Ever since the Toronto Maple Leafs were locked in with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, the debate over who they should target has focused on a handful of players – Erie’s Dylan Strome, London’s Mitch Marner and Boston College’s Noah Hanifin. Also, there were a few who mentioned Lawson Crouse’s name but they’ve since been silenced. Permanently.
This week, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of these three players (plus a couple surprise dark horses that are not named Lawson Crouse). Today, we’ll start with Hanifin, and focus on the three key reasons why he’d be a good fit for the Leafs.
More past the jump…

He’s the Best Defenceman in the Draft

When you compare his stat line to some of the draft’s top prospects, Hanifin’s five goals and 23 points in 37 games this season for the Boston College Eagles isn’t exactly eye-popping. After all, he’s a defenceman, not a high-scoring forward. More so, Hanifin only finished 25th in scoring among NCAA defenders. What is amazing however is that Hanifin fast tracked his way through high school, allowing him to debut in college hockey at just 17-years old. 
He’s got a solid, pro-ready frame, standing 6’3 and weighing over 200lbs, but it’s not Hanifin’s size that give his opponents the most trouble. Hanifin has exceptional speed and mobility for such a big body, and his offensive skills are also top notch. While many scouting reports talk up his potential as an effective powerplay quarterback, Hanifin is responsible in all three zones. 
Here’s some of that skill and speed in action, from a Vine post you may have seen circulating around the internet lately…
Wow, that’s pretty good. I hate playing the ‘comparables’ game, but if I had to, I think I would compare Hanifin to a good hockey player as opposed to a bad one. And because I think the Leafs should focus on drafting good players, that alone is a good reason to take Hanifin.
Hanifin is the consensus top defenceman in the 2015 draft class, ranked third among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, third by McKeen’s, third by HockeyProspect, third by Future Considerations, and fourth by ISS. While Brandon’s Ivan Provorov and University of Michigan’s Zach Werenski might not be all that far behind Hanifin in terms of skill, both of those players might be considered a stretch at fourth overall. Hanifin is every bit a top-five (if not top-three) talent.

The Leafs Need Everything

God, do they ever. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the Leafs are stacked with young talent. Morgan Rielly certainly gives you a nice building block on the blueline, and we’re all pretty big fans of what William Nylander brings to the table among the forwards, but there’s not a whole lot else.
Connor Brown, Stuart Percy, Andreas Johnson – all nice players, but who knows where they peak? The Leafs aren’t deep at any position, so let’s not put our blinders on and ignore the defenceman. Drafting any one of Strome, Marner or Hanifin would be a huge help, position be damned.
And as much as Leafs fans lust for that elusive top line centre, can you really be disappointed with Morgan Rielly and Hanifin  anchoring the Leafs’ blueline for perhaps the next decade or longer? That would be a huge plus; perhaps as big as landing a potential #1 pivot.

Don Cherry Would Be Pissed

This is more icing on the cake than anything, but can you imagine Cherry’s rant? 
“Toronto passes on an OHL player, born and bred in their own backyard, for an American!” 
“These kids, Mitch Mannerer and Dylan Strum, die-hard Leafs fans, and they go with a college boy!?”
I don’t know how far Cherry would make it into that rant before he’d burn so hot that he actually ignites, exploding in a red-and-white, maple syrupy blaze.
If it’s any consolation, at least Hanifin isn’t Swedish.