In the next few days we’ll start taking a look at who the Leafs might target after Auston in the draft next month. We’re all aware the team holds a barrel of picks, including two that will fall close to each other at the end of the first round and beginning of the second. There will be plenty of intriguing options right there for Mark Hunter to consider at 27-30 and 31, but there are also a few players that could be worth moving up for, and if Lamoriello wants to swing something to get into the early 20s or even late teens, it’s likely quite doable.
Making the climb
Something I’ve recognized in the last week or so is just how much I was previously overestimating the cost to jump up a few spots in the draft. As it stands, the worst case scenario would have the Leafs picking 30th with the Penguins’ pick (assuming they win the Cup), and then 31st with their own.
If, for example, Toronto wanted to move up five places from 30th to 25th, the price to do so wouldn’t be high. If we rewind to last summer, the Leafs themselves made two moves of this sort, just from the other side of the coin. The cost of the Flyers moving up to 24th to take Travis Konecny ran them the 29th and 61st overall picks. Then, when Toronto moved down again from 29th, Columbus sent over the 34th and 68th selections. Assuming the Leafs wanted to simply better their position with the Pittsburgh pick by five places, they could likely get up into the 22-25 range by packaging that selection with their own 3rd-rounder (61st overall) or the Washington pick from the Winnik deal (56th).
If the Leafs are willing to part with both the late first and 31st overall to move up, they could really make a play at something in the middle of the first round. Besides that, moving both the Washington 2nd-rounder and their own third with one of those earlier picks presents another option.
Either way, you get the idea. Moving into the low twenties or even mid-to-late teens is easily achievable for the Leafs if we base the pick market loosely off last year’s.
But is there a target that makes sense to move up for?
A few options
There are some interesting prospects that are slated to go in the mid-first, but we know the draft won’t shake out as predicted. I’ve taken a look at a few names that present as high upside prospects and have seen their rankings bounce around a little in the range where the Leafs could realistically move into. Their rankings from Pronman, Future Considerations, Sportsnet, and the International Scouting Service are listed.
Luke Kunin (C/W) – Wisconsin (NCAA)
Kunin was Wisconsin’s best player this season as a freshman, and generated insane shot totals for a player in his first season, nearly hitting the 4.0 mark per game. He’s such an easy player to admire, because he’s such a well-rounded player. Kunin’s speed is above-average, and on occasion I’ve seen him touch a real separation gear as well. He plays with skill and intensity, showing the ability to go around and through defenders.
That was a quick snip from Corey Pronman’s rundown on Kunin in his final May rankings. Most publications have Kunin in the 16-20 range, and by many accounts it seems quite unlikely he’ll fall below there. His production as a draft-eligible (32 points in 34 games) in the NCAA is obviously hard to turn away from.
Kiefer Bellows (W) – U-18 (USHL)
Listed at 6’1 and nearly 200 pounds, Bellows is billed as a power forward who, like Kunin, peppers the net with a ton of shots. He scored 45 goals in 55 games for the US under-18 team this past season, but his skating and defensive game have been talked about as weaknesses. Still, his physical frame, offensive tools, and that obscene rate of output make him an intriguing option, especially considering he won’t even turn 18 until next month.
Max Jones (W) – London (OHL)
I had a chance to take in London here when they visited the 67s, and was surprised by how much Jones stood out from his peers. His boxcars have been slightly underwhelming (52 points in 63 games) considering he entered the season as a projected top ten (or even top five) prospect, but he did play behind the Knights’ big line of Tkachuk-Dvorak-Marner, so that needs to be taken into consideration. Given the Leafs’ connection with London, he’s been talked about as a target for Toronto a few times in the past, and personally I’d be ecstatic to see them leave the first round with a haul of him and Matthews.
Jones’ place in rankings has been more all-over-the-place than anyone else I’ve listed. His draft-plus-one season will be very interesting to keep an eye on.
Jake Bean (D) – Calgary (WHL)
We’re probably getting out of range of the Leafs’ trade-up potential here, but hey, we can dream. Bean’s eye-popping totals from this season have him well up the list on a lot of scouting services’ draft previews, and rightfully so, given his 64 points in 68 games for the Hitmen this past season. On top of that, he’s a June birthday, making his offensive numbers even more impressive. Unsurprisingly his biggest strengths all lean to the offensive side of the puck, his natural talent and intelligence being propped up as major assets. Sounds like the type of guy you want to take in the first round, perhaps even reach for.