We didn’t think it could happen, but after Friday’s NHL Draft Lottery, there’s a much bigger chance it could be true.
On June 22nd, 2019, the Leafs traded Patrick Marleau, their first round pick in 2020, and a seventh round pick for Carolina’s sixth round pick. It was a salary cap dump in order to get Marleau off the Leafs books so the team could sign RFAs Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Alex Kerfoot.
For the entire season, Leafs fans resigned ourselves from the NHL Draft discussion, it’s not like we had a pick anyway. Most of us don’t even know Carolina traded our pick to the New York Rangers for Brady Skjei. Even more of you probably don’t remember that Marleau is with the Penguins right now!
Oh, but there is hope. Hope that comes in the first overall pick or nothing. You see, the Leafs protected their pick so that if it’s in the top-10 of the 2020 NHL Draft, it stays in the Leafs hands and the 2021 first round pick automatically goes to Carolina (and immediately to New York). The Leafs, who are in the “Play-In” for the 2019-20 NHL Playoffs, have a chance of moving onto the playoffs with three wins out of five against the Columbus (Flavortown) Blue Jackets. But they also have a chance of losing the Play-In, nailing a 12.5% (1/8) chance in the second lottery and taking the spot first in line at the Alexis Lafreniere sweepstakes because a Placeholder Play-In team won the Draft Lottery.
Now, the odds of this are pretty small, about 6.25% if you give the Leafs a 50/50 shot at losing to the Blue Jackets. Less if you think the Leafs are a better team. Dom L. has the Leafs with the worst odds at 4.5% because he has them heavily in favour of beating the Blue Jackets.
First overall pick odds (lmao) pic.twitter.com/ucUsKW8z4Z— dom luszczyszyn (@domluszczyszyn) June 27, 2020
A 4.5% chance isn’t great, it’s actually about what Dom has the Leafs at for winning the Cup this summer. In fact, he has them as favourites in every round through the playoffs, too.
But let a Leafs fan dream!!
Under Dom L.’s model, the Leafs have about equal chance at the First Overall Pick or the Stanley Cup. Which would you rather have?
This poll is closed
The First Overall Pick
(I would much rather have the Cup).
So let’s say the Leafs fumble the ball and there are now lottery balls with their name on it. Alexis Lafreniere would all but become a Toronto Maple Leaf. Which means he’s eligible for the Top 25 Under 25 (I don’t know what age cutoff rule changes Katya made, just go along with this). But none of us voted for him! He, nor the first overall pick was on anyone’s ballot!
You know what that means.
The Case For Alexis Lafreniere
It does without saying how talented Lafreniere is as a prospect. He’s the best player in his class and most likely the best prospect to come out of the NHL Draft since Auston Matthews.
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He has 35 goals and 112 points for Rimouski in 52 games in the QMJHL. He led that league in scoring by 13 points to the next player. He also threw in four goals and 10 points in five games at the World Juniors. For comparison, Leafs prospect Mikhail Abramov, who was 15th in QMJHL scoring on the year, had fewer points (76) than Lafreniere had assists!
It would obviously be disappointing if the Leafs bow out early in the playoffs because it would mean another year without a Cup run for the stars under contract.
Frederik Andersen’s contract is running out. So is Morgan Rielly’s. Matthews and William Nylander are quickly down to four years left on their contracts starting next year with Tavares and Marner following the next year. But to get Lafreniere, it would only elevate and extend the Leafs opportunity for a Cup in this era.
Lafreniere will beat you any way he likes. Pushing through you to the front of the net, shooting, or opening plays for his teammates. As Bob McKenzie says in his pre-season ranking:
“Elite competitive instincts and all the attributes – size, skill, skating, hockey sense, goal scoring, playmaking, you name it – you look for in a No. 1 NHL winger, he has all of them,” one NHL scout said. - Bob McKenzie, TSN
Lafreniere with some smooth moves behind the net pic.twitter.com/ItnMNQ1hqj— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2020
Watchers of Lafreniere love his vision; his ability to find space for himself and his teammates.
“Off the charts hockey sense and imagination on offense starting with the 2018 World U-18s where he surprised his linemates with passes that could have been coming from a seasoned NHL pro. Fluid and fearless going inside the circles in the attack zone, where he steps out front to screen and set up for tip ins. Will be a solid attacking wing but might also find a home as a NHL centre with the way he easily makes his way inside. A smooth high speed heads up player who moves effortlessly through the attack zone with such good confidence and presence.”
Scouts have commented on Lafreniere’s presence on the ice. He commands the play like true superstars do. He takes the space he wants and is offended when the opponents have the puck. He’ll fight hard for pucks and immediately jump into areas where he can score and help his team. With those skills, Lafreniere could play centre if he wanted to. Star prospects Pierre-Luc Dubois and Pierre Engvall have both made these changes after being drafted and before stepping into the NHL, so it is possible.
“He understands the game at a level that very few players do and his ability to convert on what he sees is what makes him special. The best description of his playing style is ‘Elite Skilled-Grinder.’” - Tony Ferrari, Dobber Prospects
“Lafreniere offers high-end puck skills and vision to create plays, has an impressive compete level every time he’s on the ice, and elevates his game in pressure situations while demonstrating leadership skills.” - Mike Morreale, NHL.com
There it is! Alexis Lafrenière, in his return from injury, finds the captain Barrett Hayton to get on the board first pic.twitter.com/wioLrYNBd9— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2020
Weakness (but not really)
If you can fault Lafreniere on anything, it’s that he doesn’t shoot enough. Like when Auston Matthews was deemed the next Anze Kopitar before stepping into the NHL and scoring 40 goals as a rookie, Lafreniere has a shot that shouldn’t surprise anyone if he decides he wants to use it in the NHL.
Another scout in Bob’s article said his skating wasn’t the best. I would say he’s nitpicking because I see nothing wrong with it on my end.
Another scout expressed reservations about Lafreniere’s skating: “Speed, pace? His skating is good but not extraordinary. That’s something I’ll be watching.” - Bob McKenzie, TSN
wasting no time! Nolan Foote finds Alexis Lafrenière and Canada takes a very early 2-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/qjiT43AGDK— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 4, 2020
If we’re playing pretend, let’s play: Where would you rank Lafreniere amongst Leafs prospects?
What rank would you give Alexis Lafreniere in the Leafs T25U25
This poll is closed
This question is too hard for Monday.