The 2024 draft is officially in the books for me now. After writing a month's worth of profiles ahead of the draft, and then finishing my last profile on all eight of Toronto's picks yesterday, I'm ready for a good break for a bit. I published 42 articles and just a hair over 100,000 words all told, and somehow I still couldn't keep up with Cathy...

Anyways, my break will last until the World Junior Summer Showcase where Cowan and Chadwick will be playing. And then the Hlinka Gretzky tournament to kick off the 2025 draft season for me, and then the prospect tournament with Montreal, and then training camp, and then....

Anyways, the last thing I wanted to work on was to share some miscellaneous thoughts I have about Toronto's drafting now that I've fully looked into all of their picks.

General thoughts and feelings on the picks

I'm used to going through Toronto's drafts from the past 4-5 years and having a confused or uncertain feeling, and this year was no different. I'm happy with how Toronto handled their top pick. Trading down to get an extra pick, even if it got punted to next year, is always great. Yes, I would have liked Solberg outright, but Danford is a similar kind of defenseman in terms of strengths and weaknesses AND they got that second pick.

One thing I saw some scouts mention after the draft is they thought or had heard through the grapevine is that Toronto really wanted EJ Emery at 31, but New York took him at 30 right before the Leafs' pick came up. I can buy that, since he is perhaps a higher level version of Solberg and Danford. It is very possible that Danford was the second guy they had on their draft board, and considering where his consensus rankings were I think they may have hoped to get Emery at 31 and then Danford with their second round pick. When that didn't happen, they made sure to snap up Danford and punted the second rounder to next year with no one else they liked in that range. That's just speculation built on other speculation, mind you.

The rest of their picks it felt like Toronto really leaned into the trends they've followed in the recent past. I'm used to them having some off the board guys I never really heard of before – Malinoski, Hildeby, Grebyonkin, Peksa, Schingoethe, Tverberg, and so on. But there has also usually been someone they snap up late who I did know of and liked, such as Chadwick, Lisowsky, Voit, Villeneuve, or Miettinen. This year, despite having seven later picks, there wasn't a single guy I really knew anything about. I'm not that surprised by it, but I am a bit?

Having looked into these players since the draft, and knowing what Toronto's various staff have said in the recent past about what they like in prospects, how they think, what they look for, I know why each of them were picked. Some of them I already like. There's a lot of new guys for me to follow next year, but an awful lot of them are pretty big and mysterious question marks!

Holinka I especially like after looking into him, reading his scouting reports and watching him at the development camp. Hearing Wickenheiser note him as one of the big bright spots of the camp makes me feel good about him even more.

All that out of the way, I have some specific themed thoughts that have come to mind.

D are so back

I had been known to lament the fact that Toronto had drafted so few defensemen overall, and especially with their higher picks, over the past few years. After the Sandin draft in 2018, where Toronto took four defensemen, Toronto did not take another defenseman in the top two rounds until this year with Ben Danford.

In that time, they drafted Mikko Kokkonen, Mike Koster, Kalle Loponen, Topi Niemelä, William Villeneuve, Axel Rindell, John Fusco, and Noah Chadwick. There is a common theme to a lot of the guys leading up to Chadwick – all but one of them were shorter than 6'0", and pretty much all of them were drafted primarily as offensive or at least puck moving defensemen.

Toronto certainly bucked both of those trends this year. Four of the eight picks they made this summer were defensemen, including their top pick (Danford) and their first two picks (Johansson). All of them are 6'1" or taller. None of them have reputations as strictly offensive defensemen. I love to see it. Really, getting just one of the later round defensemen they drafted (Johansson, Lahey, Mayes) hit could turn it into a boon for their defense depth at the NHL level in 3-5 years' time.

Giving McCleary some love

I'll feel even better about this year's draft crop if they also sign McCleary to some kind of deal. I am hoping they invite him to the prospect tournament against Montreal to give him more of a look, and if he does well give him an AHL deal – hell, maybe even an ELC if they're feeling crazy. He is a mix of everything between their old and newer trends for scouting. He has size, but seems like a strong skater. He looked great at moving the puck, but is not hopeless defensively. I can see his limitations to explain why he's gone undrafted, but I can also see the potential even as a 20 year old.

McCleary also seems like he's following what Toronto looks for in terms of slower development paths. In his draft year, he was listed as 6'0" and 154 lbs. Now he's 6'3" and 181 lbs – that gives him more room for bulking up even still. He did well on a very deep Portland team that blocked him from getting a bigger role, with decent production all the same. Even being traded to Swift Current, they were a worse team but it looks like he still didn't get much powerplay time. He had more short handed points than powerplay points!

Toronto is in such desperate need for defense prospects, especially who are further along their development than 17 year olds just drafted, they could use him too. The Marlies defense right now don't have a lot of defensemen of his type. They have a lot of older guys with limited ceiling, and guys who swing one way or another on the offensive-defensive spectrum. McCleary offers something different, with some actual potential in my admittedly short time watching and looking into him.

Like I said, I would give him an AHL deal first. Let him work with Toronto's development staff to work with him for a year or two and see how much better he can still get once he adds more weight, follows professional nutrition guides, and works with top notch skills and development coaches. Even if you don't have room for him with the Marlies, see if he can be the next Justin Holl to go from the ECHL to the NHL – they both had a similar mix of size and skating, and they turned him into something.

Raw is Law

Last year, Toronto's people started talking more openly about the idea of finding players that they have identified as having more room to grow and develop. They talked about it a lot with Cowan, given the slower development curve the London Knights use for their players. But they also mentioned it for Malinoski, who dealt with serious injury in his mid-teens and was just starting to play higher level junior hockey.

This year, the terms "raw" and "long-term play", or similar, were used for every single pick outside of Danford. Johansson apparently missed chunks of time the past few years with injuries, which apparently explained why he is so light, but also means he is still catching up on development. Plesovskikh, Obvintsev, Lahey and Mayes all fit this as well when it comes to the raw-ness of their games.

Intelligence still reigns supreme... for now

If you watched Wes Clark or Hayley Wickenheiser's various press conferences after the draft or during their development camp, the common trait that came up over and over for all of their prospects is "intelligence". Toronto has long been known to value that in their draft picks, and that did not change at all this year with Treliving fully and officially at the helm.

I'm curious if that will still be true next year, now that Wes Clark has moved on to the Penguins. Their same regional scouts are still around, as far as I know anyway, so unless Clark's replacement comes in and dramatically changes what he wants them to prioritize, I would expect their tendencies to remain the same.

What does Wes Clark's departure mean?

This was actually talked about in the FTB chat earlier, but I don't think it will necessarily change anything. Clark had been talking about how much a specific regional scout had really pushed for a number of the players they took later in the draft, and Clark/Treliving just basically signed off on them to make the picks.

I think the changes we see will be more of a tweaking, and slow pivot or readjustment to what they look for. That technically already started this year, I think, with the greater emphasis on defensive defensemen, bigger players, and so on. Clark mentioned when talking about Mayes that "he knew what Treliving wanted", implying some general direction given to him from above. I am assuming that won't change, since Treliving is still here.

So the only way I can see there really being a dramatic change in Toronto's scouting and drafting is if they decide it is better to change up how they do things, pick a guy to replace Clark who agrees with the direction they want to go, and that new guy has a mandate to make sure the scouts change up what they look for or get replaced themselves. That direction will have to come from Treliving, the same way Dubas becoming the full GM and Mark Hunter leaving the organization changed the direction pretty dramatically for how they were drafting.

Thanks for reading!

I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, NCAA, USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, The Athletic, and more.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

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