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Mailbag: The Leafs and the 2017 NHL Draft edition

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Your draft questions, my draft answers.

2015 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I’ll keep the top short and sweet because there’s a ton of content below. I often get a lot of the same 2017 NHL Draft questions on Twitter, but 140 characters isn’t conducive to properly answering them so I surveyed social media and PPP for questions and answered each of them below.

If you get to the bottom of this article and you’re satisfied by the quality and depth of the answers, I’d (shameless plug inbound) encourage you to consider ordering Future Consideration’s extensive 2017 NHL Draft Guide, which myself and others have spent all year working towards.


There is no Brigstew, only Z! at PPP: What would you say are the top 5 (ranked) tools you look for in a player when it comes to forecasting a prospect’s success in the NHL? I.e. skating, vision, shot, puck handling, ‘hockey IQ’, etc?

Increasingly, I think that’s an important question in scouting and player evaluation. The game is changing and the skills needed to thrive in it have too. Oftentimes, you can inherently see what skills are valued in an outfit like Future Considerations’ ranking.

I have been open about disliking the terms ‘hockey IQ’ or ‘puck smarts’ or ‘intelligence’ because they’re so ambiguous. Instead, my evaluations focus primarily on the things we can discernibly see and track. In today’s game, I’d probably rank the things that matter (for forwards, at least) most as the following — a few of them fall under the gambit of skating, but skating means different things to different people so I think it’s important to be specific:

  1. Acceleration: How quickly a player can adjust his pace. This is more important than raw speed in today’s game.
  2. Footwork: How well a player can change directions and move laterally (again, the ability to cut side-to-side is now more important than beating a player linearly down the boards).
  3. Puck handling: By puck handling, I don’t just mean how well a player can stickhandle but also how well they can carry the puck at full speed, how well they can handle it on their backhand, in tight, on their toe, how well they receive passes, etc.
  4. Movement without the puck: This is more of a catchall, but by this I don’t just mean his defensive aptitude as a puck-winner — though that’s certainly a huge factor. Increasingly, players need to be able to play within a structure and find space when they aren’t the primary handler.
  5. Passing: The other four traits help improve a player’s vision without it being noticeable, but a player who can slow down the game and make plays through seams gives himself a chance to be a cut above. Oftentimes, when evaluating draft prospects, there’s a different tier for shooters who can pick up a trailer or survey the ice before looking to the net.

@HardevLad on Twitter: Any D+1 or D+2 players to look out for that are still in the draft?

I have spoken about him all year long and he was a second-round prospect in my 2016 ranking, but I’m a huge fan of the way Maxime Fortier (Halifax Moosheads) plays. I’m not sure whether playing with Hischier will work against him with scouts this season, but he was dominant start to finish and almost never makes the wrong decision with the puck. He should be a lock for rounds 2-3.

Goaltender Zach Sawchenko has committed to the University of Alberta now but he should have been a surefire top-100 selection last year too.

@Kuro_Madoushi on Twitter: We’re strong on wingers and weak on goalies and centres. Is there a possible goalie pick?

Jake Oettinger and Michael DiPietro really stand out as the two top goalies in the class, but the Leafs would have to burn another top-93 pick on them. Some other names to keep an eye on with starter potential: Olle Eriksson Ek and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. The former is huge and really athletic. The latter is technically sound.

@mimo0791 on Twitter: Should the Leafs seriously consider trading picks for immediate help on the back end? Could they get someone of value?

I mean, you shouldn’t rule out any transaction but no. I’m of the opinion that trading picks is a plague worthy only of general managers who are bad negotiators or don’t have suitable other options. The only way to build cheaply and sustainable longterm is to hang onto picks. The Leafs aren’t in a position where they should be straying from that. In a weak class like this, when picks were being thrown out for nothing at the deadline, that’s especially true. If anything, they should be hoarding more in a class like this when values are low.

@cambabs17 on Twitter: What is so special about Robin Salo and is there any chance he is still available for our second round pick?

Ha! The Robin Salo hype train has caught on! You’ve been paying attention!

Here’s what makes Robin Salo special: Nobody — not potential top-5 pick Miro Heiskanen, not Rasmus Ristolainen — has played as significant minutes or generated as many shots as a draft-eligible defencemen out of Liiga as Robin Salo did this year, in recent memory. Aside from a mediocre stride, he is an elite defender offensively and defensively in one of the top pro leagues in the world as a teenager. If he had a little more puck luck offensively (just one goal on nearly 200 shots) this year and he’d made Team Finland at the World Juniors (his omission was was criminal), he’d be a surefire lock for the first round. You’re looking at a kid who handles the puck as well as anyone, defends extremely well, and played 20 minutes a night while doing it.

If the Leafs can get him in the second round, they’re laughing. He deserves serious consideration at 17th overall.

@CavanaghNiall on Twitter: What are the chances Yamamoto/Suzuki/Valimaki will be available at 17th overall? Out of those three, who should the Leafs pick?

Given that there’s a clear core of 13-14 players who will go in the range ahead of the Leafs, there’s a very good chance one of those players will be available for the Leafs. And if there isn’t, it means they’ve been snatched and there’s another excellent option who has slid. If the Leafs can avoid getting tunnel-visioned into ‘their guy’, there’s going to be some great options available at 17th overall. I have Valimaki highest on my list of those three but I doubt he’s still on the board at No. 17.

@benmachin07 on Twitter: Do you think the Leafs should take a high ceiling player such as Yamamoto if he's available at 17 or try to pick the best available defenceman instead?

The Leafs should not draft the best defencemen available if there’s a better player on the board. There are very few teams who are ever in a position to draft for need and the Leafs aren’t at that stage yet. There’s no guarantee a player like Yamamoto is the BPA at No. 17 either. He’s in the mix, but you never know who will slide on draft day. If the best player is a forward, you take him.

@TheSockDemon on Twitter: If Brannstrom and Suzuki are available at 17, who would you prefer?

I have Suzuki higher on my board, but they’re actually only two slots apart. It’s very, very close. Both would be good picks, barring a huge faller, at No. 17.

@gbowie22 on Twitter: Last two drafts have had clear strategies (15-small/skill 16-overage/big). What could the strategy be this year?

The strategy should be to draft the most talented player. I think the Leafs came out on top in 2015 because that closely resembled their approach and I think they fell flat last year because they tried to draft for roles.

Spoonie at PPP: Are the picks in the 15-30 range a crapshoot? How important is "off the radar" international scouting in this pick area?

I don’t think you ever need to be picking ‘off the radar’ per se. Every team should have scouts in every league, so that the idea that the MHL or the QMJHL aren’t equal-opportunity leagues to the OHL doesn’t exist. There are certainly inefficiencies teams can tap into, but that doesn’t mean going off the board for the sake of going off the board. If you can quantify how a player fit in among the skill sets in his league, there shouldn’t be an inefficiency internationally. If that was the Leafs’ intention last year with some of their picks, I worry they’re putting too much value into it. Picks are precious, you can’t afford to waste a couple of them a year on markets you think might hold something. The player is either talented with room to grow in his arc or he isn’t.

MrSmithy at PPP: What position will dominate the first round? Is it mostly wingers? Centers? How do the d-men compare? Who is this year’s Tyler Biggs (player rated inexplicably high when looking at boxcar stats)?

After the top end of the class, which is forward-heavy, the first round will be dominated by defencemen. All of Brannstrom, Liljegren, Valimaki, Salo, Hague, Foote, Heiskanen, Makar, Timmins, Vaakanainen, and Jokiharju could be first rounders.

Doc alex at PPP: We’ve all heard that the ’17 draft is a weak crop, but relatively speaking, what would you say this draft has a lot of, and what is it missing?

I alluded to it above, but this draft is heavy in legitimate D prospects and soft in forward depth and high-end forward talent at the top of the class.

Scrambles at PPP: BPA or BDA?

Again, I touched on this above, but BPA. You never truly know how far these players are from being NHL ready or where your roster depth will be at down the line versus where it’s at presently, so give yourself the best shot to hit a home run.

@TheHooger on Twitter: A year after many disliked the "overager" strategy is there any proof that they may have been onto something?

It’s still early, but I didn’t like the majority of those picks then and I still don’t now. Adam Brooks was a good pick, given the range (there were other great options, but at the very least he was in the mix). Korshkov is a good player and a legitimate prospect but he’s not the calibre of prospect that a Vitalii Abramov, Jonathan Dahlen, Rasmus Asplund, or Alex DeBrincat are or were. The same goes for Bobylev and Walker.

Exit...Steve Left at PPP: Who is the Nick Ritchie/Lawson Crouse of this 1st round?

No player’s size has pushed their value so much as to make them a top-10 pick without warranting it, but if Klim Kostin goes top-15 then he’s in that kind of conversation. Depending on how high Michael Rasmussen goes, he could be in there too.

Tomas Novotny on FB: Would you trade up to get Timothy Liljegren? What would it take to get to 8-10th overall?

There is going to be an excellent defencemen or two available at No. 17, and I’m not sure the difference between Liljegren and those options is wide enough to suggest you should pay a steep price to move up and grab him. I like Liljegren a lot. If he can learn to make better decisions with the puck, he’s going to be a stud. But the price for a pick in that range has traditionally been a very good roster player. Do the Leafs want to move a JvR to find a top D prospect when they can potentially take a shot at one at No. 17? Probably not.

@CV4U2NV on Twitter: With Connor Timmins’ connection to Dubas, does that make Leafs more likely to consider him?

I doubt that’s a real factor. The background of each of the Leafs’ scouts and evaluators is a factor in who gets selected (and we’ve seen that under Hunter) but I doubt Dubas is in anyone’s ear to run up Timmins’ value any more than to say that he’s an excellent player — which he is.

Luke Edgar-Robertson on FB: What are your thoughts on Klim Kostin's draft position? Do you think his nightmare season will hamper his draft spot and make him fall to late 1st (or even later)?

I touched on this a little above, but I’m not Kostin’s biggest fan, and I think he deserves to be drafted with other middle-of-the-road talents.

Joe Thompson on FB: Were you disappointed with last year's draft (other than Auston) and do you think the Leafs will take a similar approach to it (i.e. drafting over agers)?

After a really strong performance in 2015 (I had all of Lindgren, Timashov, Korostelev and Bracco in my top 60), I think the Leafs had a poor showing in Buffalo. There were, in my mind, several clear cut choices available at every slot after Matthews and the only picks that were reasonably in their range were Grundstrom, Woll and Brooks.

George Sockett on FB: Who are the top four goalies in the second and third rounds?

Answered this above, though the top two may go in the first round:

  1. DiPietro
  2. Oettinger
  3. Eriksson Ek
  4. Luukkonen

Stephen Burns on FB: With the amount of tier 2 prospect wingers, would it not make sense to trade up in the draft (i.e. Liljegren), packaging some wingers who wouldnt make our roster anyway?

I answered a similar question to this above as well, but I am more in favour of trading players who are at the end of their developmental curve and don’t have a fit on your roster than picks. It’s always better to build your 20-man roster with what you know you have or don’t have in the present than to build towards uncertainty in the future.

Fishingfreak99 at PPP: Who are the most undervalued players in this draft?

Robin Salo, Eeli Tolvanen, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and Ivan Chekhovich stand out.

The Norris at PPP: Why is Michael Rasmussen a first rounder?

First, let me start by saying that Michael Rasmussen is overrated. But while I don’t think he should be a top-17 pick, I do think he’s still a first-round option in this class. There are deficiencies in his game, but he’s huge and he can really shoot and scouts love when a player is both of those things — sometimes a little too much.

And how good is Jason Robertson considering he seems to be carrying the scoring load on a terrible scoring team?

Jason Robertson is one of those players who would have been in the mix as undervalued were it not for the fact that it seems everybody has caught on in the last month or so. I’m interested to see where he goes because he’s one of those players who could fall out of favour with some scouts because he’s big but he’s not physical and teams want that out of players with his size. He’s just so well-rounded and it can’t be understated how bad that Kingston team was offensively.

Borjed to Death at PPP: Who do you think the Leafs will pick at 17? Who would be your preferred player for the Leafs to pick at 17? Do you think this draft is the type of draft where trading down from 17 will likely bring more value than keeping the pick?

This is probably the most common question I get while also being one of the toughest to answer. If you ask me this after the other 16 picks have been announced, I’ll give you an honest answer as to who the top-ranked player on my board is at that time. What I often tell people is not to look at the players who are ranked No. 17 on a reputable public draft board, but instead to look higher. There is a very good chance a player I have ranked much higher than No. 17 will still be available when the Leafs pick, and that’s who they should go with.

The same goes for trading down. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Leafs trading down with the Flyers when Konecny was available because I didn’t think the value of the Leafs’ pick was equal to the value of a 17th overall pick at that point — I had Konecny 12th overall. But if the time comes and there’s no real faller, the data shows trading down is almost always a beneficial move.

NorthernBlitz at PPP: Should we trade pick #17 as part of a package to get us a top 4 RHD?

It would depend on the package and your definition of a top-4 RHD (and I hate dealing in hypotheticals) but if there market for defencemen softens and the Leafs have a play to make on a player they feel they can’t get for equal value as a different free agent, than you’d have to consider it.