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Maple Leafs draft strategy vs. organizational needs

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis
Jon Steitzer
22 days ago
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There is a philosophy that teams should draft the best player available. I’ve always found this philosophy odd when you have 40 different draft rankers all telling you the best player available is someone else (unless you are the Sharks and get to select Macklin Celebrini). If you ask 20 different people you might not get 20 different answers, but you won’t get unanimous agreement on who the Leafs should select 23rd overall. That said, if you can get Wes Clark and Brad Treliving to agree on a guy that’s probably good enough and the rest of us are just guessing who we think the best player available is.
The modified philosophy that makes more sense is that you shouldn’t draft based on need, and this approach is far more agreeable. If Wes Clark and Brad Treliving would like to add a defenceman but there is a player they see as a future hall of fame winner available at their pick, I sure as hell hope they take the winger. An example of this is taking Mitch Marner over Ivan Provorov. Provorov is fine defenceman but the Leafs were wise not to overthink things at the draft and to select Marner (now ask me if they should have taken Barzal instead.)
That philosophy also needs some modification and that is to make sure the team takes a player who has the attributes that your player development team can work with. The Maple Leafs have shifted towards prioritizing athleticism in recent years and having players who have strong results but also the right building blocks has benefited the Leafs. They’ve felt confident in their ability to work with players on their skating so selecting the strongest skaters in the draft isn’t a priority, and they’ve been mindful of what they’ve had success with and regularly revisit that archetype.
The Burke era is a good example of the Maple Leafs getting it wrong as they selected Tyler Biggs, Frederik Gauthier, and Jamie Devane, amongst others, because they wanted to go in a big power forward direction that was going to make the Leafs a mean team to play against. Unfortunately, no one in the organization was equipped to set these players up for success and while you would have assumed they could have at least fallen into fourth line roles, that wasn’t the case either.
The Leafs have a strong defensive coach at the helm of the Marlies, it would be surprising if they didn’t try to find a few more players to work with him.

The state of the prospect pool

Knowing that the Leafs shouldn’t select by need doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile knowing where the need is and other than the obvious need for star players and guys who can come in at higher roster spots or eventually turn into first string goaltenders, the Leafs’ needs are also a bit about finding ways to add quantity to the quality they already have there, as some players show a lot of promise but there aren’t a lot of other options if they don’t pan out.
Defence is as much a priority when it comes to prospects as it does with the Maple Leafs’ roster. Topi Niemela still looks like he could play in the Maple Leafs’ top four someday and is a strong two-way player who lacks the size the organization is prioritizing. On the flip side, Cade Webber has the size the Leafs crave but doesn’t have the top four upside. Noah Chadwick is the interesting project that the Leafs hope can blend size and skill, but this trio is it before we start talking about depth and capable Marlies.
When it comes to forwards the Leafs have a lot more to be excited about, but Easton Cowan is really “the guy” when it comes to high end potential. Fraser Minten is a strong candidate for a third line role, and there are interesting options like Quillan, Grebyonkin, Hirvonen, Tverberg, Moldenhauer and even Voit, but all (except for maybe Grebyonkin and Moldenhauer) are far more likely to show up as bottom six forwards. Of that group it is really Minten and Quillan that have futures as centres, so that too will be an area of focus.
Goaltending always seems to be a numbers game and the Leafs are playing that game better than they have in a long time. Hildeby, Akhtyamov, and Peksa make for a good foundation in net, but with the volume of picks the Leafs own in the later rounds of the draft it seems like a shame to not add at least one more. Given the strength of American goaltending in recent years and the fact that the NCAA gives a player four years before you have to find a player a spot in your organization, the Leafs could take a low risk late round flyer on one of the many hidden gems that come up through the NAHL.
The main need remains that home run option and with the Leafs without a pick in the 2nd and 3rd rounds this draft, and no picks in the first four rounds of the 2025 draft, swinging for the fences seems like a must and the pressure is on.
Get ready for the Daily Faceoff Live Free Agency Special, coming to you on July 1st, 2024 LIVE from 11am to 2pm Eastern Standard Time. Join Tyler Yaremchuk, Frank Seravalli and friends from all over the league 3 hours of non-stop action as they dive deep into the heart of the Free Agency. We will be breaking down every trade, discussing the impact on teams, predicting the future of the Free Agents, and giving you the inside scoop on all the wheeling and dealing happening around the league. Catch all the action live on July 1st from 11 AM to 2 PM EST for the The Daily Faceoff Live Free Agency Special you won’t want to miss!

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