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 2012 draft, which… was horrendously bad. There were maybe like 5-10 really good players taken in this draft, and at the very least, the Leafs got the first cornerstone piece for their current team.
Round 1: 5th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Morgan Rielly
Best player available (within 20 picks): Filip Forsberg (Washington, 11th overall)
Best player available (overall): Filip Forsberg
Rielly has grown to become one of the biggest pieces for the success of our current team. His defensive game isn’t the best, but he’s become a strong offensive threat from the blue line, a key to generating offense, as well as one of the leaders of the team (I wish he’d been captain, but I get it being Tavares as well.
That said, he definitely wasn’t the best player available. He was easily the best player taken in the top five, but taken just six picks later was Forsberg, who’s gone on to become one of the better scorers in the league, with 353 points in 458 career games. He’s struggled with injuries of late, which has led to a bit of a decline in his production, but his offensive and defensive impact are consistent year by year.
Andrei Vasilevsky was another consideration, but his underlying numbers have never been too strong, as he likely benefits from playing behind loaded Tampa Bay Lightning teams year after year. Besides, he’s not going to be the only goalie we encounter in this draft.
Round 2: 35th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Matt Finn
Best player available (within 20 picks): Colton Sissons (Nashville, 50th overall)
Best player available (overall): Frederik Andersen (Anaheim, 87th overall)
Remember Matt Finn? He went from being a highly praised prospect to being a throw-in to the Michael Grabner trade. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Sissons is turned into a solid bottom six contributor for a loaded Predators team with 27 and 30 point seasons under his belt, and his six goals and 12 points also contributed well on the Predators 2016 Cup Finals run.
That said, I’d probably reach and take Andersen, since the Leafs don’t have another pick for three rounds. While he’d end up on the team anyways, he’s the best player available, and it would save us the trouble of having to spend a first and a second on him. Colton Parayko was another consideration for the pick, but I opted for Andersen because of his consistency of being a high end NHL goaltender.
Round 5: 126th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Dominic Toninato
Best player available (within 20 picks): Connor Hellebuyck (Winnipeg, 130th overall)
Best player available (overall): Connor Hellebuyck
I had no idea that Toninato was actually a Leafs pick, but the Leafs opted to not sign him, only for him to wind up on the Colorado Avalanche in 2017, and become a decent NHL player. Not bad for a fifth round pick, but also another good example of how the Leafs weren’t always the best at development.
But, taken only four picks later is another elite goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck (seriously, what a draft to get a goalie in). He tends to rotate seasons between Vezina candidate and below average starter, but on a Jets team that’s had tons of drama this year, Hellebuyck has been a stabilizing presence for them, something this year’s Leafs could’ve used, especially when Andersen has faltered.
Round 6: 156th overall & 157th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Connor Brown & Ryan Rupert
Best player available (within 20 picks): Matt Benning (Boston, 175th overall)
Best player available (overall): Matt Benning
Now we reach the other great pick of this draft for the Leafs in Brown. While he fell out of favour with Leafs fans as time went, he still had a 20 goal rookie season, and became a solid bottom six guy for the Leafs, even if Babcock tended to play him a bit too much. Ryan Rupert, one of the Rupert twins the Leafs ended up with, was taken with the other pick, but he didn’t amount to much.
At this point, there aren’t a ton of high end talent, but Matt Benning has developed into a solid defensiveman for the Oilers. He’s not known for his offense, but he’s good for 15-20 points in a full year, and has a well-rounded defensive game, making him capable of a top four. He’s also a right shot, something the Leafs need a lot of.
Round 7: 209th overall
Who the Leafs picked: Victor Loov
Best player available (within 20 picks): Jaycob Megna (Anaheim, 210th overall)
Best player available (overall): Jaycob Megna
One of the disadvantages of doing this with picks really late in the draft (as we can see with the third last pick in this year’s draft) is there isn’t a whole lot to choose from. At this point, we have Loov, who ended up playing four games with the Leafs when they were tanking, Megna, who has put in 43 games with the Ducks, and Nick Ebert, who’s mostly become an okay AHLer. I’ll take Megna and his 43 games, because that’s at least something.
5th – Filip Forsberg
35th – Frederik Andersen
126th – Connor Hellebuyck
156th – Matt Benning
157th – Vinny Hinostroza
209th – Jaycob Megna
There are definitely a few implications to the current team based on the changes in this draft. First, not having Rielly likely leads to the Leafs being able to keep Jake Gardiner, which isn’t too bad of a trade off. Drafting Andersen and not trading for him means we have an extra first and second to get even more prospects. And not drafting Brown might mean we see another depth forward thrown into the Zaitsev-Ceci deal instead, although that could range from Kapanen to Gauthier.
Using Charting Hockey’s WAR Lineup Creator, this would be the ideal lineup with these new draft picks. Forsberg rounds out the top six, Hinostroza adds more depth to the bottom six, and while Rielly’s absense is missed on the left side, Benning adds some value back on the right side. Also, Hellebuyck and Andersen create probably the best goalie tandem since Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.
The 2012 draft was Brian Burke’s last big contribution as Leafs GM, and honestly, it wasn’t a bad swan song to an otherwise mediocre tenure. The Leafs drafted three NHL players out of this draft, and another one in Loov that got some NHL action and held his own. They also did this with only six picks, four of them coming in the fifth round or later. Oh, and we got one of our best players and leaders in Morgan Rielly. Not bad.