Part three of this series looks at the #21-31 ranked prospects, and the Leafs could consider a handful of these players at #17. There are also several sleeper candidates who would provide strong value in the second round.
In Case You Missed It:
Part one (#1-10) can be found here.
Part two (#11-20) can be found here.
21) C Robert Thomas- London Knights (OHL):
Thomas is a former teammate of Mitch Marner, and Toronto’s front office knows him well. He is a 6’0 centre who scored at a point per game pace in the OHL this season, and his ability to make an impact in all-situations makes him a strong choice towards the end of the first round. He is slightly above average in terms of puck carrying, highly competitive, and one of the more intelligent forwards in this class.
As one of the younger players in this class, a bit of patience is required here. He looked terrific playing against Erie’s stacked roster in the OHL playoffs, and he offers enough defensive potential to stick at centre long term. His passing and vision give him second line upside, but he needs to create more scoring opportunities for himself.
Ryan O’Reilly also put up a point per game in the OHL in his draft year, but his two-way style and intelligence took off at the NHL level. I see a lot of the same attributes in Thomas, but the players ahead of him are simply more offensively dynamic at this stage. His limited track record in terms of scoring is not impressive enough to be picked in the top 15, but he would provide strong value in the later portion of the first round.
22) C Michael Rasmussen- Tri-City Americans (WHL):
There is a chance Rasmussen is selected in the top 10, but I see him as more of a late first rounder. He is a strong net front presence on the powerplay, and he can make the most of his opportunities thanks to above average hands around the net. With a huge 6’5 frame, he can protect the puck well from opposing defenders, and he wins more than his fair share of puck battles as a result.
It remains to be seen if Rasmussen can perform well at 5 on 5, as he is a bit on the slow side. NHL coaches will likely give him every opportunity to make the NHL because of his size, and his above average shot and hockey sense could make him a secondary scoring threat.
Rasmussen will likely be drafted too early on draft day, but he remains a solid selection at the backend of the first round. He does not offer the same creativity and elusiveness as the majority of the forwards in the top 20, but there is still a solid offensive toolkit here around the net. He deserves to be a first round pick, but he is not a strong enough bet to score to warrant a top 15 selection.
23) LD Robin Salo- Sport (Liiga):
Frankly, it is tough to see why Salo is so low on most draft rankings given his success at a pro level. He is playing major minutes in Liiga, impressing in terms of shot differential, and posting a respectable point total for a 18 year old. He is strong enough to match up against top competition, and he is a fine puck mover at 5 on 5.
His mobility is not outstanding, but he moves well enough to provide a steady presence in his own end. He played a major role for Finland at last year’s U-18 tournament, and while I have not seen a big time shot from Salo, he is a confident passer in the offensive zone.
Salo is an older player in this class, and it remains to be seen if he boasts enough quickness and offensive upside to be a top pairing defender. Still, it is extremely impressive that he is already a significant performer in a professional league. Scott Wheeler provided a brief profile of him back in January, and it is tough to hide the benefits of taking a player who is nearly NHL ready.
24) LW Jason Robertson- Kingston Frontenacs (OHL):
When a 6’2 forward puts up 42 goals in his draft year, you are usually looking at a top ten pick. Robertson is also one of the younger players in this draft class, and he led his team in scoring by 30 points! Going strictly by the numbers, Robertson probably deserves to be a top 20 pick.
However, Robertson needs to work on his skating, as he is would lose a footrace to just about every other first round pick. His two-way ability is a bit limited as a result, but it is tough to deny his ability to generate plenty of scoring chances thanks to his heavy wrist shot and powerful frame.
The team that drafts him will immediately work to improve his skating, and if they are successful, Robertson will look like the steal of the draft before long. His scoring touch and ability to win battles makes him an intriguing option towards the end of the first round. However, there is still plenty of risk here, as it remains to be seen if he can keep up at the NHL level.
25) RW Ivan Lodnia- Erie Otters (OHL)
Lodnia was one of the most impressive players at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and he constantly flashes his offensive upside as one of the better puck carriers in this class. He does not “wow you” in terms of skating, size, or two-way ability, but his skill level with the puck is extremely noticeable. As one of the younger players in this draft, Lodnia could breakout next season as gets further along in his development curve.
He came up short of point per game production this year, but it was difficult to earn ice time on such a stacked OHL team. It is tough to become a major factor on a top powerplay unit when you are competing for minutes with the likes of Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, and Taylor Raddysh.
Simply put: Lodnia passes the eye test in a big way, and I expect him to breakout in the OHL next season as a result. His offensive upside and ability to stickhandle through traffic with speed puts him comfortably inside the top 30, but there is risk here given his size and position.
26) RD Henri Jokiharju- Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
He was absolutely outstanding at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and right-shooting defencemen are difficult to acquire these days. He is slightly undersized at 5’11, but remains one of the better passers and skaters in this class. With just 48 points in 71 games this year, there is not enough scoring production here to warrant a top 20 pick, but he is a younger player who could start to dictate play in a big way sooner rather than later.
Jokiharju is an above average skater, and I am usually willing to take a gamble on defenders who are strong in terms of both skating and puck carrying. His defensive play and ability to win battles remains a bit of a question mark, but he consistently impresses with his passing ability and vision.
His ability to create successful zone exits is impressive, as he can escape forechecking pressure with his speed, then fire off a strong breakout pass thanks to his above average vision. He is intelligent and competitive, but the road to making the NHL is always difficult as an undersized defenceman.
27) C Ryan Poehling- St. Cloud State (NCAA)
This is one of the biggest unknowns in the draft for me, as Poehling was a rare underaged player in the NCAA this year. He is a 6’2 centre who boasts a solid two-way game, and his point production is respectable at international events over the years. Adding depth up the middle is crucial for most teams, but it is a bit of a mystery if Poehling is dynamic enough offensively to develop into a top 6 role.
Poehling’s ability to win puck battles and get into the dirty areas provide him with the potential to possess respectable numbers in terms of shot differential. His size, strength, and defensive awareness could make him a solid checking line centre, and he looks like a capable playmaker down low in the offensive zone. Poehling has not “wowed me” in my limited viewings, but his well-rounded skill set makes him worthy of a late first round pick.
28) LD David Farrance- U.S U-18 Team (USHL):
Farrance is a bit undersized at 5’10, but his mobility provides him with plenty of upside at the NHL level. He is one of the better skaters in this class, and his mobility allows him to jump up in the play on a regular basis. He is both patient and confident with the puck on his stick, and all the tools are here to become a solid offensive defencemen.
He is fairly strong for his size and competes well, but his offensive skills are a bit more advanced than his defensive skills at this stage. He is one of the younger players in this draft, and I am interested to see if he can breakout at the World Juniors in one of the next two tournaments.
Selecting Farrance is a bit of a lottery ticket at the end of the first round, but his quickness provides him with plenty of upside. I am typically willing to gamble on defenders who are plus skaters and puck movers, and this puts him in my Top 31.
29) C Joni Ikonen- Frolunda (SHL):
Ikonen was a major standout at the U-18 tournament, as he racked up plenty of shots on goal while scoring at a point per game pace. His ability to carry the puck and set up shop in the offensive zone was on full display, and he formed an impressive duo with Kristian Vesalainen on the powerplay.
He is a well-rounded centre who competes on both ends of the ice. He is not strong enough to be the next Patrice Bergeron defensively, but he is a slightly above average skater who can win a respectable number of puck battles. He scored at a point per game pace in Sweden’s SuperElit junior league this season, and earned ten games at the pro level.
He’s flown under-the-radar for quite a while, and it is tough to place him inside the top 20 because of his limited track record. Given how difficult it is to acquire depth down the middle, Ikonen’s strong performance against his age group provides him with “sleeper potential” at the backend of the first round.
30) RD Cal Foote- Kelowna Rockets (WHL):
Foote is exactly the type of player who the Leafs would be interested in if he was in the prime of his career right now. He brings good size at 6’3, a steady defensive presence, and a right-hand shot. Although he is not a major risk taker, he is able to make the simple plays to avoiding giving up bad turnovers.
His long reach, strength, and defensive awareness will make him an asset on an NHL penalty kill, but his offensive upside is a bit of a question mark. He is not the first defender to lead an end to end rush, but he is mobile and responsible enough to become an NHL regular. He has not displayed the ability to frequently find the back of the net at the junior level, but he does flash a hard shot at times.
Foote boasts an inside edge on making Canada’s World Junior Team this December, and I expect him to be used as a reliable defensive option throughout the tournament. It remains to be seen if he boasts the offensive toolkit to be a first pairing defender, but his defensive game still makes him a late first round option.
31) RD Conor Timmins- Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL):
Timmins is coming off of an excellent season in which he posted eye-opening scoring numbers at 5v5. His passing ability is a clear positive, but there is not a ton of offensive flash to his game. The major knock on Timmins is his age and short track record, but this appears to be a potential late bloomer and one of the better defencemen in the OHL.
He is not as impressive as a puck carrier as Makar, Heiskanen, Liljegren, or Brannstrom, but he is effective in terms of zone exits thanks to his above average vision. He is also the oldest prospects in this draft, and he posted just 13 points in the 2015-2016 season. If he was born a day earlier, it is tough to tell if he would have even been drafted.
His passing ability and breakout season earned him a spot in the top 31, but it is tough to envision him going in the top 20 because of his age and limited track record. As a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Kyle Dubas should know him well.