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Marner, the 23rd overall pick, and other Maple Leafs Draft Day storylines

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Jon Steitzer
23 days ago
“Vontae Mack no matter what.”
The question heading into the Maple Leafs draft day is who will be Toronto’s Vontae Mack? Or at least that is one of the storylines that will dominate the news cycle for the Maple Leafs. Let’s start with what the Leafs will do with the 23rd overall pick before looking at some other key storylines.

What will become of the 23rd overall pick

In Brad Treliving’s availability, he said that Toronto’s plan is to make a selection with their pick. A lot of that could be GM code for “I haven’t received a deal that I like yet” but history has shown that Treliving will make the pick and between Brad Treliving and Wes Clark there is a pretty good track record when it comes to using 1st round picks well.
Steven Ellis has provided us with a few options for the Maple Leafs to consider at the 23 spot (see the list below). Going off the board last year with Easton Cowan has opened up possibilities for who Toronto could be looking at. Cowan, Sandin, and Minten (if you want to include second-round selections in this) show that Wes Clark is comfortable going away from consensus lists, though it is worth noting other high picks recently made by the Leafs (Liljegren, Robertson, Amirov, and Knies) were all in line with consensus draft boards.
Steve Ellis’ Toronto draft targets:
While the Maple Leafs and Brad Treliving have traded down frequently, largely because their targets aren’t high on draft boards, the one thing the Leafs and Treliving haven’t done since the Brian Burke era is trade up at the draft. While it is entirely possible the Leafs could do this if there is a player they are more excited about than in recent years, this seems like it will remain the least likely scenario for the Maple Leafs as any assets the club has will likely be spent on the here and now and not the future of the organization.
What the Leafs do with the 23rd overall pick is the one guaranteed storyline of the night and even if it is Toronto trading out of the first round after Leafs fans commit to a three-hour rollcall of junior hockey players, there is no option where the Leafs don’t do anything today.

The Marner storyline

If you are a believer that the best time for Mitch Marner to be dealt is at the draft, today is a big day for you. The thing is I’m not sure it is the best day and it certainly feels logistically impossible unless Brad Treliving and Mitch Marner have quietly made arrangements about where he’d waive his no movement clause for. The Leafs accumulating high draft picks and then being able to head into the free agency period with some spending money isn’t a bad alternative for the Leafs in a Marner deal, it just is banking on that scenario where both sides are quietly on board.
The idea that Toronto is going to have time to step away from their draft table to track down Marner and his agent to pull something off tonight seems like it is asking a lot, especially when on July 1st with Marner’s last signing bonus paid, he becomes a dollar bargain for a lot of teams and the Leafs are far more likely to be looking at who can help them now than picking up draft picks.
All of this is also ignoring the fact that the most likely scenario is that Mitch Marner remains a Leaf. Brad Treliving isn’t offering any reassurances that will be the case but there hasn’t been even a faint whisper that Marner is looking to move.

Pending RFAs

The lack of discussion with Timothy Liljegren combined with the high bar for arbitration rulings that teams can walk away from will create an interesting situation for the Leafs and Timothy Liljegren but also a number of arbitration-eligible restricted free agents around the NHL. With the deadline for qualifying offers coming up on Sunday, and all arbitration rulings under $4.75M having to be accepted by the team there could be a lot of movement at the draft as teams scramble to get something for players they would potentially be forced to walk away from.
The market for Liljegren could be interesting. He’s a good defenceman but not necessarily one that fits in with Brad Treliving and Craig Berube’s plans for the Maple Leafs. His right shot will get some teams interested in him and while the Leafs aren’t necessarily in a spot where they should be walking away from good defencemen, a $3M+ arbitration ruling on Liljegren might be devastating to their cap situation. The fact that Liljegren isn’t signed already and there haven’t been any contract negotiations to speak of probably points to him being shopped at the draft. Though letting him walk for nothing would be incredibly foolish.
As for potentially interesting RFA trade targets or players to watch for potentially not receiving qualifying offers, Luke Kunin, Alexandre Texier, Max Jones, and Barrett Hayton are some interesting forward options that potentially fit with what the Leafs would be looking for. Henri Jokiharju, Erik Brannstrom, Nils Lundqvist, Jordan Spence, and Juuso Valimaki highlight the defensive targets.
If there aren’t swaps the restricted free agents who don’t receive qualifying offers are often the most intriguing options in free agency and this year looks like it could have a strong crop that make replacing players like Bertuzzi, Domi, Edmundson, and Lyubushkin an affordable task.

The Leafs hunt for a goaltender

It might have been rather fortuitous that it was leaked that the Leafs were offering a 1st for Markstrom. Having the price that the Leafs will pay for a quality NHL starter in the ears of GMs around the league is a clever way to start conversations and they might be ones that Brad Treliving is willing to have. It also doesn’t hurt that the Senators were able to pick up Linus Ullmark at an outlet store price.
Putting aside my personal belief that the Leafs should be dumpster diving on either Korpisalo out of Boston or Merzlikins out of Columbus, the Leafs might have the key piece required to have a serious talk about Saros or explore Gibson in Anaheim (ideally with some salary retention.) Until the 23rd overall pick is made Toronto will be players on goaltenders and even if that window closes, the Markstrom and Ullmark returns make it seem that the Maple Leafs 2026 1st would also be enticing enough for some.

Defence

I’m not sure how much defence will be part of the Leafs’ draft day plans but it is a top-of-the-list priority pretty much every day for the Leafs. Given that Brad Treliving’s biggest draft moment (aside from selecting Matthew Tkachuk) is trading for Dougie Hamilton, it’s entirely possible the Leafs are exploring options. The addition of Jacob Trouba to the Daily Faceoff Trade Targets is interesting but ignores the player’s preference to be in the United States. Other options like Jacob Chychrun and a potentially heavily subsidized Darnell Nurse might also be available and interesting but are left-side targets.
If Brad Treliving was truly sniffing around the league for defencemen all of last season trying to learn who is available and what it costs to get them, I don’t think it is unreasonable to set expectations high here although most speculation seems to point to Toronto being comfortable addressing this area of need through free agency rather than trade.

Finally, the draft day bombshell

Historically it isn’t the Leafs dropping bombs on draft day, but it seems to be an annual tradition that something comes completely out of left field that the league then begins reacting to. The Dougie Hamilton trade was a prime example of that and to have it followed up with the Oilers hilariously trading their 1st round pick for Griffin Reinhart to try and get into the mix and for the Bruins to completely whiff on the draft picks they accumulated through their dealings made for a wild day.
Whether any of the draft day craziness touches the Leafs remains to be seen but it should be a busy day given the condensed nature of the transaction period following the end of the Stanley Cup Finals. The buyout window overlaps the draft more than ever before and with the late finish of the Stanley Cup Finals, it means that the Panthers need to act fast on 11 pending UFAs, and the now GM-less Oilers need to address 10 UFAs of their own and figure out a game plan around Jack Campbell, Cody Ceci, Brett Kulak, Darnell Nurse, and Evander Kane which could offer them a bit more cap flexibility than they presently enjoy.
There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be reacting to at least one piece of hockey news every hour for the next five days and at least some of those pieces of news will involve the Leafs.

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