Tracking down the Leafs’ traded draft picks
By Nick Richard10 months ago
Another trade deadline is approaching, and the Leafs are once again positioned to be among the buyers in the trade market. Much of the focus has been on potential targets to improve their current lineup, but these acquisitions come with a cost – often in the form of future assets such as prospects or draft picks.
The Leafs have shipped out their fair share of draft capital ahead of the deadline in recent years, but what has become of those picks, and how does it shape our perception of those trades with the benefit of hindsight?
Prior to the 2016-17 season, the Leafs were not a playoff contender and found themselves as one of the teams selling off their pending free agents for future assets, but since then, the club has made nine trades between January 1st and the respective season’s trade deadline that included at least one draft pick going the other way.
The jury is still out on many of those picks but let’s take a look back and see what some of them have become.
February 27th, 2017
To Toronto: Brian Boyle
To Tampa Bay: Byron Froese, 2017 conditional second-round pick (Alexander Volkov)
The 2016-17 season represented a changing of the guard for the Leafs, with the arrival of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander offering new hope to the Leafs’ faithful. The team exceeded expectations and positioned themselves for the organization’s first playoff appearance since the 2012-13 season and just their second postseason berth in the salary cap era.
It wasn’t an “all-in” season, but then general manager Lou Lamoriello opted to reward his group and try to give them that extra push by acquiring some added center depth in Brian Boyle. Boyle would help to solidify the bottom-six and went on to set up one of the more memorable Leafs playoff goals in recent memory, assisting on Kasperi Kapanen’s double-overtime winner in game two of Toronto’s first-round series against Washington.
The cost to bring in Boyle was fairly substantial, with a conditional second-round pick being the main asset going back to Tampa Bay. With that selection, the Lightning chose Russian forward Alexander Volkov 48th overall.
Volkov immediately made the trip across the pond and began his North American career in 2017-18, suiting up for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse. He put up solid numbers across two seasons with Syracuse before finally earning an opportunity with the Lightning, tallying a single assist in nine NHL games during the 2019-20 season. He would bounce back and forth between the AHL and NHL before eventually being traded to Anaheim ahead of the 2021 trade deadline. He played in 18 games for the Ducks that season, tallying four goals and four assists but had his contract terminated the following fall and has been playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL since.
February 25th, 2018
To Toronto: Tomas Plekanec (50%) retained, Kyle Baun
To Montreal: Rinat Valiev, Kerby Rychel, 2018 second-round pick (Jacob Olofsson)
The Leafs were in the playoff mix again the following season and opted for a similar move ahead of the deadline, acquiring center Tomas Plekanec from the rival Montreal Canadiens. There were other pieces in the trade, but the meat of the deal was Plekanec in exchange for Toronto’s 2018 second-rounder.
Plekanec’s Leafs tenure was mostly underwhelming, but he had a couple of big moments in the playoffs, including his only two goals as a Leaf. Ultimately, the Leafs would fall to the Bruins in seven games once again, and Plekanec would return to Montreal to begin the next season before announcing his retirement from the NHL.
Valiev and Rychel would play a combined six games for the Canadiens, with both players having their NHL careers flame out in short order, and the Habs didn’t end up getting anything out of the second-rounder they acquired from the Leafs either. The Canadiens chose Swedish center Jacob Olofsson with the 56th overall pick in the 2018 draft, and after toiling between the SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan for a few seasons, Montreal let his exclusive rights expire this past summer rather than signing him to an entry level contract. Olofsson looks like a career SHLer at this point.
January 28th, 2019
To Toronto: Jake Muzzin
To Los Angeles: Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrom, 2019 first-round pick (Tobias Björnfot)
With all of Muzzin’s injury troubles, it’s easy to look back on this deal today and feel like the Leafs may have overpaid for the rugged defenseman, but he addressed an immediate need for a team with playoff aspirations and became a very important piece of the Maple Leafs’ roster over the last few seasons. Even the most pessimistic projections couldn’t have predicted just how much the injuries would mount as his career progressed.
The Leafs did pay a handsome price, but it was considered good value at the time of the trade. Sean Durzi, drafted by the Leafs as an overager in the second round of the 2018 draft, has grown into the most prominent piece the Kings received in the trade. Now in his second NHL season, Durzi has become a bonafide top-four defenseman who can run a powerplay and chip in with solid production from the backend, scoring at a 40+ point pace as a sophomore. Grundstrom was the Leafs’ second-round selection from the 2016 draft and, now at the age of 25, has settled in as an effective bottom-six winger for the Kings.
When the trade was announced, the Leafs’ 2019 first-rounder was considered the main piece of the Kings’ return. Los Angeles used the pick to select Swedish defenseman Tobias Björnfot 22nd overall, but he has struggled to establish himself as a regular NHLer to this point. Björnfot played 33 games for the Kings in the 2020-21 season, notching a goal and five assists, and registered eight assists in 70 NHL games last season, but has spent most of the 2022-23 campaign playing in the AHL as the Kings push for just their second playoff berth since the 2017-18 season. Björnfot is still just 21 years of age, so there is plenty of time for him to develop into a quality NHLer, but he likely tops out as a second-pairing guy.
February 5th, 2020
To Toronto: Jack Campbell, Kyle Clifford (50% retained)
To Los Angeles: Trevor Moore, 2020 third-round pick (Alex Laferriere), 2021 conditional third-round pick (Cameron Whynot)
The Leafs could not get a save out of Michael Hutchinson throughout the entire first half of the 2019-20 season, and after a particularly ugly outing against the New York Rangers at the beginning of February, Dubas pulled the trigger on a late-night deal with the LA Kings to bring in netminder Jack Campbell and gritty veteran forward Kyle Clifford.
Campbell immediately solidified the backup goaltender position and would eventually take over as the Leafs’ starter. He was arguably the best netminder in the NHL during the first half of the 2021-22 season before his play fell off but still started all seven games for the Leafs in their opening-round playoff series for the second consecutive season. The Leafs decided to let him walk in free agency last summer, but he played a key role for the club in his two full seasons in Toronto.
Clifford added some much-needed physicality to the Leafs’ bottom-six and after leaving for St. Louis in free agency, the Leafs traded for him once again and he has served as organizational depth, splitting time with the Leafs and Marlies for the last two seasons.
Trevor Moore was an undrafted free agent signing by the Leafs who showed promise in limited action, and he has since grown into a reliable middle-six contributor for the Kings. He even earned a healthy five-year extension earlier this season after registering 48 points a year ago.
With the first pick acquired in the deal, the Kings selected forward Alex Laferriere out of the USHL, and he has grown into a legitimate NHL prospect over his first two seasons at Harvard, notching 31 points in 35 games as a freshman. He has nearly matched that total already this season in 14 fewer games, continuing on his upward trajectory, and he looks primed to earn an entry level contract with the Kings this spring or next.
The conditional third-rounder sent the Kings’ way would eventually end up in the hands of the Calgary Flames, and they used it to select defenseman Cameron Whynot from the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2021 draft. Whynot is a mobile, two-way defender, but his offensive output has taken a step back since his draft year. Whynot isn’t a blue-chipper, and he will require further development at the AHL level, but there is a chance that he eventually becomes a solid 4-6 defender on an NHL team.
April 9th, 2021
To Toronto: Nick Foligno (75% retained), Stefan Noesen
To Columbus: 2021 first-round pick (Corson Ceulemans), 2022 fourth-round pick (Dennis Hildeby)
To San Jose: 2021 fourth-round pick (Ethan Cardwell)
Nick Foligno, we hardly knew ye. In theory, Foligno was an ideal target for the Leafs heading into the 2021 playoffs due to his blend of veteran leadership, hard-nosed style of play, and ability to chip in offensively. Unfortunately, he was injured almost immediately following the trade – or perhaps even before – and the Leafs never got to see the player they paid for.
The main asset given up to acquire Foligno’s services was Toronto’s 2021 first-rounder, which the Blue Jackets used to select right-shot defender Corson Ceulemans out of the AJHL. Ceulemans is a high-event offensive blueliner who likes to push the pace from the back end and throw his weight around when the opportunity arises. He had a good first year with the University of Wisconsin, notching seven goals and 15 assists in 34 games, and has followed that up with a solid sophomore campaign in 2022-23. Columbus’ pipeline is stacked with good young defenders, and Ceulemans could be a top-four option in the coming years.
Columbus also acquired Toronto’s 2022 fourth-rounder, which found its way to Nashville before winding up back in the hands of the Leafs’ at last summer’s draft when they traded up to select Swedish goaltender Dennis Hildeby. Hildeby has had to battle for playing time, but he has put up impressive numbers in the SHL over the last two seasons and currently ranks as the Leafs’ top goaltending prospect.
In order to get the maximum retention on Foligno’s cap hit, the Leafs had to get San Jose involved as a third-party broker, sending them a 2021 fourth-rounder for their troubles. The Sharks used that pick on forward Ethan Cardwell, who spent his draft year playing in Sweden before returning to the Barrie Colts in the OHL last season. Now playing his overage year of junior hockey, Cardwell has tallied 50 points in 39 games – respectable but not spectacular production for a 20-year-old in the OHL – and could be in danger of going unsigned before his exclusive rights expire.
April 11th, 2021
To Toronto: David Rittich
To Calgary: 2022 third-round pick (Aidan Thompson)
The Leafs were riddled with injuries at the goaltending position during the abbreviated 2020-21 season, and with the uncertainty surrounding Jack Campbell and Frederik Anderson as the playoffs drew closer, Kyle Dubas was forced to pay a premium to address the team’s depth in goal.
Rittich would play in just four games for the Leafs, registering a save percentage of just .888 before being relegated to the press box with Campbell and Anderson healthy for the postseason.
The Flames would end up flipping the Leafs’ 2022 third-rounder to Chicago later that offseason in exchange for defenseman Nikita Zadorov, and the Blackhawks used the pick to select overaged center Aidan Thompson out of the USHL last summer. Thompson is currently in the midst of his freshman season with the University of Denver, and he has provided impressive early returns with five goals and 13 assists in his first 19 games at the collegiate level.
It will likely be a couple more seasons before Thompson finds himself in consideration for an NHL job, but the playmaking pivot has a chance to become a solid complementary piece for the Blackhawks as they continue their rebuild.
April 12th, 2021
To Toronto: Ben Hutton
To Anaheim: 2022 fifth-round pick (Michael Callow)
In another move to shore up the team’s depth heading into a crucial playoff run, the Leafs sent a fifth-rounder to Anaheim in exchange for blueliner Ben Hutton. Hutton ultimately served as little more than an insurance policy for the Leafs and played just four regular season games before spending the playoffs in the press box.
The Ducks selected forward Michael Callow out of St. Sebastian high school with the pick acquired in the Hutton trade. Callow is currently playing his first season in the USHL for Muskegon and has tallied eight goals to go along with 11 assists in 35 games. He has been a mid-level contributor for the Lumberjacks this season and is slated to begin his NCAA career with Harvard next season.
Callow looks like a longshot to become an impactful player at the NHL level, and it will take at least two or three seasons of college hockey before he is even considered for an entry level contract.
February 19th, 2022
To Toronto: Ilya Lyubushkin, Ryan Dzingel
To Arizona: Nick Ritchie, 2023 third-round pick or 2025 second-round pick
The Nick Ritchie signing was a massive failure pretty much from day one, but to Dubas’ credit, he was able to get out of it for a reasonable cost while acquiring a useful piece for his lineup in Ilya Lyubushkin. Ryan Dzingel never suited up for the Leafs, but Lyubushkin played a key role on Toronto’s blue line, skating alongside Morgan Rielly in the playoffs while adding some much-needed bite to the lineup.
Ritchie has bounced back somewhat in Arizona, but he was never a fit in the Leafs’ lineup, and they couldn’t afford to have his $2.5 million cap hit sitting in the press box or riding the bus in the AHL.
In order to shed Ritchie’s contract, the Leafs had to give Arizona their choice of Toronto’s 2023 third-rounder or their 2025 second-rounder. While it is impossible to pass judgment before the Coyotes even decide which pick they’re going to use, the best-case scenario for them is that the player chosen with the pick is making a push for their lineup in the 2025-26 season. If they opt for the 2025 second-round pick, it will be even longer before they reap the benefits of the Ritchie trade.
Signing Ritchie is surely a move Dubas would like to have back, but he did well to erase the mistake with minimal impact on the lineup in the present or near future.
March 20th, 2022
To Toronto: Mark Giordano (50% retained), Colin Blackwell
To Seattle: 2022 second-round pick (Niklas Kokko), 2023 third-round pick
This is another deal that is tough to judge so shortly afterward, but one thing is for certain – Mark Giordano has been everything the Leafs could have hoped for and more. That they were able to retain him on an absolute sweetheart contract in free agency only makes the deal look better in hindsight. Giordano has played a big part in Toronto’s overall defensive improvement while bringing a wealth of experience and leadership to the fold, and when the Leafs’ blue line was ravaged with injuries earlier this season, he stepped up more than anybody to help guide the group through a difficult stretch.
Colin Blackwell was a nice depth forward addition last season as well but was the clear secondary piece in the deal. He has since moved on to Chicago via free agency.
The price of two second-round draft picks to acquire Giordano was plenty palatable at the time, and I’m sure Leafs fans and management alike have only grown more content with what the Leafs had to send the other way. Seattle used the first of those picks to select Finnish netminder Niklas Kokko 58th overall, and he has had an up-and-down year playing in Finland’s Mestis. Goaltenders typically take a while to develop, and their growth is rarely linear, so it is tough to gauge exactly what Seattle has in Kokko at this point, but he is considered to be a quality goaltending prospect in NHL circles. Similarly to Arizona in the Ritchie/Lyubushkin trade, Seattle will have to wait a while before they know exactly what they have in Kokko – never mind the 2023 second-rounder.
There isn’t much that excites hockey fans more than seeing what prospects their club is able to secure on draft day, but making a big splash at the deadline might be one of the things that tops the hope and optimism that comes along with a shiny new draft pick. Looking back at the moves the Leafs have made as buyers ahead of the deadline in recent years, very few of the assets they have shipped out have become anything of significance at the NHL level just yet.
Sean Durzi is probably the most prominent NHL piece at this point, as he and Trevor Moore have developed into important pieces for the Los Angeles Kings. Björnfot might be a player, but as of today, he tops out as a seventh or eighth defenseman for the Kings. Laferriere has blossomed at Harvard, but he projects as a middle-six NHL forward if he reaches his ceiling. Considering what the Leafs got out of Muzzin and Campbell over the last few seasons, I think they would make those deals again.
The Foligno deal still hurts, and Ceulemans could eventually be a solid player for the Blue Jackets, but we would probably look back on the trade a little more fondly had Foligno been healthy for his run with the Leafs. Even still, Ceulemans isn’t exactly knocking on the door to the NHL, and it will likely be a couple of more years before Columbus is able to see any significant returns on the trade.
The overwhelming takeaway from this exercise is that the picks the Leafs have traded away would have made little to no difference to their current roster, and they might not have made a difference for a couple of seasons beyond this one. Sure, you could argue that they could have spent their draft capital going after different targets than the ones they acquired but what is abundantly clear is that the Leafs shouldn’t hesitate to move picks ahead of the 2023 trade deadline if it improves their roster in a year where they are one of the NHL’s top contenders.
With just a few weeks to go before the deadline, we won’t have to wait long to see if Leafs management feels the same way.
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)
(Trade & contract details from CapFriendly.com)
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