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Head versus heart and the Leafs' 31st pick

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The Leafs have a decision to make today: do they use their first pick, or trade it.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Leafs pick first again today; they're on the clock, and this "coming last" thing just keeps paying off because they've got a lot of time to think about it.

The 30th pick went to Anaheim for Frederik Andersen, and the Ducks took Sam Steel, great name but not most people's best player available. That leaves a list of prospects, and the list will vary with who you talk to, of players who "should have" been taken in the first round.

Scott Wheeler's list is:

Platinum Seat Ghost's aggregate rankings have the list as:

  • Alex DeBrincat
  • Rasmus Asplund
  • Pascal Laberge
  • Boris Katchouk
  • Vitali Abramov

Canucks Army has a post where they look at several players.

Heart

The heart says take the guy everyone else passed on. You snatch him up, and you run away giggling maniacally at getting away with something.

The heart says take a player because acquisition is fun.

The heart may say take this guy, this one player, because you love him. That's likely DeBrincat or Asplund for most people. Either would be a good pick with the first one today, and the Leafs will have another prospect to toss in the pool if they pick someone at 31. He might float, he might not.

Head

The head says trade that pick down. There's all sorts of calculations and graphs and ways of measuring the probability of a typical pick at a given spot every turning into a real NHL player.

The 31st pick has a very low chance of giving you a guy who will float up in that pool and mean much in the NHL. Compared to a top ten pick that is. And if you look at that chart up there which used time on ice to gauge past player success from each pick position, 31 is not very different at all from the rest of the second round. It's not even very different from the top of the third round.

The head says trade that pick.

The head says turn that pick into two chances to get a real player and then you've accomplished something.

The head says maybe you leverage that pick into a player with a real track record like Andersen.

Head and Heart

You need both to get by in this world, and we can look no farther than John Chayka, General Manager of the Arizona Coyotes working his first draft for a man who used both to make his picks.

He took Clayton Keller with pick seven, a guy with amazing stats and a body on the small end of the range of sizes NHL players come in. He used his head. He put away any emotional attachment to size. He ruthlessly chopped the words power and strength and toughness off of their usual place—next to the word big—and he picked the player his head said he should have.

But he had another player he wanted. He wanted Jakob Chychrun. He was tempted to take him with his first pick.

The mass intelligence had cooled on Chychrun. He'd been second to only Auston Matthews once, but he'd fallen down the lists. But Chayka liked him for his abilities, and he was coldly and ruthlessly ignoring a poor prospect game performance and an injury plagued year that seems to have swayed other hearts.

Chayka traded up.

As part of the Datsyuk contract deal, Chayka swapped the 20th pick for the 16th, and he got his man.

Chychrun is not on the small end of the NHL player scale. So it was doubly strange that he'd fallen so far out of favour. But when Arizona made that deal, when they targeted him, when they picked him, when they said to a kid who was watching the ground crumble out beneath his feet, that they wanted him, specifically and especially him, they made him a Coyote in an instant.

The heart wants to be wanted.

And there's some cold calculation in picking Chychrun in this way. He's probably better than where he was taken, but Arizona built its team in more ways than one by picking Chychrun.

What should the Leafs do?

Should they use their heads or their hearts? This isn't so abstract a question now; it's about real players. If they get an offer to trade today's first pick for two later ones they'll know who they're passing up, and approximately who they will take instead. It's a much more detailed calculation than this pick is worth such and such and those added together are whatever they calculate out to.

There is also the perceived gain in value by taking, for example: DeBrincat, who is ranked 23rd on the aggregate list, at 31. That gain if you believe it matters to measure it, is very small. If they had pick 23, they should be having this same conversation; should they trade down and (nearly) double their chances of success?

This seems like one of those annoying questions where there is no right or wrong answer. It depends on the team's scouting reports on players, and it depends on the offers on the table. We'll find out soon enough.