With the potential that the 2020 NHL Draft may be coming sooner rather than later, it’s time to get fully on board with the draft hype, as we may finally have some kind of hockey content that doesn’t involve re-watching old hockey games.
One of my favourite parts about drafts is looking back on them several years later, and seeing how good or bad some teams did every year, as well as some of the busts in the early rounds and hidden gems found in later rounds.
So, I’m going to do just that with Draft Flashbacks. This series will take a look at each individual draft and re-examine every pick the Leafs made, and see who was the best pick available with the hindsight of seeing what kind of player they’ve turned into. And to finish it off, I’ll do a what if scenario based on the best possible drafts the Leafs could’ve had.
Today, it’s the 2015 draft, which has had a bit more time to age, so hopefully we won’t run into as many late round problems as the 2016 draft.
Round 1: 4th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Mitch Marner
Best player available (within 20 picks): Mitch Marner
Best player available (overall): Mitch Marner
This was definitely a tough one to pick. Once you get past the inhuman Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, there’s quite a few players fighting for the top spot in the second tier of this draft. Along with Marner, you have Sebastian Aho (who we’ll get to), Mikko Rantanen, Matthew Barzal, even Kyle Connor or Zach Werenski. But, he has the third most points out of this class, and the third highest points per game. Heck, if you look at the last two seasons, he has more than Eichel. And none of those players have had a year like Marner’s 2018-19 season. Toxic contract negotiations have torn his reputation (I’d know, I was one of them), but there’s no denying that Marner is an incredibly talented player, and as of right now, was the best pick available when the Leafs went up to the podium that day.
Round 2: 34th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Travis Dermott
Best player available (within 20 picks): Sebastian Aho (Carolina, 35th overall)
Best player available (overall): Sebastian Aho
The first of several picks that we got when Dubas traded down at the draft, this one was probably the best hit of those picks. Dermott has evolved into an excellent third pair defenseman, and has played well when put in a top four role, albeit in limited minutes. As far as picks outside of the first round go, this was a good one.
Only problem is that the pick right after him was Aho, the only player from that previous group of second tier players that wasn’t drafted in the first round. He has the fourth most points out of anyone in this draft, and has become one of the premier players of the game, and the Hurricanes trip to the conference finals last year made sure of that. Dermott has been great, but Aho is so much better. Even after Aho, there was Brandon Carlo, Roope Hintz, Rasmus Andersson, or Vince Dunn.
Round 2: 61st overall & Round 3: 65th and 68th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Jeremy Bracco, Andrew Nielsen, & Martins Dzierkals
Best player available (within 20 picks): Anthony Cirelli (Tampa Bay, 72nd overall)
Best player available (overall): Anthony Cirelli
I’m grouping all these together because they’re all within seven picks, and all have the same player that could’ve been picked in mind. None of these picks have really done well, as the only one who has any potential left is Bracco, and his time is slipping. It doesn’t help that Tampa drafted Cirelli in that same range, who’s developed into an underrated defensive forward, and was on pace for 52 points this year until the season was suspended.
Round 4: 95th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Jesper Lindgren
Best player available (within 20 picks): Denis Malgin (Florida, 102nd overall)
Best player available (overall): Andrew Mangiapane (Calgary, 166th overall)
All hope isn’t lost for Lindgren, as he finally started playing the North American pro game this year with the Marlies, but there have been much better players selected after him. Funny enough, Malgin was the best player taken in his range, and while I could say that we could’ve had him for free instead of giving up assets, we only lost Mason Marchment, so not much was lost with this.
Round 5: 125th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Dmytro Timashov
Best player available (within 20 picks): Dominik Simon (Pittsburgh, 137th overall)
Best player available (overall): Andrew Mangiapane
Timashov has been the only player picked after Dermott that has actually seen some success for the team, although he didn’t make too much of an impact before being claimed on waivers by the Detroit Red Wings. Still, not the worst for a fifth round pick that was only 23. That said, there was some better options. Simon has been solid for the Penguins, and is really the only player of substance taken in the next 20 (although players like Troy Terry, Adam Gaudette, and John Marino were taken right after that, and the Leafs next pick).
Round 6: 155th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Stephen Desrocher
Best player available (within 20 picks): Andrew Mangiapane
Best player available (overall): Andrew Mangiapane
Honestly, I have no idea who Desrocher is, but I just found out he spent the last three years playing at Western University, so that’s cool. But, he’s not Mangiapane, who’s developed into a top six forward for Calgary and almost scored 20 goals if not for the shutdown, and would’ve probably added more depth to the Leafs forward group.
Round 7: 185th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Nikita Korostelev
Best player available (within 20 picks): Matt Roy
Best player available (overall): Matt Roy
For some reason, Korostelev actually rings a bell, but he also didn’t amount to much of anything for the Leafs. He was great in juniors, but struggled in the AHL and ECHL, and is now in the KHL. As far as the available players, take your pick with Roy or Markus Nutivaara. Nutivaara has more experience, but I think Roy has done better in the minutes given to him.
4th – Mitch Marner
34th – Sebastian Aho
61st – Anthony Cirelli
65th – Caleb Jones
68th – Conor Garland
95th – Troy Terry
125th -John Marino
155th – Andrew Mangiapane
185th – Matt Roy
In terms of how this would impact the current roster, it would mostly just mean that we don’t get Travis Dermott on our bottom pair (and instead get three defensemen more than capable of taking his place, and more).
Using Charting Hockey’s WAR Lineup Creator, this would be the ideal lineup with these new draft picks. Like we saw in the 2016 draft, it makes a lot of the depth wingers expendable, particularly Kasperi Kapanen this time as he doesn’t even crack the new lineup. Our top four defense is far from amazing, but Marino and Roy offer some stability as solid possession defensemen to play big minutes, while giving Barrie really sheltered minutes playing with Jones.
Also, that center depth. Woof.
One telling thing about how quick the Leafs rebuild was was that fact that they did hit on their top picks each draft by taking the best player available (so far, we’ll get to William Nylander next time). In theory, it should be easy, because the top picks are the obvious ones. But look at one pick before Marner (that’d be Dylan Strome, who’s fine, but not great), and suddenly it’s not as obvious. The Leafs technically had more than 200 chances to get it wrong, and the fact that five years later you can still say they took the best player available at the fourth pick is still an accomplishment.
At the time, this draft was touted as a high-risk, high-reward draft, and while there were a couple hits after the first round in Dermott and Timashov (somewhat), it mostly didn’t pay off. Even with Dermott and Timashov, there were still much better players that could’ve been taken instead of them).