June 1st is a significant date on the hockey calendar for prospects and General Managers. It’s the date that junior hockey players selected in the 2018 draft need to be signed by. Exciting, I know, but still a somewhat relevant date on the calendar when we’ve basically been sitting around rehashing classic games and debating what the return of the 2019-20 season will look like.
For the Leafs part of this equation, Toronto has two players who are unsigned, and would therefore be eligible to re-enter the draft in 2020. Riley Stotts, and Zachary Bouthillier.
The cases for and against them were made previously in this hockey hiatus…
Stotts has had a steady upward trajectory in his production, but lacks the ridiculous numbers you’d expect in post draft seasons. This may speak to him not having the talent to dominate offensively against much younger competition, but it also speaks to the state of the Hitmen organization over Stotts’ time there. I don’t think anyone is making the case for Stotts as a top six player at either the AHL or the NHL level, but the lack of dominance might speak to him not being able to keep up at the next level.
Given the Leafs are chasing 4th line upside at this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them pass on Stotts, but equally, they could use some center help with the Marlies, and given the likely shortened off-season, maybe locking up organizational depth now is a plus. If Stotts is brought in, he’ll potentially be a project. If he’s not brought in, it’s a good reminder that not every 3rd rounder is a gem.
…the most important aspect to consider, and that is the Leafs coaching and development philosophy when it comes to goaltenders. Assuming the Leafs goaltending experts singled out Bouthillier as a goaltender they want to work with, that could still carry a lot of weight going into contract time. Although if they were excited about Bouthillier you could also assume they would have encouraged his signing by now.
So the reality of this is that Bouthillier probably won’t be a Leaf and you probably won’t be too bothered by that. Hopefully we’ll get a shiny new goaltending prospect to fawn over whenever the NHL gets around to holding a draft.
So in all likelihood both of these players will go unsigned and no one will lose any sleep over it. In the event that both of these players go undrafted it’s entirely possible the Leafs double back around with contracts to play for either the Marlies or Growlers, but looking at the list of other players from other teams that might slip through the cracks they might be tempted to take a chance on some of the other options.
Five players to watch
I’m going to start with a bit of a disclaimer, and that disclaimer is that I’m probably not leaning towards taking any of these players in the 2020 draft. I’ll take the 18 year old mystery box over the 20 year old mystery box, and instead would be interested in seeing the Leafs offer up conditional future 7th round picks or wait out the draft to sign these players as AHL free agents assuming they go unpicked.
One of the youngest players and unquestionably the coolest name on the list, Blade Jenkins isn’t entirely different from Riley Stotts. He’s a 6’1 center who hasn’t seen much in the way of an offensive spike in his post draft years. He’s more of a goal scorer and packs more of an offensive punch that could be needed at the AHL/ECHL level. For the next week the rights to Jenkins are held by the Islanders.
Grabbing a player from the Habs and having them go on to success would be a wonderful turn of events, and McShane, who has spent the past three years exceeding a point per game pace could do that. Or at the least potentially add some offense to the Marlies.
Sticking with the theme of smallish Habs centers I’d like to steal, Cole Fonstad comes to mind. The former teammate of Ian Scott could provide a bit more AHL offense and give the Leafs an opportunity to explore whether there is untapped upside in this over a point per game player.
Generally speaking if a team hasn’t signed their 6’3 right shooting defenseman it’s because there isn’t a perceived future for him in the NHL by any stretch of the imagination. If Vegas thought they had something, he’d be signed and maybe that’s the buyer beware that should deter me. Still Bouchard has the size and shot the Leafs covet, and his offense has improved since being traded this season, so he’s listed.
Okay, so it’s really hard to come up with a list of five guys when it’s so much easier to not be interested in any of them, but if we’re going to include a goaltender on the list, Kloucek is the most appealing as he’s put up solid numbers in the second tier Czech league. That probably still equals a bit of a project, but 35 games of .931 save percentage hockey has me mildly intrigued.
Other than the Outlook reminder in Kyle Dubas’ calendar about the Stotts and Bouthillier contracts that he’ll swiftly hit dismiss on, the day will probably go by without event. None of the previously mentioned players are likely to find their way into any part of the Leafs organization, and are merely a throwback to names I remember when building my 2018 draft lists.
Hopefully the NHL will announce something more than casual practices soon so we can discuss something more significant.