The Maple Leafs Draft Pick Cupboard is Bare and That’s Okay: A Letter from a Draft Guy

Tony Ferrari
1 year ago
Hey Leafs Nation,
It’s me, your favourite bald draft analyst. It’s been a busy week. The Leafs made a few trades to bolster their lineup. The additions of Riley Nash, David Rittich, Ben Hutton, and the key piece of the deadline, Nick Foligno will all go a long way to ensuring the Buds are good to go should injuries strike. The team added depth, a key piece, and an NHL calibre goalie who helps make sure things don’t go awry in the crease. Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good deadline for Kyle Dubas and the Toronto Maple Leafs. One thing that seems to be bugging everyone is the lack of draft picks going forward with just six picks in the next two drafts combined. As a draft guy, I have one thing to say about that. Who cares?
Hear me out. Of those six picks, they have their 2021 second-round pick as well as their 2022 first and second-rounders. That means most of their truly premium assets are still in the fold to add good talent or use them next year to bolster the roster again. As I explained before, this year’s first-round is just okay, especially where the Leafs would be picking. The 2021 draft has a shroud of uncertainty to it. The global pandemic has thrown things for a loop in the scouting world with fewer live viewings of prospects and a hyper-focus on video scouting. Some teams will adapt and do the work they need to do. Others will complain that video scouting is for the birds. All indications point to the fact that the Leafs are among those taking advantage of the resources and transforming their usual methods to ensure that they are ahead of the game.
The limited draft capital also likely means very little to a fan of maximizing assets as Dubas is. We all remember when he said he wouldn’t trade down at the 2018 draft and then proceeded to trade down and give the camera a wink before drafting Rasmus Sandin. If Dubas can pull off a trade similar to the deal he swung last year with Ottawa where he still wound up with the two best players despite trading back, he can help restock the draft pick cupboard for this year. In a draft where there is value to be had in the mid-late rounds because of the uncertainty, trading back late may be an option as well. What if you could get two sixth-round picks for the Leafs remaining fifth-rounder? Those two trade backs, if done in the fashion we’ve recently seen from Dubas, could nearly double this year’s draft pool and the talent likely won’t be a drop-off from where they were to originally select.
I know, I know. What reason is there to believe that the man in the thick-rimmed glasses can get players of value without the high-value picks? We’ve seen it before. As recently as last year. The aforementioned trade back with Ottawa resulted in essentially trading Tyler Kleven for Topi Niemelä and Roni Hirvonen or essentially a player who was outside of most public top-100 lists for two players ranked in the first round by quite a few. I’d say that’s good value. We also saw him take some late-round swings. Dmitri Ovchinnikov was selected in the fifth round and looked like he took a solid step developmentally this season, getting his feet wet in the KHL and dominating the MHL when he played on the Russian junior circuit. Veeti Miettinen, a 2020 sixth-rounder, simply out together a fantastic season in the NCAA. He was the Rookie of the Year in the NCHC, Second-Team All-NCHC, and he was St. Cloud State’s Hobey Baker nominee. All this while helping lead his team to the National Championship game. You could throw in Joe Miller (sixth-round) who has looked good with the Chicago Steel and improved as the year as gone on, Axel Rindell (sixth-round) who has looked stout in the Liiga, and goaltender Artur Ahktyamov (fourth-round) who played in the MHL, VHL, and KHL in Russia this year while putting up solid numbers at every stop. The 2020 draft was all about the Leafs’ scouting staff finding value. Now, they have to find more.
The fact of the matter is that the Leafs have a fairly good prospect pool as we sit here today. That’s a fairly common opinion with Elite Prospects ranking them 10th and Scott Wheeler from the Athletic ranking them 13th. This is thanks to the Maple Leafs’ 27 draft picks over the last three years including 12 from just the 2020 draft alone. The recent influx of prospects allows for the now contending Maple Leafs to dip into their draft pick capital. It gives them the opportunity to ‘mortgage the future’ because the Leafs’ future is either already on the roster with Matthews (23 years old), Marner (23), and Nylander (24) or their current top prospects in Sandin (21), Liljegren (21), Roberston (19), and Amirov (19). The fact that the Leafs didn’t trade their top-four prospects at the deadline to add to this roster is a testament to how much they think of them. With all four expected to be pushing for a lineup spot in the next year or two, they are more valuable to the Leafs than whoever they were going to draft in the latter half of the first-round because that player likely needs three years at a minimum.
The Leafs are in win-now mode. As a draft guy, that means that I likely won’t be diving into seven or eight new prospects this summer to break down how they fit in the Leafs’ system. That’s the cost of being a contender. This is fairly new for this generation of Leaf fans. This is what we’ve always wanted. This is the first step towards the ultimate goal. So when your buddy texts you and says “Ugh! But the draft picks!”, politely send a reply of two words. ‘Who cares?”

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