When Kyle Dubas was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in July 2014, he made clear that his draft philosophy was one of exploiting inefficiencies. He was not in charge of the draft at that point, but it seemed pertinent that Brendan Shanahan’s first major hire was eager to go against conventional draft logic.
In the 2015 NHL draft, the Leafs targeted undersized and European skaters that they felt provided greater value than what should have been available at that point. Travis Dermott and Dmytro Timashov were the successes of that strategy, Jeremy Bracco and Nikita Korostelev the failures at this point.
In the 2016 NHL draft, they targeted overage players such as 20 year old Egor Korshkov at 31st overall. They also selected Adam Brooks and Jack Walker from the WHL, both of whom had been through the 2 previous drafts, plus Nikolai Chebykin and Vladimir Bobylev who were 19.
In the drafts since they have selected Vladislav Kara (19), Sean Durzi (19), Mac Hollowell (19), Pontus Holmberg (19), and Nicholas Abruzzese (20). The Leafs have selected an overage player every draft since Dubas was hired, and there is no reason to believe that should stop now. Draft experts may say this is not a great year for high-end overage talent, but there are still plenty of players worth taking a chance on.
If the theory is that some teams are reluctant to draft players they feel they could otherwise sign as free agents, the Leafs have plenty of ammunition at the end of the draft to pick off players they have identified with high-end potential. Toronto has 11 picks total, with 6 of them coming in the last 2 rounds.
So who might the Leafs be looking at with those late round picks?
6. Samuel Johannesson
The 5’11 RHD matched his Swedish SuperElit production from 2018-19 in fewer than half as many games, while also recording 11 points in 44 SHL games. I cannot help but to compare him to Detroit Red Wings 2019 2nd round pick Albert Johansson, a 6’0″ LD. Both Swedish D played on SuperElit teams that lost in the first round, then graduated to an SHL team in the top 3 in the standings when the season was cancelled. Albert had 29 points in 2018-19 to Samuel’s 16, but this year they had 13 and 11 points in the SHL, respectively.
One major advantage to Albert is his appearances internationally for Sweden, who is traditionally known for having a strong blueline. Still, Samuel being right handed is a premium, and he should be available much later than the 2nd round.
Samuel Johannesson is set to start playing for an extremely strong Rogle team, so NHL scouts will get more than the existing 51 game SHL sample before the 2020 draft. Him being a 2000 birth year may turn some teams off, but he this is only his 2nd time through the draft. If he can earn more minutes with Kodie Curran under NHL contract, Johannesson has an opportunity to shatter his 11 point rookie season.
I would also compare Johannesson to Lucas Carlsson, who was selected by the Blackhawks as an overager in the 4th round in 2016. Their Swedish production has mirrored each other closely, and it took some time, but Carlsson made his NHL debut for Chicago this season.
No matter what the Leafs do to adress their current defensive needs, it would still be wise to add to the prospect pool at RD. At no point since Dubas was hired has Toronto had satisfactory RD, and even if Timothy Liljegren and Mac Hollowell meet their potential they will need more depth. If Johannesson is still hanging around in the 7th round he may be worth a flier.
5. Benjamin Baumgartner
The 5’9″ Austrian Center has played in the top Swiss league for parts of the past two seasons. In his draft year Baumgartner got exactly a point per game for Davos’ u20 team, but didn’t stand out enough for any draft consideration. In his 19 year old season, he split the year between u20 and the NLA.
In 2019-20, Baumgartner’s draft plus two year, he finally got a full time spot with HC Davos in the NLA. He centered the 2nd and 3rd lines there, where he would have played with Leaf prospect Fabrice Herzog. Baumgartner’s 27 points in 37 games as a 20 year old was good for 3rd amongst u24 NLA points. The only forward ahead of him was Pius Suter, who has now signed an ELC with Chicago.
The only other player to eclipse 25 NLA points in a u20 season since 2013 is Auston Matthews, make of that what you will.
Davos lost a top scorer in Mattias Tedenby to the KHL this summer, so there may be more PP opportunity for Baumgartner this season. He is in the final year of his NLA contract, and could begin training in North America in 2021. If a team thinks he can translate his Swiss success to NA ice, he might be a shorter-term solution at 3C than you might otherwise find in the draft.
Baumgartner also dominated at the WJC for Austria this season, leading Division 1A with 11 points in 5 games as Austria was promoted to the top division. That may have gotten him noticed by more scouts, as he is now 80th amongst European Skaters by CSS. Realistically Baumgartner will be available in the late rounds as a twice overager, making him a good target for one of the Leafs 7th round picks.
4. Pavel Gogolev
The 6’1″ LW from Russia wasn’t on my radar until day two of the draft in 2018. When the Leafs selected Semyon Der-Arguchintsev from the Peterborough Petes in the 3rd round, I looked up his highlight clips like every other Leaf fan. He had a long reel of cerebral passing plays, but he always passed to the same player; Pavel Gogolev.
For the rest of the day I watched and draft eligible Gogolev wasn’t taken. He was bigger than SDA, had more than twice as many goals and only 4 fewer points. I was surprised he wasn’t taken then, but you could chalk some of that up to having a much earlier birthday than SDA. The following OHL season he was traded to the Guelph Storm, but fractured his ankle shortly after. He would return in time for playoffs, but had a reduced role as he worked through his injury en route to an OHL championship.
With the departures of Nate Schnarr and Isaac Ratcliffe, Gogolev stepped up in a big way for Guelph in 2019-20. He led the team in scoring with 96 points in 63 games, good for 6th in the OHL overall. For some teams the possibility he goes undrafted and they can try to sign him as a free agent is real enough that they cannot “waste” a pick on him.
Strictly looking at his talent compared to the rest of the OHL, Gogolev is in a tier above many of the CHL players that will be taken in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. To a degree you should expect that from a 20 year old, the question is whether or not there is much runway left for him to grow. His ranking varies greatly from one scouting service to another, so it is difficult to know where he will be available or if he will be drafted at all.
If Gogolev goes undrafted, the I’m sure the Toronto would love to reunite him with SDA on an AHL deal with the Marlies. If the Leafs think that a highly talented player in a heavily scouted league might get taken in the 7th, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take him in the 6th. Gogolev has the skill the Leafs have always targeted, but in a frame over 6 feet for once. His familiarity with SDA and Nick Robertson is an added bonus, so keep an eye on Gogolev whether he gets drafted or not.
3. Yevgeni Oksentyuk
This 5’8″ Belarusian Winger likely went undrafted last season because he was playing pro in Belarus, but his 2nd time around he has turned heads in the OHL. Oksentyuk got the 2nd most votes for “Best Stickhandler” in the Western Conference of the OHL Coaches Poll.
His 78 points in 58 games is good for 8th in p/g amongst undrafted OHL players. In terms of draft-eligible players, that is right between projected 1st round picks Jack Quinn and Tyson Foerster. Some scouting services have Oksentyuk as a 3rd or 4th round pick, but NHL Central Scouting has him 109th amongst NA skaters.
Many times CSS has fewer viewings of a single player than another scouting service might, as they serve to aggregate many different regions and hundreds of eligible players. This could be the case for Oksentyuk, but it could also be a combination of three major draft biases. The first is that he is undersized, at 5’8″ there is no avoiding it. Second is him being European, especially coming from a small hockey nation like Belarus where their pro league is not as heavily scouted by draft experts. Third is that he is an early 2001 birthday, making him as much as 17 months older than comparable players in the draft.
If Oksentyuk is picked in the 3rd, it’s evidence that more NHL teams are forgoing these biases in order to select more high-end potential players. If not, his CSS ranking could be an indication teams will let him slide. Florida will have seen lots of Oksentyuk play, as Belarusian teammate Vladislav Kolyachonok was a Panthers 2nd round pick. They also played with Stars 1st round pick Ty Dellandrea, so there were plenty of eyes on Oksentyuk. If he’s available in the later rounds he is the ultimate high-risk high-reward pick.
Oksentyuk was recently loaned to the Belarus pro team Yunost Minsk, which is also the affiliate of the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk.
2. Axel Rindell
Rindell is a 6′ Finnish RHD who has already been passed over in two NHL drafts. The reason for his consideration in this draft is his jump to Liiga after playing Finnish junior for the previous two drafts. He took the opportunity with Jukurit and ran with it, recording 22 points in 47 games.
Those 22 points tied him for 18th amongst all Liiga defencemen, and 3rd amongst u24 defencemen. The 20 year old RD seems to be progressing quickly, and a team desperately in need at that position may reflect upon picks like Mac Hollowell and decide Rindell is a pick with great upside if he slides to the 6th round.
Over 40% of those points did come on the powerplay, where Rindell played on the 2nd unit with former Leaf prospect Martins Dzierkals. He would have had little chance to play on the top PP unit, as premier offensive defenceman Alexander Yakovenko occupies that slot.
Rindell has an NHL level shot from the point and combines it with strong offensive instincts. He’s a RHD which is a position of need for the Leafs, but he may not be the defensive stalwart the Leafs are after. Regardless, if you can pick up a player that still has decent upside in the late rounds and he is two years further along in his development, it’s a strong incentive for a team aiming to contend. It reminds me somewhat of when Swedish Defenceman Sebastian Aho was taken as a 21 year old in the 5th round of the 2017 draft. He played 22 NHL games the following season, but hasn’t been able to find an opening since.
1. Artyom Galimov
The ’99 born, left shooting Russian Center has already been through three drafts, entering his fourth and final. He’s been in the Ak Bars system from the start, making his way through the Russian juniors and minors before bursting onto the KHL scene last season. It was a surprise to see a rookie join a team as talented as Ak Bars and flourish as much as he did.
Galimov was the 3C there, recording 23 points in 55 games. 13 of those points were goals, 4 of those coming on the powerplay. He was 1st in points amongst u21 skaters, and 2nd amongst u22 skaters behind Chicago Blackhawks 2nd round pick Artur Kayumov. Even if you expand the scope to every skater 23 or younger in the KHL last season, Galimov is in the top 10 in points.
If the Leafs are looking for a 3C in the draft that can play sooner rather than later, look no further. Galimov’s contract with Ak Bars expires at the end of the 20-21 season (that is currently underway in the KHL), and he is already on the 3rd line on one of the best teams in the 2nd best league in the world.
Galimov is ranked #34 amongst European skaters by NHL central scouting, so the Leafs would likely need to use one of their 4th round picks if they want to get him. If he falls any further it would not surprise me to see Columbus take a swing on Galimov. With the KHL season underway, he is playing on a line with CBJ prospect Dmitri Voronkov, and the Blue Jackets are adept at snagging Russian talent.
Every season fanbases yearn over prospects that they feel do not get enough attention, but come draft day we are reminded why they don’t get that attention. Player after player goes off the board in the 5th round that we have never heard of, and the player you have spent time researching is sitting right there. Then your favourite team picks another player you have never heard of, and you start to analyze them all the same.
There is no guarantee half the players on this list are even drafted, and if they are, there is 30 other teams that have a chance to take them. I mentioned with Oksentyuk that when a club has a drafted prospect on the same team, they tend to watch those draft prospects disproportionately more. Flashy players can develop a reputation that gets them drafted earlier. That is why these picks are often called ‘sleepers’, because they quietly produce well and the team that notices reaps the rewards.
Each of these prospects fit at least two of the traditional draft biases, European and overage. There is a 1999 birthday and a 2001 birthday, and players from Russia, Belarus, Austria, Finland, and Sweden. Depending on your definition there are certainly some undersized players as well. For those players it may impact their draft stock, but each of them has proven they can play against men despite their small frame. Between the six of them I am confident a team will walk away with at least one steal, but minds brighter than mine still cannot tell you which one.
I could see a scenario where Galimov, Oksentyuk, and Gogolev are all gone before the Leafs get to use their bevy of picks in the 6th. That still leaves Baumgartner on the board, who is a wildcard in my eyes. He could sputter out with different linemates in Davos, or he could have difficulty adjusting to the AHL, but he could also join an interesting crop of young Austrian players (including 6’3″ RHD Thimo Nickl). For the Leafs it would be tempting if RHD Johannesson and Rindell are still there in the 7th, in order to adress a position of need. They don’t have the same type of upside that the forwards do, which could be an argument on its own not to draft them. That being said the Leafs will continually need players on ELCs to make an impact at the NHL level, and drafting one of these RD would improve their chances to do that.
If three or four of these players are still on the board and the Leafs select someone else, I should also be able to accept that an NHL team has had more viewings on each overager and decided they wanted someone else. That leaves the door open for them to sign as free agents down the road, like the Leafs did with Andreas Borgman or Nikita Soshnikov. I briefly mentioned that if Gogolev goes undrafted he would have some familiar faces in Toronto, if the Marlies can get him on an AHL deal he would be a tremendous asset.