: prototypical size for an NHL-level pivot, a blistering shot, scoring touch, hockey awareness – you name it. And he’ll probably be wearing the blue and white next season. Contain yourselves.

Or don’t. This is a day for dreaming!

3. Patrik Laine

Patrik Laine is a 6-foot-4 Finnish winger who seems like he could shoot a puck through a brick wall. Laine is fresh off of absolute dominating the Liiga postseason and has closed the gap between Matthews at the top of some draft lists, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie:

At face value, nothing has changed from TSN’s Mid-Season NHL draft rankings. Matthews is still No. 1; Laine is still No. 2.

But when 10 NHL scouts were surveyed by TSN in late January/early February, all 10 had Matthews at No. 1. This time, in a survey of the same 10 scouts – conducted in the run-up to Saturday’s NHL draft lottery – two of the 10 said Laine is now No. 1 on their team’s lists. Others suggested they had to think long and hard about their decision to keep Matthews at No. 1.

So you can see that it’s possible that Laine could still be the name selected by the Leafs on draft day. Two whole scouts have changed their minds after all and… Wait a minute… Only two of ten scouts prefer Laine to Matthews? Okay forget that…

3 (cont). Just kidding… Auston Matthews

This is a no brainer. No reason for the Maple Leafs to get cute here. Take the elite centreman. Just do it.

And as for you Maple Leafs fans, enjoy tonight. Good news has been a long time coming.

  • Robert

    So excited for the future to begin on June 24th.

    However, I admit the Leafs pessimistic side of me is concerned, since reading the article reminded me the draft is in Buffalo, where nothing good ever happens to the Leafs.

    Hell, I’m not ruining tonight. With the Leafs drafting #1(Auston Matthews) and the official debut of the new jersey, I believe we are entering a new winning era. Which includes ending the horrible past fortunes of Leafs teams in that city and arena.

  • Gary Empey

    @CMpuck

    It is always good to speculate, but nobody trades a franchise defenceman. You either have to have one or six, top four calibre D, if you really expect to go deep in the playoffs.

  • FlareKnight

    This is such a good feeling. Obviously the first overall pick isn’t the whole story for rebuilding a team. We know that. But it is a huge asset and not a bad thing to have.

    Yeah, take Matthews and never blink about it. The #1 center we’ve needed since Sundin left. If we didn’t get this I would have been perfectly fine trusting Nylander to be that guy. Now? Even better. Can you imagine Matthews as the #1 and Nylander as the #2? Two very darn good centers as the guys in the middle. Oh and a guy named Marner who likely develops into the teams #1 elite winger.

    This is a day for optimism. The Leafs got lucky and now they have the chance to make this upcoming draft the best they’ve had in decades.

    • Mitch92

      Forget Matthews. Take a Finn and then send Marner to Winnipeg for the second overall pick and take the other Finn. Then after signing Stamkos our top six will be solidified for many years to come. A top six of JVR, Stammer, Brown, Laine, Nylander and Puljujärvi is pretty damn enticing. It still allows us to move Bozak in the off season while maintaining center depth with Stamkos, Nylander, Kadri, Laich and Gauthier. Plus there is a good chance we will draft more center depth with some of our other 11 draft picks. It is time to start packaging assets to fill the holes on the back-end and in net to really put the rebuild into overdrive.

  • Gary Empey

    1. Toronto Maple Leafs finished – 30th

    2. Winnipeg Jets finished – 25th

    3. Columbus Blue Jackets finished – 27th

    4. Edmonton Oilers finshed 29th

    5. Vancouver Canucks finished 28th

    6. Calgary Flames finished 26th

    7. Arizona Coyotes finished – 24th

    8. Buffalo Sabres finished – 23rd

    9. Montreal Canadiens finished – 22nd

    10. Colorado Avalanche finished – 21st

    11. New Jersey Devils finished – 20th

    12. Ottawa Senators finished – 19th

    13. Carolina Hurricanes finished – 18th

    14. Boston Bruins finished tied for – 15th

  • Gary Empey

    I saw in Justin’s write up that he says Nylander doesn’t hold a candle to Austin Mathews. If Mathews is indeed better than Nylander then I can’t wait to watch him. I was able to watch the Marlies game on Thursday from ice level and Nylander is a wizard with the puck and his agaility is off the charts. While he didn’t dominate on the scoresheet he was clearly the most skilled player on the ice. These two plus Marner are going to provide a level of skill that Leaf fans haven’t seen in decades.

  • Gary Empey

    Clearly the Leafs need at the very least a 30 goal scorer.

    To pay millions a year to players that barely manage 20 is an insult to hardworking Canadians imo. You might as well nationalize the team and make them bureaucrats lol

    Only public sector workers for the most part can afford tickets anyway. Just wondering when the 300 billion dollar plus debt bubble bursts in Ontario how the seats are going to be filled then?

    Until then take a centre, this is the position the Leafs are most found wanting. Naturally, this is going to cost at least another 60 million over the long haul me thinks.

    Meanwhile, you know how much it is to rent ice for an hour for minor hockey at a taxpayer supported arena? Think about it.

  • magesticRAGE

    “Matthews spent this season lighting up the NLA (Switzerland’s top men’s league) with the Zurich Lions. In 36 games playing against men, Matthews scored 24 goals and contributed 46 points – insane production from a 17-year-old.”

    Matthews’ birthday is in September, so he played virtually his whole season with the Zurich Lions as an 18-year-old, NOT 17-year-old. Matthews will be 19 years old at the Leafs training camp this fall, not exactly a wee lad anymore. Accomplished as Matthews is, you don’t need to exaggerate his abilities. Now, what Laine and the Puljujarvi did this past year they accomplished as true 17 year old players. So those two guys are almost a year younger than Matthews and that makes a big difference in development. Those two giant Fins are going to be huge producers at the NHL level, and I doubt that taking either one of those guys would make any difference over Matthews. In fact I expect one of the two Finns to have a better career than Matthews. Trouble is, which one.