The draft is exactly seven weeks away from today. That’s a lot of time, but it also isn’t. It seems like it probably be good to have a General Manager in place to start dealing with that rather large event, but that’s an entirely different issue. Back to what we’re here to discuss, it’s the case for the Leafs trading up in the draft. The way things sit at this exact moment the Leafs are scheduled to pick 25th, but that could improve to 23rd or 24th depending on if the Penguins and/or the Sharks move on to the Conference Finals. No matter how you slice it, the Leafs are picking later than they have in recent years. That’s what comes with the territory, and while the Leafs are likely to find a talented prospect who will slot in as the second most promising player in the organization not on the Leafs next season, it’s also a sign that talent pipeline isn’t as clogged as it used to be and maybe another blue chip talent is in order.
Using the Consolidated Industry Rankings found at Canucks Army and the draft tiers that Jeremy Davis identified, the Leafs look like in the best case scenario they’ll be able to take the last remaining player from the 18-23 tier. Considering that a couple of teams before the Leafs will reach, they may have some choice, but it not likely including one of the blue chip options of the tier that preceded it.
The Case for a Higher Pick
- Reiterating what I just mentioned above, the Leafs aren’t as deep as they used to be outside the NHL. With Kapanen, Johnsson, and Dermott all likely to start next season on the Leafs, that leaves Timothy Liljegren as the last top talent prospect in the Leafs system. That might be a small slight on Carl Grundstrom, who also appears to be destined for a role on the Leafs in the near future, but after the two of them it’s a significant step down to Bracco and Timashov, who still need some time, and then a lot of question marks beneath them.It’s a great thing that the Leafs have managed to fill their roster with a number of young players, and often sooner than expected and last year the Leafs couldn’t have been luckier than they were with Liljegren falling into their laps, but this year that seems unlikely to happen, and with a shorter list of game breaking talent available, it might be worth reaching a little.Looking historically at the value associated with each pick, there is a higher return of investment by drafting sooner, and it is a very noticeable difference in the first round. (via Michael Schuckers, 2011)
- The Leafs have a real need on the blue line and there are some great defensemen available in this draft.I’ll start off this point by saying Dahlin isn’t going to happen. If you are inclined to believe it could. Stop. Just stop. Please.Anyway, Quinn Hughes, Evan Bouchard, Adam Boqvist, Noah Dobson, Bode Wilde, and Ty Smith are all expected to go well before the Leafs pick, and could be NHL defensemen in under two years. Bouchard, Boqvist, Dobson, and Wilde are all right shooting defensemen, which addresses even more of a particular need.Additionally the Leafs are a little short when it comes to center options outside of the NHL. This isn’t a particularly deep draft for centers, so if a team is wanting a decent one, they are likely having to pay to move up. Jesperi Kotkaniemi certainly seems to be getting the most attention in this regard, but moving up for Barrett Hayton, Joe Veleno, Rasmus Kupari, or Isac Lundestrom may also be beneficial.
- Moving up potentially gives the chance to clear out some cap space or break up the lineup logjams.When it comes to lineup logjams, the Leafs really don’t have any at the moment unless James van Riemsdyk will be returning. The Leafs roster should be able to fit in everyone you’d hope to see in it next season. Some players might sit a bit lower in the lineup than we think they belong, but generally depth is a good thing. The thing is with that depth, it’s a chance to also turn depth into a higher pick and cap space.Ideally when thinking of the Leafs unloading cap space, my mind goes to trading Nikita Zaitsev or Ron Hainsey, but the odds of there being a team out there that values them enough to be part of a deal where the Leafs move up in the draft seems crazy.Instead, I’d suggest that the Leafs could test the market for Jake Gardiner, who is an excellent defenseman, but also a year away from free agency and due for a big raise. He also would yield the highest return of any Leaf who could potentially be traded and gives Toronto $4M that could be re-invested into addressing the challenges on the right handed side of the blueline. A team like Chicago could be interested, as could the Oilers. When it comes to Gardiner, I’d say the Leafs would be acquiring a higher pick, not using their current pick to move up, since including the Leafs pick would be a massive overpayment on the Leafs part.
I’d say the pick could be included with Gardiner if the plan was to move into the top 5, but finding a deal that works with Montreal, Ottawa, or Arizona seems unlikely, and Buffalo and Carolina aren’t dealing their picks.
That brings us to the wing depth in the form of Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and Kasperi Kapanen. The Leafs have a great deal of depth on the wing, and Hyman and Brown are on really friendly contracts. It’s entirely possible they could be used to move up into the middle of the round. Kapanen would warrant a bigger return if packaged with a pick, but it is a chance to turn wing depth into a much needed center or defensive prospect.
Also, if you feel like freeing Josh Leivo from his depth purgatory role (which he might already be out of if Komarov and JVR depart) he might be worth moving up a spot or two.
- Finally, the cost of moving up over the past couple of seasons hasn’t been that high. If the Leafs are comfortable with giving up their 3rd round pick for moving up a few spots, it seems entirely plausible the Leafs could position themselves to draft someone they are surprised is still available.
|2017||Blackhawks moved up to 26th overall for the 29th overall and 70th overall picks|
|2017||Blues moved up to 31st overall for the 50th overall pick and Ryan Reaves|
|2016||Senators moved up to 11th overall for the 12th overall and 80th overall|
|2016||Jets moved up to 18th overall for the 22nd overall and 36th overall. Jets also got the 79th overall|
|2016||Blues moved up to 26th overall for 28th overall and 87th overall|
|2015||Flyers moved up to 24th overall for 29th overall and 61st overall|
|2015||Islanders moved up to 28th overall for 33rd overall and 72nd overall|
|2015||Blue Jackets moved up to 29th overall for 34th overall and 68th overall|
Hilariously, the last two are Kyle Dubas “Belichick-ing” the 2015 draft, but generally it doesn’t cost too much to move up and you have the chance to dump a Ryan Reaves type player (‘sup Matt Martin?)
Who Would Be Looking To Move Down or Out?
Here are the current owners of each pick. Teams in bold are still playing or have a team playing on behalf of their pick:
|22||Ottawa from Pittsburgh|
|27||Detroit from Vegas|
|28||NY Rangers from Boston|
|29||NY Rangers from Tampa|
|30||St. Louis from Winnipeg|
|31||Chicago from Nashville|
- It seems unlike that Chicago is ready to fully walk away from the Toews, Kane, Keith, and Crawford era, and they would be ambitious in finding a way back into the playoffs. They also own the 31st overall pick, which could make them an interesting team.
- The Oilers have to be done with the idea of picking in the Top 10 and have needs on the wing and blueline.
- If the Islanders want to convince John Tavares to stay, dealing these picks for a “win now” player seems entirely possible.
- Dallas is a team that should consider something for the now, but it’s often a hard sell moving down when you host the draft. If they still get to pick at the Leafs pick, I could see them being a team that tries to do something interesting.
- Two picks for Philadelphia in the teens make them interesting as well
- Dale Tallon is a train wreck and capable of anything. Florida just missing the playoffs probably means they want to find a way to get back soon.
Additionally from the 31 Thoughts Podcast:
“Buffalo is not trading their pick, but I think that from 2 on down there are going to be offers. I don’t see Carolina trading their pick either. I think it’s more likely they keep the player, but I do think Montreal is going to get tempted, and I think Ottawa is going to get tempted. And then I think Arizona will be interesting.”
I can’t imagine a deal with Montreal or Ottawa involving a high pick, but Arizona is definitely a team to watch, even if it is hard to find a match between the Leafs and Coyotes.
If the Leafs are able to move up, it is most preferable that it comes with some clearing of contracts and salary. Dealing youth to acquire more youth seems like a poor idea, so I wouldn’t consider anything around Kapanen or Johnsson, but would absolutely put Connor Brown and Josh Leivo in play for this.
This seems to be a somewhat deep draft, and I’m not sure I’d give up a 2nd or 3rd for the chance to move up either.
It should also be noted that any consideration of trading Jake Gardiner means that a solid plan is in place for bringing in a right shooting defensemen as a precursor or followup. This team can’t afford to lose defense.
There’s obviously a case to be made for making moves with an emphasis on what will help the Leafs most next season, and we’ll explore those as well, but I think there is an equally strong argument that moving up in the draft both helps the Leafs today and in the future.