For the first time in three years, the Toronto Maple Leafs do not own one of the top ten picks in the NHL Entry Draft. First round draft picks are crucial to adding impact talent, but the team has continuously struck out in this round outside of the top 10. Over the past decade, Leafs picks in the 11-30 range include Frederik Gauthier, Tyler Biggs, Stuart Percy, and Jiri Tlusty. That's it.
Lias Andersson could be the player who finally reverses this horrid trend, as he falls into the Leafs range by ranking 15th on the consolidated draft rankings. After selecting Yegor Korshkov and Carl Grundstrom just last year, the Leafs could certainly continue to look for strong forwards to complement their skilled core.
Getting to know Lias Andersson
Andersson is a 5'11 forward who can play both centre and left-wing. He is coming off an impressive showing at the World Juniors, notching three goals in just seven games. His strength on the puck was continuously on display, and he also ranked fourth on the Swedish team with 19 shots on goal.
Performing well at the World Juniors as a draft-eligible talent is impressive, but earning a spot in a pro league is even more of an eye-opener. With nine goals and ten assists in 45 games, his point per game rate in the Swedish Hockey League was nearly identical to Leafs prospect Carl Grundstrom.
His strengths include winning puck battles, finishing off chances in tight, and firing off an above average wrist shot. His quick release is a threat on the powerplay, and he protects the puck well with a strong lower half. He's just average in terms of skating and zone entries, but we can consider this to be one of the safest picks available and a probable middle-6 forward. His ability to be relentless in puck battles bodes well for his shot differential numbers, and his quick release ensures that he can make the most of his chances.
This Fanpost highlighted Jonathan Dahlen's numbers in the SuperElit league ahead of last year's draft, and included a chart of statistics in the year before each player's draft year. It's worth noticing who came out on top:
SuperElit League D-1 Season (One year prior to each players draft year):
Nylander went on to star in the SHL in his draft year by coming up just shy of a point-per-game rate, while Andersson sits well short of that at 0.45. We should not expect him to be a potential 70 point player, but clearly this player has a knack for finding the score sheet.
A Glimpse of Andersson In Action:
The Ultimate Andersson GIF:
He starts of the play by using his strength to shield his opponent off the puck, before showing off his shot on a give-in-go. He's a power forward with quite a bit of skill, and a real scoring threat if you leave him open in the slot. He's behind both Eeli Tolvanen and Owen Tippett in terms of finishing ability, but is certainly among the next tier of this class in terms of goal scoring.
Speed and Strength on the Puck:
There's plenty of goals like this on his highlight reel, as this is his usual spot. His size and competitiveness also makes him a good fit in the middle of a 1-3-1 powerplay, but his release makes him a weapon from his off-wing.
This one above is from the World Juniors, and is also a rare assist from Carl Grundstrom. He takes the pass on his backhand, then gets off a hard shot in a hurry. He rarely wastes much time getting a shot off, and will likely rack up his shots on goal numbers as a pro.
Hands in Tight:
This is a big part of his game, as he is able to make the most of his opportunities on a consistent basis.
Andersson is not as goal-heavy as Grundstrom, as he led his SuperElit team in assists by a wide margin in 2015-2016. He can generate assists by winning battles and keeping control of the puck, before handing it off to a teammate. His vision and playmaking are not elite, but he's perfectly capable of firing a cross-ice pass. When you force turnovers in the offensive zone, assists often occur more frequently.
The Big Picture
Andersson represents a strong fit for the Maple Leafs in the mid-late portion of the first round, and would make a nice complement to Mitch Marner or William Nylander as a stronger forward who can finish his chances. He owns an impressive track record in international competitions, and has already earned a spot in a pro league prior to being drafted.
Although he's not enough of an offensive catalyst to make him a "slam-dunk" selection, adding a solid complementary player would be a nice addition in a weak draft. Expect him to be one of Sweden's best players in the upcoming World Juniors, especially if Alex Nylander is there to set him up.
All in all, if the Leafs keep their pick, Lias Andersson should be one of a handful of names on their shortlist. Connor Brown is the perfect example of an all-around middle-6 forward, and Andersson would project to be a rather similar talent who can potentially chip in 20-25 goals per season.