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 2013 draft, which has also aged pretty well considering they didn’t do well with their first round pick, only had five picks, and were in the Nonis era.
Round 1: 21st overall
Who the Leafs picked: Frederik Gauthier
Best player available (within 20 picks): Shea Theodore (Anaheim, 26th overall)
Best player available (overall): Jake Guentzel (Pittsburgh, 77th overall)
While Gauthier has turned into a solid fourth line centre for the Leafs, he still was not a good pick at his draft position. Even draft experts had him slotted as “at best” a third line centre, so he was never a good pick to being with. But, he managed to work on his skating to become a better player all around, with good enough defensive responsibility to not be a negative impact, while also sneaking in a good shot from time to time.
That said, there were much better players taken after him. Just five picks later, the Anaheim Ducks drafted Theodore, who has gone on to becoming the Vegas Golden Knight’s best defenseman, and was even a Norris candidate for this season with 46 points in 71 games, as well as excellent defensive play.
A couple rounds later, the Pittsburgh Penguins have drafted Jake Guentzel, who’s become one of their top offensive players with 200 points in 243 games, including 43 points in 39 games this season before separating his shoulder. You could probably say he’s benefited from playing with Crosby and Malkin, but what that tells me is he’d do well alongside one of Matthews or Tavares.
Round 3: 82nd overall
Who the Leafs picked: Carter Verhaeghe
Best player available (within 20 picks): Juuse Saros (Nashville, 99th overall)
Best player available (overall): Juuse Saros
Verhaeghe has had a weird career path. After being drafted by the Leafs, he didn’t get much of a shot with them before being one of the five players dealt in the Michael Grabner trade. After bouncing between the AHL and ECHL with them, the Syracuse Crunch took a chance on him, he had a great year, got an NHL contract with the Lightning, rewarded them by leading the AHL with 82 points, and cracked the NHL squad this season. Not a bad pick for the Leafs, but they got nothing out of it except for a year of Grabner.
As always though, there were better options. Saros has been a solid backup for the Predators for years, playing well enough to alleviate some of Pekka Rinne’s minutes to help keep him rested (something the Leafs have desperately needed). The last couple years, it’s become more of a 1A/1B system as they are grooming him to replace Rinne, and he’s done well in the adjusted minutes.
Round 5: 142nd overall
Who the Leafs picked: Fabrice Herzog
Best player available (within 20 picks): Josh Brown (Florida, 152nd overall)
Best player available (overall): Dominik Kubalik (Los Angeles, 191st overall)
Herzog sounds familiar to me, and I’m not sure if it’s because of playing NHL 14 a lot, or that his first name sounds like Febreze. Regardless, it’s not because of his play, because after another season in juniors and a five game stint with the Marlies, he’s been playing in the Swiss League.
Then again, it was pretty slim picks at this point of the draft, because the best player in his range was Josh Brown, who’s become an okay defenseman for Florida, but isn’t anything special.
Round 6: 172nd overall
Who the Leafs picked: Antoine Bibeau
Best player available (within 20 picks): Dominik Kubalik
Best player available (overall): Dominik Kubalik
Ah, Antoine Bibeau. He was a prospect who got a bit overhyped because he backstopped the Val d’Or Foreurs to a QMJHL championship before losing in the semi-finals of the Memorial Cup. He rode that hype for a while in his AHL career, but never amounted to much at the NHL level and ended up getting let go once Garret Sparks started showing more NHL potential.
Meanwhile, 19 picks later, the Los Angeles Kings drafted Kubalik, who after several years overseas, signed with the Chicago Blackhawks and has been having a spectacular rookie season, already hitting the 30 goal mark before the season was suspended.
Round 7: 202nd overall
Who the Leafs picked: Andreas Johnsson
Best player available (within 20 picks): Andreas Johnsson
Best player available (overall): Andreas Johnsson
If not for the aforementioned Kubalik, Johnsson would’ve been the best player available since the Leafs’ fifth round pick, and if not for a weaker second season riddled with injuries, there would’ve been a much stronger case for Johnsson over Kubalik. But, he’s obviously still available as the Leafs took him here, and after an interesting start, he’s developed into a solid forward for the Leafs thus far.
21st – Jake Guentzel
82nd – Juuse Saros
142nd – Dominik Kubalik
172nd – Andreas Johnsson
202nd – MacKenzie Weegar
There wouldn’t really be a significant impact on the Leafs current roster with this draft, aside from swapping out Gauthier for Guentzel, as we’d still have Johnsson. I guess Verhaeghe not being picked means he isn’t a part of the Grabner trade, but considering that was just a collection of meh prospects, they probably just swap somebody else in for it.
Using Charting Hockey’s WAR Lineup Creator, this would be the ideal lineup with these new draft picks. You’ll be surprised to find out that, once again, the current wingers become expendable due to the new additions to the lineup. The only loss is Gauthier, who hasn’t even cracked one of these post-draft lineups anyways, so that doesn’t matter. There was finally a change to the goalies, as Saros now becomes a reliable backup for Andersen.
I’ve also enjoyed how every time a decent right shot defenseman is drafted, they usually end up becoming our best one. Crazy, isn’t it?
Much like the 2014 draft, this one exceeded my expectations because I wasn’t expecting this much success in a draft with five picks in the Nonis era. But, if you go for how many players have become solid NHL players, the Leafs went 60% on their picks, and if you want to include Bibeau because he got a few games as well, that’s 80%. Gauthier was still a bad pick in the first round, but he’s turned out much better than expected, and Johnsson was a steal in the 7th round. Verhaeghe was also a good pick, he just didn’t get to see his success with the Leafs, and that’s on management, not the scouts.