The Toronto Maple Leafs have draft picks. A lot of them, in fact. Among the most in NHL history, in fact. As the team begins their climb back to the top, they’ll have a dozen picks to invest in Auston Matthews and a bunch of other young players on a sunny June weekend in Buffalo. But is twelve the magic number? Our esteemed panel gives their thoughts.
I’d like to see the Leafs sit right around their current mark of 12 draft picks. For all this talk about the Leafs potentially trading for a top-tier defenseman or goalie (which might very well involve trading away draft picks), the Leafs are still rebuilding and have lots of work to do with their prospect system. I mean, let’s face it: the Leafs prospect system is deep, yes, but it’s deep with potential third- and fourth-line guys. There are no blue-chip prospects in the system past Matthews*, Marner, and Nylander. So, think of it this way: assuming Matthews, Marner, and Nylander all play full-time roles with the Leafs next season, the team is in a position where they might not have any blue-chip prospects in the system at all this time next year. And even the incredibly small amount of Leafs prospects with actually high-ish upside (see: Kapanen and Bracco), are very, very far from a sure thing.
Look at what the Blackhawks have done. In 2004 they made 17 picks instead of the standard 9. By giving themselves as many kicks at the can as they could, they were able to have assets like Cam Barker, Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, and Troy Brouwer at their disposal when they were ready to win games. The team made 12 more picks in 2005 and were able to get Niklas Hjalmarsson in the 4th round. One of the main reasons Chicago has been able to sustain winning over the last several seasons is because they put themselves in an incredible position depth-wise via accumulating as many draft picks as they could. That’s now put them in an incredible position where, when they can’t afford some of those players anymore, they pawn them off for good young assets. And when they can’t afford those good young assets anymore, they trade them for more good young assets. Basically, they’re in an endless cycle that’s allowed them to maintain depth in a salary cap world, and it’s basically because they stockpiled as many draft picks as they could. That’s exactly what the Leafs should do, and this draft should be paramount in getting that done.
I think it’s fair to say that most people are expecting as many as five prospects to really challenge for a place on the Maple Leafs roster during training camp this September. Mid-way through the season veterans such as Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, Tyler Bozak, and Brooks Laich will all likely become available for trade. If one or more of those veterans move on to greener pastures, we could see as many as six or seven former prospects playing for the Leafs in a full-time role. This will put a lot of strain on the Toronto Marlies roster.
Would Mark Hunter draft an undersized and overlooked player like Sheary in the 5th or 6th round? Absolutely. Given that the NHL game is trending toward speed, regardless of size, I say use our deep picks on as many overlooked undersized players as we can. In a couple of years what was a 6th round undersized forward could become a Conor Sheary type player that we plug into our lineup or potentially flip to a cup contender for a 3rd or 4th round pick. That ability to create additional value will continue to be key in the salary cap era. Giving Mark Hunter every opportunity to create that additional value should be the goal for Leafs management.
Because we know the Leafs will walk out of this draft with a franchise player in Matthews, I think that gives them the ability to be a bit safer with their picks rather than accumulating lottery tickets. For that reason I’d be fine with them moving up and thus reducing their overall number of selections. That might sound sort of backwards, since if they’re essentially assured a huge NHL talent in Matthews, then why not just approach the draft the same way they did last year and swing for the fences later down the draft?
I can understand that side of the argument, but I’m looking at it from the angle that with a sure NHLer in hand, making a jump up to get a first round talent like Max Jones would be fine because of that freebie. I mean, there’s a chance in any year where you don’t have one of the top picks that you could be leaving without anyone that will turn into a real pro, but since the Leafs don’t really have to worry about that, I think that gives them the ability to use a pick or two as currency to climb and make a higher probability pick, especially in the first round.
This question has been brought up across many mediums of sports discussion. It seems the mentality has done a complete 180 from the last year and a half, to what we have now. The previously prevailing philosophy was to amass as many picks as possible as a way to combat the randomness that defines the later rounds of the draft. Yet now (seemingly because of the lottery win), this has changed. There has been talks on all my feeds of trading up for interesting prospects, at the cost of our picks.
The draft is just as much of a crapshoot as it was last year. Nothing there has changed. As such, my philosophy remains unchanged. At 12 picks, it seems unnecessary, and yet, it’s the most intelligent form of draft management. My answer is resoundingly that in order to have the best possible draft success, you need as many picks as you can reasonably get your hands on. So if the opportunity is there to get more, I’m getting more.
Draft Matthews and Golyshev and I don’t care beyond that.
But seriously, I can’t see the number swaying much one way or another. I don’t see the team actively trying to grow or shrink it; if picks come and go in trades because they happen to be the commodity, so be it, but I doubt there’s a concrete trade up/down plan, nor does their need to be. Personally, I’d certainly like to have as many cracks at talent as possible, and would welcome the acquisition of more draft picks, but it’s not a priority.