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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski / USA TODAY Sports

The Great Trade-Down Debate of 2015 has Counter-Balanced

The beginning of the 2016/17 season was a good time to be a Leafs fan if you wanted scattered, hectic, knee-jerky, and flat out confusing debate. Players were hitting walls, new guys were starting slow, and most people had no idea what to make of the team. Heading into a November 11th evening game against the Philadelphia Flyers, that level of polarization was at a fever pitch. Toronto had just won three in a row to kerb a 2-4-3 start to the season but promptly threw momentum away with a horrific 7-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

The Flyers game would decide whether they’d climb above or fall below 0.500 again. But more than that, it would be Toronto’s first game against Flyers rookie, Travis Konecny.

Konecny’s connection to the Leafs is pretty simple; he’s a player that many Leafs fans and writers (myself included) hoped that they would pick with the 24th overall pick in the 2015 draft. After all, he had scored at over a point per game with the Ottawa 67’s in his draft year and looked electrifying doing so. The Flyers thought so too, so they offered the Leafs the 29th and 61st overall picks to trade up. The Leafs obliged. Minutes later, Toronto traded 29th for 34th and 68th, so the Columbus Blue Jackets could draft Gabriel Carlsson.

The end result for Toronto? Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzierkals. When you consider that they picked up the original pick from Nashville, along with Brendan Leipsic and Olli Jokinen (who was then parlayed into Joakim Lindstrom and a 6th) for rentals of Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, it’d be hard to complain about getting a haul out of seemingly nothing.

But then Konecny goes on a rush and scores. A very good goal, made ultimately inconsequential before the night could end; it put the Flyers up 2-1 four minutes into the game, but the Leafs scored 5 of the next 6 to handily win the game. That didn’t change the storyline, though, because the kid that could’ve been, just for a second, had shown them up, to score his 10th point in 15 games.

For some, this was an exclamation point on a vindication tour.

For others, the story had already been committed to before puck drop:

But something felt a little weird about the whole thing. Konecny was producing his points while riding shotgun with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek, and they were coming in weird bunches at that. More importantly, though, the Leafs weren’t in a position to feel rookie jealousy; exiting that game, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander were all sitting at 12 points in 14 games. Granted, they were all higher picks, but they should’ve been ample distraction.

They weren’t, though. The trade was a talking point for the next few days in the media with a little bit of extra air time of social media as the one that got away. What’s interesting is what’s happened since.

Timeframe GP G60 A60 P60 Adj. CF% CF%Rel
to November 11 16 0.55 1.66 2.21 51.96 0.14
after November 11 55 0.47 0.94 1.41 48.83 -1.89

While Konecny still managed to have a decent enough rookie year, that game, coincidentally, was as good as it got for his production for the rest of the year:

I don’t think the Flyers were too stressed about that; the plan wasn’t for him to step in at 20 years old and be an immediate superstar and 0.4 points per game out of a U20 rookie who dressed in the bulk of the games, while not world beating, is pretty good, especially for a Draft+2 late first round pick. His showing at the World Championships (8 assists in 10 games) was encouraging as well. Certainly, Flyers fans still have plenty to be excited for moving forward.

But so far, there seems to be less reason to be stressed out about what his future could be than there was at the time of the game and the goal.

What matters for the Leafs more, though, is that what they got of trading down becomes worthwhile. It’s one thing for the other team to get something better or worse than you (or they) expected in a draft pick trade, but it’s important that you deliver the goods to justify your own decision.

People weren’t sold at that moment that Toronto’s retured trio was capable of doing enough to justify the move. Since that moment in November, though…

  • Martins Dzierkals wrapped up another point-per-game season in the QMJHL, was arguably Latvia’s best player at the World Juniors, and didn’t look out of place with their Men’s team in Olympic qualifying. He’s the weak link of the three and low on Toronto’s prospect depth chart, but they also have a deeper depth chart than most teams.
  • Jeremy Bracco dominated his first completely full season of major junior, scoring 83 points in 57 games with Kitchener and Windsor (though he slowed down a bit with the latter team). He picked up three goals and two assists at the World Juniors, won a Gold Medal with Team USA, and led the Windsor Spitfires in scoring during their successful push to win the Memorial Cup.
  • Travis Dermott didn’t have an overly brilliant AHL rookie season as far as raw production but was still among the top dozen U21 rookie defencemen in that regard. The defensive side of his game stuck out, though, playing the toughest and the most minutes among all defencemen on the Marlies while pushing goal differential better than most of his peers. He was very clearly Toronto’s #1 defenceman by the end of the season and is considered to be in the conversation to be an NHL regular as early as next year.

Of course, Konecny is the furthest ahead of the pack right now, having established himself as a regular NHLer. It’s possible that he plays the most games of the group, too; having that head start is a big deal. But at least two of the three players that Toronto got by trading down also look to be very, very legitimate prospects with potential to have meaningful careers.

There’s no abundantly clear winner yet, but there certainly isn’t a clear loser. That can often be the case in prospect debates like this; while there are obvious studs and duds across the league, the middle will have its peaks and valleys out of the gate.

Certainly, the measuring on this one has changed since that night in November. Where it ultimately ends up is hard to say, but for now, it looks like a legitimate case could be made on either side.

  • Capt.Jay

    I’d rather have Dermott and Bracco. It’s my feeling that in 4 years when we are consistent contenders, Bracco will have close to, but not quite the same level of offensive production as Kaneicky, while having Dermott as a solid PP defender offsets and wins the trade for us. We now have a group of prospect so large that NOW we can start moving up in drafts to find more impact players. I believe we are ripe with 3rd and 4th line prospects now (Leivo, Lypsic, Hyman, Soshnikov, the goat and Recheil) while Marner, Nylander, Matthews, Brown, Kadri plus another player to be named later (Bracco) shore up the top 2.

    I look at it this way. On the Leafs, Kaneicky (?) would be a second liner behind our big three and Kadri, which is where many are predicting Bracco to be in his career. Add to that a potential top four defender and you do it everyday including Sunday.

    Cheers

  • Gary Empey

    Travis Konecny scored 11 goals and 17 assists in his rookie season.

    That is on a par with rookie Zack Hyman’s 10 goals and 18 assists…..or

    Not even close to rookie (who no one is much talking about) Connor Brown’s 20 goals and 16 assists.

    Bracco alone has a lot of potential to become a star in the NHL.