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Why the Maple Leafs should draft Michael Hage by someone who has never seen him play

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Photo credit:Chicago Steel/twitter
Jon Steitzer
28 days ago
First off, YouTube highlights don’t count as seeing a player play. I’ve seen some nice highlights of Michael Hage and while the shift-by-shift videos of prospects are one of the best friends of those of us who try to turn into draft experts every June, the context of the game isn’t there and it feels like watching a player in a vacuum.

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So why do I feel so strongly about a player that I have never watched a full game of? This is getting at the issue I have with how most of us form our draft opinions, I started with my biases. My initial bias is that you should use a first-round pick on a skilled forward whenever possible. Hage checks that box. The next is my opinion on what the Leafs could use more of in their prospect pool, and that is skilled forwards with size. Again, that’s a good reason to like Hage although 6’1 isn’t huge, it’s not the oft-criticized 5’10 Leafs draftee.
There’s also the fact that Hage looks attainable with the 23rd overall pick:
Ranking Outlets (via Eliteprospects.com)
22Consolidated Ranking by Elite Prospects
10NHL Central Scouting (North American Skaters)
12McKeen’s Hockey
19Daily Faceoff (Steven Ellis)
20Sportsnet (Sam Cosentino)
21Sportsnet (Jason Bukala)
21TSN (Craig Button)
22Recruit Scouting
23Draft Prospects Hockey
23FloHockey (Chris Peters)
24Eliteprospects.com
26Dobber Prospects
27Smaht Scouting
29The Hockey News (Tony Ferrari)
29The Hockey News (Ryan Kennedy)
29Future Considerations
36TSN (Bob McKenzie)
It only seems like a slight reach for Hage and the fact that Bob McKenzie’s ranking still has Hage lower makes it seem entirely possible that Hage is still on the board when the Leafs make their selection.
All of this makes for a pretty flimsy case to want to draft a prospect but honestly the process I’m talking about likely mirrors that of a lot of people who pick up a draft guide for the first time in June and start arguing with people like Steven Ellis online (I’m not sure there is another human on the planet who watches more hockey than Steven.)
There are other things that stand out as little niceties about Hage that help make the case for him. He’s got a right shot and the Leafs could use that up the middle. He’s going to the University of Michigan and they have an excellent track record of developing skill players. Michael Hage is from Mississauga and the Leafs love their local boys. And finally, Ryan Hardy, the Leafs’ minor league boss is the former GM of the Chicago Steel and is very familiar with the organization and would likely have great insight into the player and how he’s been developed so far. Alternatively, if the Leafs don’t select Hage when he’s still on the board that could either say something about how much they believe in the guy they selected or their intel on Hage warranted going a different direction. Who knows, but the draft is fun.
We’ve coverall of this and we haven’t even talked about Hage’s numbers yet. The expectation of any top prospect coming out of the USHL that their numbers are a little gaudy and Hage’s live up to that with 33 goals and 75 points in 54 games of his first full USHL season.
Of course, the scouting reports for Hage are glowing, he’s projected for the 1st round or early 2nd round, scouts are going to love him, but they at least you can get a sense of Hage’s strengths that led to that ranking:
From Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala: 
Through 50 games played, Hage has produced 31G-37A for the Steel. He plays the game quick and fast. Hage is a threat off the rush in transition. His vision in the offensive zone is one of his most elite elements. Defensive detail, and effort tracking back off the puck, ranges and will have to improve before he arrives at the University of Michigan (NCAA). Has time on his side. His offensive element and the pace at which he plays wins out.
Or if you want to read a scouting report by someone who has watched Michael Hage as much as I have, here’s Sam Cosentino’s report:
Hage had a huge bounce-back season resulting in 1.39 points per game. He moves well and is involved in the play. When engaged, he is a threat whenever he comes over the boards.
That last one reminds us that this is word salad season and while quick internet searches point to plenty of reasons to be excited about Michael Hage, Wes Clark and the Toronto Maple Leafs amateur scouting team have given Leafs fans a lot of reason to put trust in their decisions. The Maple Leafs are frequently short on draft picks but there always seem to be one or two players on the cusp of breaking into the NHL and making a difference coming up through the Leafs system. If one of those players is Michael Hage, great.

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