Now that the Leafs have fallen nobly in their first playoff run of the new era, we can turn to the more familiar spring question for Toronto fans: where are we drafting?
Where Do We Pick?
The first fifteen picks of the NHL will be distributed among the teams that did not qualify for the playoffs this season, plus the new expansion franchise of the Vegas Golden Knights. This lottery will be held April 29th, and the odds are here if you’re interested, but we don’t really care about that this year.
The next block of teams is “teams that did not win their division, and did not play in the Conference finals, in reverse order of finish”; these teams are awarded the group of picks beginning at 16th overall. This block includes Toronto. Based on where we finished, we have two teams who may pick ahead of us in this group:
- The Calgary Flames (94 points) finished worse than the Leafs (95 points) and were swept by Anaheim in the first round, so they will pick ahead of us no matter what.
- The Nashville Predators (94 points) finished worse than the Leafs and the Flames, but they knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks in Round One. If the Predators lose in Round Two, they’ll pick 16th overall, the Flames will pick 17th, and Toronto will pick 18th. If the Predators win their second-round matchup, their pick will drop to at least the mid-20s, the Flames will pick 16th, and Toronto will pick 17th.
So, the Leafs will draft either 17th or 18th overall. They'll pick at similar points in rounds four, five, six and seven; their current second round pick (acquired by trade) is still in flux, and they do not have their own third.
Who Might We Pick In The First Round?
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss this over the next six weeks, but here’s a quick look at five options in the 17/18 range.
Nicolas Hague, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL), ranked 17th by Future Considerations
I’ve been keen on Nic Hague for a while now: he’s an enormous LHD (6’5”, 220 lbs.) but, unlike some infamous big boppers the Leafs have drafted in recent years, he can both skate fluidly and produce offensively (18 goals, 28 assists, 46 points in 65 GP this season.) As you might expect from a big, physical d-man, he has a nasty streak and picks up PIMs in bunches, and he’s occasionally shown a teenage temper that he’s going to have to manage as he matures. But there’s potential for a really nice mix of size and skill with Hague.
Erik Brannstrom, D, HV-71 J20 (Superelit), ranked 22nd by Future Considerations
Do you like small, smooth, puck-moving defencemen with offensive touch? Who doesn’t? Brannstrom is the kind of modern LHD that’s come into vogue in the years since the Corsi Wars began, smart and creative—and possibly undervalued due to being 5’10”. We’ll have more on Brannstrom very soon, so if you’re intrigued by his description, stay tuned.
Kristian Vesalainen, RW, Frolunda (SHL), ranked 24th by Future Considerations
Vesalainen has seen his stock dip precipitously in his draft year, falling from an expected top ten pick last September towards the late first round now. Toronto may have a question as to whether this is a great chance to buy low or a serious warning sign. He’s a big power forward with definite offensive gifts, and he’s been playing in the SHL as a 17-year-old (he turns 18 on June 1st.) The problem: his production in the SHL has been minimal and at times he’s struggled to get on the ice. Having some troubles in a men’s league as a 17-year-old is hardly the end of the world, and Vesalainen impressed mightily when against his fellow U18s. Ultimately, as with all picks, it’s a matter of separating growing pains from roadblocks.
Maxime Comtois, LW, Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL), ranked 21st by Future Considerations
Another player who will go lower than he was expected to a year ago, Comtois is a positionally flexible power forward who has played both wings and occasionally centre. Good size, decent movement, a solid shot, and the “agitator” tag give him some appealing tools. His raw production, unfortunately, was slightly down this season compared to the year before, though it was hardly terrible (22G, 29A, 51P in 64 GP, a drop from 60P the year prior.) There’s a lot to like about Comtois, and it’s easy to see him being a quality pick out of the blurry group in the mid-to-late first round.
Callan Foote, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL), ranked 26th by Future Considerations
We know drafting for need is sacrilege, but if you want a big, solid, two-way RHD, we’ve got one for you (with an NHL father, no less.) Cal Foote has got offensive talent, his skating has developed nicely, he’s a smart player, and he’s widely considered a strong bet to be an everyday NHLer—not a bad thing at all given the range he projects to be drafted. The phrase “complete player” comes up a lot with Foote, and while he isn’t quite the dazzling talent that would push him into the top ten, I would be very happy to have Cal Foote in our system.
We’ll have much more on the draft in the coming weeks, as the Leafs prepare to make the next leap in their rebuild. Go Leafs Go!
Who should the Leafs draft in the first round?
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