The Leafs have five picks in the first three rounds of the 2016 NHL Draft. Here's some potential targets for each slot.
Each of these players are not where I have them ranked, but are instead targets that I think the Leafs could hone in on if they slip. It's important to understand that these players, Matthews aside, aren't the be-all and end-all at their slots. If other, more talented players slip, there's a good chance they don't become the top option.
My full rankings are reflected in Future Considerations' 2016 NHL Draft Guide.
No. 1 overall: Auston Matthews
The end. Here's why. It's simple.
As good as Patrik Laine is, and as much as the Leafs surely did their due diligence and considered him as a real option, Auston Matthews is Toronto's guy.
No. 31 overall: Will Bitten
In SB Nation's 2016 NHL Mock Draft, we selected Samuel Girard with the 30th overall pick before the Frederik Andersen trade. He's still a legitimate option for the Leafs if he's available at 31st overall. You can read more about him in my profile here. Another candidates include the three other players I profiled at PPP in Alex DeBrincat, Vitalii Abramov, and Adam Mascherin.
But there's a good chance the former two aren't available at 31st overall. If they aren't the Leafs ought to consider Flint Firebirds standout (not in stature, but in skill) forward Will Bitten. Bitten battled through a tough year in Flint to produce at an outstanding rate on a team bereft of stability and talent before finishing second in the OHL's Coaches Poll to none other than Mitch Marner as the best stickhandler in his conference.
While he lacks size, there are few players in this class who can skate as well as Bitten or handle the puck in tight like he can. The Leafs still aren't in a position where they can be drafting for need, and Bitten fits the mould as a high-end skill player. He was scoreless in his last four games of the season, and recency bias might factor in to him being available at 31st overall.
No. 57 overall: Frederic Allard
If the Leafs don't land a defensemen like Girard at 31st overall, Frederic Allard could factor in as the best player available with their next second round pick. It is no secret that the Leafs pool of prospects lacks depth on the backend, and Allard is a player who should go higher than 57th overall but might be available in that slot due to biases. Allard is up against playing in the QMJHL, and despite strong athleticism and high-end offensive output, he may slip.
Here's a snippet of some notes on Allard, who is our 49th-ranked 2016 NHL Draft prospect at FC:
He played in all roles this season for Chicoutimi, including puck distributor on the power play and shutdown guy on the penalty kill. Allard is willing to drop into lanes to block shots, use his smarts to read the attack and step up to close off lanes. He plays with an edge and ease that is uncommon for an 18-year-old, showing solid maturity and ability to manage and control the game from the back end.
No. 62 overall: Victor Mete
Mete is a culprit of size (he measures in between 5-9 or 5-10) and a negative tint that comes with playing behind a top prospect in Olli Juolevi and with other top-end talent that aids in creating offensive production on the London Knights in the vein of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, Matthew Tkachuk, and others. Mete, despite his size, is an excellent defender and high-end skater (straightaway and laterally) who is fearless with the puck.
Here's some notes on Mete from my last live viewing:
Mete was the best defensemen on the ice. Dictated the play so well offensively that he was rarely forced to play in his own zone. A beautiful skater who moves as well forwards and backwards as he does laterally. Handles the puck as well as just about any defensemen in the OHL and plays big minutes on the powerplay and the penalty kill. I was blown away by how effective and efficient Mete was (he has come a long way since my last viewing) and while he didn’t contribute on any of the five goals, he was outstanding from start to finish and played a ton. Despite lacking in size, he’s a physical defender who does a good job anticipating one-on-one moves from attackers to step in and make a stick on puck play to disrupt a zone entry or steal the puck off the cycle. Pivots well, which allows him to carry the puck in and out of traffic while maintaining possession. Quickly working his way into the late first round discussion but more likely a No. 31-40 option.
No. 72 overall: Maxime Fortier
There are few players who took as many positive steps forward in their games as Maxime Fortier did this season. When the Halifax Mooseheads unloaded three of their top forwards, including top San Jose Sharks prospect Timo Meier, in order to commence a rebuild, Fortier stepped up to become a dynamic primary scoring threat in the QMJHL.
Ranked 73rd at FC (higher in my personal ranking), Fortier stepped up with 24 points in 16 games to close out 2015 after the trades. Despite lacking strength, Fortier has a frame he can grow into and the skating and puck handling needed to drive offence. With the puck, he's a creative, elusive player who can slow the game down or use some quick footwork to beat defenders with a change of pace. He finished tied for second (with surefire top-10 pick Pierre-Luc Dubois) among QMJHL draft-eligible prospects in shots on goal with 236 behind only Matthew Boucher (another underrated late round option).