TSN has released Bob McKenzie’s early draft rankings today, and for Leafs fans, it’s mostly a reminder that our fun this draft is going to be all those late-round picks in Centre Bell, and the booing Canadiens fans every time Kyle Dubas goes up to the mic.

The 2020 NHL Draft is June 26 and 27 in Montréal this year, and I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that Alexis Lafreniere will go first overall to the loudest cheer we’ve heard in a very long time. The crowd won’t even care who has that pick.

Who will have it is a question a small handful of teams will work hard to answer over the last 30 games of the NHL season. According to HockeyViz, two teams are tied right now with the best chance of having that pick:

And unfortunately for us, those two teams are in the Atlantic Division. Come on, LA, you can do it. Make Lafreniere the next Robitaille.

The Leafs have no chance at Lafreniere, of course, and we could wish it was because the team was just too good, but we’ll take the struggle we have over tanking any day. Even the most fanciful imaginings around the conditions on the first-round pick the Leafs traded to get rid of Patrick Marleau’s contract aren’t going to come true and give the Leafs a place in the draft lottery this year.

The condition is that if the Leafs pick is top 10 this year, the Leafs keep it, and Carolina gets the 2021 pick instead.

Instead, we’re left wondering what the rest of the picks can amount to. Those picks are:

  • The Leafs own 2nd round
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets 3rd round
  • The Leafs 4th and the Vegas Golden Knights 4th
  • The Leafs 6th as well as the Carolina Hurricanes and Colorado Avalanche 6ths
  • The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets 7ths/

While we can imagine all of those six late-round picks becoming Pierre Engvall or Andreas Johnsson, the pick we’re all going to dream on is the second rounder, particularly after last season’s choice.

Our second-rounder last year, Nick Robertson is the same age as many of the draft-eligible players this year. And that’s where Kyle Dubas set the bar last year with his second-round choice. Fans, being who we are, won’t be satisfied with anything but a first-rounder in disguise.

Last year at this time, we didn’t know yet that the 2019 first was gone for sure, and we weren’t looking at Robertson for a second-round pick either. He was 38th on the early list and 42nd on McKenzie’s list in June, and we didn’t give him a lot of consideration. But from the lower part of the first round through to the mid-50s in the rankings, players move around a lot between now and the draft, and at the draft itself. All it takes is for the teams picking above you to like one player over another in a section of the draft that’s fully of fairly equivalent picks, and suddenly, someone you really want has dropped into your lap.

It can happen again.

Chances are the Leafs second-round pick spot this year will, unfortunately, be a little better than the 53rd overall of last year, barring an amazing playoff run, that is. But we’re still shopping in the genuine second-rounder territory, not the late first round.  I’m going to start my shopping at the lucky number 38, since that was the right number last January. McKenzie’s list stops at Luke Evangelista at 62, cousin of some kind to Brendan Shanahan, so he has to be under consideration.

TSN’s January 2020 Draft Rankings

38Jake NeighboursEdmonton (WHL)LW5'11 ½197501653
39Luke TuchUSA U18 (USHL)LW6'1197361324
40Tyson FoersterBarrie (OHL)RW6'1 ¼194432656
41Helge GransMalmo (SWE J20)D6'2 ½20622322
42Sam ColangeloChicago (USHL)RW6'2205291939
43Will CuylleWindsor (OHL)LW6'2 ½204431632
44Thomas BordeleauUSA U18 (USHL)C5'9 ¼179361535
45Lukas CormierCharlottetown (QMJHL)D5'9 ¼16729521
46Vasili PonomaryovShawinigan (QMJHL)C6'0180391537
47Donovan SebrangoKitchener (OHL)D6'118439322
48Daemon HuntMoose Jaw (WHL)D6'019823011
49Jaromir PytlikS.S. Marie (OHL)C6'2¼201381637
50Dylan PetersonUSA U18 (USHL)C6'419235620
51Topi NiemelaKarpat (SM Liiga)D5'10 ½1563416
52Eemil ViroTurku (SM Liiga Jr.)D5'11 ½1651516
53Jan MysakHamilton (OHL)C/LW5'10 ½180544
54Daniil GushchinMuskegon (USHL)LW/RW5'9167291631
55Brock FaberUSA U18 (USHL)D5'11 ½1933529
56Antonio StrangesLondon (OHL)LW5'10 ½172441735
57Roni HirvonenAssat (SM Liiga)C5'916441313
58Marat KhusnutdinovSt. Petersburg (MHL)C/LW5'11176361333
59Eamon PowellUSA U18 (USHL)D5'1116533410
60Nico DawsGuelph (OHL)G6'3 ½202232.420.928
61Yan KuznetsovConnecticut (NCAA)D6'3 ¾2072529
62Luke EvangelistaLondon (OHL)RW5'11 ¼172451946

If picking second-round prospects to dream on based on frivolous things like pun potential is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Therefore, my first choice is Antonio Stranges. He’s also a Leafs-standard-issue small winger, so obviously it was meant to be.

Yan Kuznetsov would give us “the better Kusnetsov” which would drive the Caps fans to rage, so that’s a good choice.

Marat Khusnutdinov would be fun just because everyone would have to learn to spell it, ditto Tyson Foerster.

Now for a more serious look: Jaromir Pytlik has to be considered. He’s a good-sized centre, and he’s scoring decently for this part of the list, and that is the only reason I zeroed in on him.

One thing that I’ve been considering lately is that the USHL is where the last vestiges of market inefficiencies can be found. It’s not over-scouted like Canadian junior leagues, and the players are sometimes not on the best team they could make in a tryout. Lights get hidden under barrels there. So players like Luke Tuch, Sam Colangelo, and Dylan Peterson might be a little underrated.

Someone like Daniil Gushchin is a really interesting player. From the eastern part of Russia, he’s already been discovered by the Moscow clubs and has played some youth hockey there, but now he’s in his second year in the USHL system. Imagine going to a foreign country when you’re 16, and learning a new hockey system in a different language? I always wonder if players like that have a longer development arc. He’s also small, so... you know, meant to be.

And it wouldn’t be right not to look at the defenders and see what’s available beyond just Kuznetsov (who is another transplanted Russian who is already in the NCAA). I’m putting my money (there is no money) down on Topi Niemela, who is already in the Liiga for Kärpät, a top team with a history of developing top defenders.

Who do you have in this list? Maybe you have actual knowledge of some of these prospects. If so, share it with us!