The regular season is over, and we know roughly which draft positions Toronto will pick at... for now. They have a very late first rounder that originally belonged to Boston. There is a chance that their first round pick does not stick around, either used in a package to make a move for an NHL player, or to trade down, or a mix of both like the Murray trade wound up being last year.
Other than that, Toronto only has picks in the 5th and 6th rounds. So we'll be hoping they can find some more diamonds in the rough like they have with guys like Pierre Engvall, Pontus Holmberg, or Nikita Grebyonkin.
Here are some prospects who may be available in Toronto's pick ranges that I have come to like through this season.
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Since Boston finished with the best record in the NHL, Toronto's pick will be 32nd at the lowest – if Boston wins the Cup – or 28th at the highest, if Boston does not make the semi-finals. The NHL draft order is set by regular season standings, with the bottom four being set by the teams that make the Conference finals.
Andrew Cristall – Should be off the board by the time Toronto's pick comes around. He is a highly skilled, pure offensive talent with 95 points in only 54 games in the WHL. That's good for third in the entire league for points per game behind only Connor Bedard and Logan Stankoven. He may seem like a lock to be taken higher, but Bob's latest rankings only had him 18th despite his great numbers. The problem is that Cristall is a small (5'10") and skilled forward in a pretty deep draft. He also has some worrying red flags despite his production (not a great skater for being a small, skill guy), which when combined with his smaller size makes me think he is a candidate to fall farther than anyone really expects.
Quentin Musty – Musty is a bigger (6'2") winger who has had some hype for a long while as a top prospect in the OHL, but never really had a big breakout until this season. He had 78 points in 53 games for Sudbury, and had a good showing at the Hlinka Gretzky last summer. While he's bigger, he's not exactly a power forward in the classic sense. He does use his size well to protect pucks and gain leverage on opponents, but he's not throwing his body around a lot. He plays more of a skill game, especially as a playmaker but he did show some improvement this year with his shot.
Gavin Brindley – A smaller (5'9") forward, Brindley is the oppposite of Cristall. Not that he has no skill, but he's more of an all-situations, all-around player who can drive play. He played his draft year in the NCAA with the powerhouse Michigan Wolverines, and he solidified a spot on their top line with other top 2023 prospect Adam Fantilli. Brindley played a complimentary role, but also finished with 38 points in 41 games as a D-1 freshman. That's no mean feat – for example, Matt Knies as a freshman was in his D+1 season and a year older than Brindley was this year. He plays a very smart and advanced game, doing all of the little things that are necessary for a smaller player to survive as a pro.
Dmitri Simashev – Simashev is my favourite prospect in this draft of those I want Toronto to take. He's a 6'4", 201 lb left shot defensemen who played this season in Russia between the MHL (junior) and KHL (pro). While this draft year has a relatively poor crop of defensemen, Simashev is one of two options that to me have a chance of becoming a solid, all-around top defenseman in the league. He is a great skater and knows how to use it to shut the other team down. He held his own in the KHL as a 17 year old because his size, skating and defensive instincts are so advanced. While his offensive game lags behind, there is promise there. He won't be a Morgan Rielly that racks up tons of points, but he shows flashes of being able to do all the things you want a defenseman to do to help his team's offense without getting points. He retrieves dump ins, evades pressure, and passes/carries the puck out safely. He drives play in the offensive direction. He could be a Jake Muzzin kind of player that may be more known for his defense, but has solid offensive skill and can produce points enough to be a borderline top pairing guy. That would be his absolute ceiling. Because Russia has not been playing at any of the major international tournaments, Simashev has been relatively under-hyped – McKenzie's mid-season rankings had him 35th, which is more than in Toronto's range. Right now, gun to my head, he would be my pick for Toronto if he was still on the board.
David Reinbacher – The second of the defensemen who seems like they could turn into a balanced, top pairing defensemen. Reinbacher is a 6'2" right shot defenseman from Austria who played all year in the top Swiss pro league (NL). He set records for U18 defensemen in the NL, over guys like Roman Josi. But he arguably got much more of an opportunity to produce offensively, and like Simashev he has more of an advanced defensive game right now than great offensive skill. He had a great showing at the World Juniors where he was far and away Austria's best player, where he kind of had to do everything himself on a way outmatched team. His showing at the WJC gave him a lot of hype, and he's more likely to be off the board as the top defenseman taken in the draft than falling to Toronto. Put him in the same group as Cristall for prospects that should not last until Toronto's pick, but who I like and as of now is borderline in range for the Leafs on McKenzie's last list.
Caden Price – Price went into this season with a lot more hype than he has now. He had a great Hlinka Gretzky on a superpower Team Canada that rolled the competition, but had just an okay season in the WHL and fell to 38th on McKenzie's last rankings. Price is a 6'1" left shot defenseman who has promise as an all-around defender. He had 40 points in 65 games, which is very good but not great offensive production for a 17 year old defenseman in the CHL. Price's best impacts are on defense and on transitions, where he has very strong metrics for passing the puck out of the defensive zone, through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. His defense may not rate out as the very best, but certainly better than the other WHL defensemen who had more points than him. And this is the big conundrum with Price. He is very good at a lot of things, but not the best at any of them. He has flashes with elite skill in all three zones, but has been inconsistent with it all season to the frustration of many. That is why his rankings have tumbled all year, but with a very late birthday (August 24th, only 23 days from being eligible for next year's draft) he has more room to develop than most others on this list. If Simashev and Reinbacher are off the board, or if Toronto trades down and gets a second round pick from it, I'd look at Price as one of the next best defensemen to draft.
TRADE DOWN OPTIONS
We know Dubas likes to trade down. He's done it more than once in his time running drafts in the NHL. Sometimes he'll even do a partial trade down, like he did in the Mrazek trade to Chicago. There are some very exciting options who seem likely to still be available in the second and third rounds, and here are my favourites:
Oscar Fisker Mølgaard – A 6'0" forward from Denmark who played in Sweden this year, OFM is not quite a sleeper prospect nor a huge late riser, but somewhere in between. He had very good numbers in Sweden's junior league (23 points in 21 games) before he was promoted to the SHL where he played the rest of the season. He stuck around for 41 games as a pro thanks to his strong two-way play, where he had 7 points. That is up there among other former first round picks for points in the SHL by U18 players, but at the bottom end of that range. But he was at the top range for games played in the SHL for an U18 prospect. He has what a lot of scouts describe as a "high pace of play", constantly moving and a strong skater in every sense (speed, acceleration, agility), with a highly competitive game on the ice that won his coaches over. OFM had very strong defensive and transition metrics because of how smart and energetic he is on the ice. But he has projectable offensive skill as well. He may not be as high-octane or flashy with his offense, but plays a very adaptable game and has already shown a lot of growth on his developmental curve this season. He's a borderline first rounder for me, but in the mid-season rankings Bob had him as an honourable mention – outside of his top 80. He'll very likely rise on his final rankings, but I'll bet he would still be a candidate in the second round.
Daniil But – But is a hulking Russian winger who played on the same MHL/KHL club as Simashev. You may hear a lot of bigger prospects unfairly tagged with the "is he the next Tage Thompson?" question, but this But guy may have the best shot at following in those exceptional footsteps. And I emphasize "exceptional" for a reason, because there just aren't many really big players who can play with Thompson's skill in the NHL. But is a 6'5" behemoth with a still pretty lanky frame for his size, but he plays a very skilled game. He has pretty great hands, with his biggest red flag being his skating. Shocking I know, for a young guy that big. But he's shown some growth through this season to improve that, especially adding crossovers to improve his speed generation. His biggest problem is his acceleration and close-quarters agility, which isn't surprising considering how big he is. But in open ice he can get up to speed just fine. Right now many have But in the first round because of the size and skill he has, but I am wary of betting on him being able to put it all together in time. It's just so rare, and his skating still has a ways to go. But the tools are exciting, and I would swing on him in the second if Toronto trades down to get another pick with him. I just wouldn't take him outright with their first rounder.
Jayden Perron – Perron is the extreme opposite of But. He's a 5'8", 157 lb lightweight who has skill and agile skating for days. He's also a Chicago Steel guy, so that pretty much guarantees Toronto will be drafting him if they can. He tied for 4th in the entire USHL in points with 69 (hurr hurr), tied with Leafs prospect Nick Moldenhauer. Aside from his point production, Perron is also very strong in his tracking data for driving offense and transitions. He also rates out pretty well for defense, by using his skating and good reads to jump into passing lanes. His bread and butter will be his playmaking, however. He has some slick hands to go with excellent vision, helping him make high difficulty passing plays. You can consider him in the same mould of player as Ty Voit and Jeremy Bracco. He's fun to watch.
Gracyn Sawchyn – Sawchyn is a 5'11" center in the WHL on arguably the best team in the league, if not the whole CHL: Seattle. Despite how loaded they became, adding top prospects like Dylan Guenther and Brad Lambert, Sawchyn was one of the young players Seattle kept at the deadline and they use him as a 2C/3C. Offensively, he profiles more as a playmaker than a goal scorer/shooter. He had 18 goals and 40 assists in 58 games, despite not getting top minutes with his team's best players. He has very strong tracking data for his defense and transitions, in part due to his high speed and high pace of play. He also has a strong ability to drive play to the middle of the ice as a good pro-ready skill to have. He had a really good Top CHL Prospects showing which will help him have some late season helium, so expect his final ranking by Bob to rise from his mid-season spot at 80th.
Martin Misiak – Misiak is a 6'2" Slovakian center who split his season between Slovakia's pro league and the USHL. He also made Slovakia's roster for the World Juniors despite being a D-1 prospect, earning his way into a regular spot as a high energy checking forward. He profiles as a strong supporting forward who has a mix of size and skating, plus tons of energy and pace on the forecheck and on defense. He was ranked 76th by Bob during his mid-season ranking, and since then Misiak had arrived in the USHL and done... okay. He has 15 points in 23 USHL games, which is good but not great. But his strengths will not lie with raw offensive production or flashy skill. I can see his final ranking being around the same spot as the mid-season, but I have my eye on him if Toronto trades down and gets a third/fourth round pick.
Nick Lardis – Lardis is a 5'10" winger in the OHL, and you can consider him in the same mould as Nick Robertson: he's a high energy trigger man. Lardis started the year on Peterborough, where he had 12 goals and 7 assists in 36 games. He had a bit of hype going into the season so it was a disappointing start, but Peterborough was pretty loaded as a top OHL team and there were signs that Lardis had been a bit unlucky. Peterborough traded him to Hamilton as they loaded up for a championship run, and on Hamilton Lardis exploded. He had 25 goals and 21 assists in just 33 games after the trade, and averaged over 4 shots per game. A 16% shooting percentage isn't even that high for junior, and only 13 of this points with Hamilton were on the powerplay, so it wasn't incredibly unsustainable either. Lardis added 5 goals and 5 assists in his 6 playoff games for good measure. Lardis uses his speed to generate tons of scoring chances for himself off the rush, but also wields a nice set of hands and a really good shot. He has very good (but not necessarily elite) tracking data across the board, making him a pretty balanced player as well. I have some questions about his projection as a pro, but I like him as a later 2nd/3rd round swing for good speed, forechecking, and the ability to put the puck in the net.
Aydar Suniev – Suniev is a 6'2" Russian winger who played in the BCHL, a major junior league out west that Canadian junior prospects play in to maintain NCAA eligibility. Seems like an odd choice for a Russian, but he's been playing in North America since he was 14 years old, outside of the pandemic year. Suniev is a bigger power forward who had his way with the BCHL on one of the top teams in the league. Penticton not only had Suniev, but also the Nadeau brothers who were tops in the league in points. The younger Bradley Nadeau is also a top prospect in this year's draft. Suniev played mostly on the second line, but still got his points – 45 goals and 45 assists in just 50 games is very good, though most top prospects should have video game numbers in a major junior league. Suniev plays a power forward game with a good amount of skill mixed in, especially his willingness and ability to drive the puck into the middle of the ice. He has very good hands in close that lets him stick handle through defenders, and knows how to use his size to get leverage and protect the puck from defenders. He seems similar to Matthew Knies in that sense, but he is not the same level of skater which is a small worry for me. But as a trade down candidate in the third round or so? He's a worthy swing for me to work on his skating and trust the rest to play up as a pro.
Tom Willander – Willander is a 6'1" right shot defenseman who has an argument as the top available defender from Sweden. He may not have the high end offense or the A+ name of Axel Sandin Pelikka, but Willander has good offensive play driving and is a much better all-around defender. He is not a super flashy guy, but he is a smart and reliable defenseman that just gets things done. He is a good skater and mobile defender, and his biggest area of growth will likely be pushing himself more offensively to create more dangerous chances for his team. Otherwise, there's still a potential NHL guy there, and I'd be interested in him in the second round if they have a trade down.
Tanner Molendyk – Tanner Molendyk to me seems like a shorter Simashev. He is 5'11" (close to 6'0" according to his top prospect game measurement) and a brilliant skater in every sense and direction. He uses it to great effect defensively and on transitions. And his biggest area for growth is his offense. By the tracking data, Molendyk profiles as elite in every area for driving play: offense, transitions, and defense. He played on the top pair and was used in all situations for Saskatoon, one of the better teams in the WHL, as a 17 year old. But despite his usage, his 37 points in 67 games is just good for a D-1 defenseman in the CHL. There is potential there, but he so far just seems to lack high end offensive skill – dynamic passing, a great shot from the point, elite puck handling, etc. The big area for him to capitalize on is using his skating to recognize when he can jump into the offense more. I like him a lot, and Bob's ranking of 62nd puts him easily in Toronto's range. I would even be that averse to just taking him outright with their first rounder, but there is an opportunity to trade down and get him and another pick too.
Luca Cagnoni – Cagnoni is another defenseman in the WHL who is both similar to but also opposite of Molendyk. He is also not the biggest defenseman (5'10") and a good skater that has good impacts in every area of the ice. His overall impacts aren't as strong, but his offensive impacts and his point production are much better. He had 17 goals and 64 points in 68 games for Portland, another top WHL team. Cagnoni was used on their top powerplay unit and quarter backed their offensive zone possessions from the point. He is much stronger with dynamic offensive skill for a defenseman, but not necessarily in a way that cannibalizes his team's offense. I don't quite like him as much as Molendyk – you may have noticed that I seem to prefer more balanced two-way defensemen who drive offense even if they don't necessarily put up a lot of points – but Bob has him ranked in a similar range, so he could be another guy that's available that has some high upside.
Jakub Dvorak – Dvorak is actually the polar opposite of Cagnoni. He is a Czech defenseman who is big (6'5") and profiles as a very strong defensive defenseman. He played all year in the top pro Czech league, but was hurt for pretty much all of the second half of the season. He's been used a lot by Czech's international junior teams, including a 2 points in 5 game showing at the Hlinka Gretzky this past summer. He had 2 goals and 5 points in 7 points for their U17 team last year, so against his age-peers he is capable of producing some offense. His size, reach and skating allows him to play a shut down role, and while he is physical he doesn't seem to necessarily chase hits as much. I haven't been able to see him as much because of where he plays, so I am relying more on clips and what other scouts are saying about him. But I like him as a swing in the late 2nd/3rd round, about where Bob had him ranked in the mid-season rankings. Since then he's been hurt, so I can see his final ranking staying put or dropping a bit as others rise over him.
FIFTH AND SIXTH ROUNDS
These are guys that I can see being later round options, though there's no guarantee. All of them I find interesting enough for one reason or another that I would have considered them in the above section, but they weren't even an honourable mention by Bob's last rankings. That doesn't mean no NHL team would swing on them in the first three rounds, however, but I'll be using Bob as my general guide for this. But since they are later round options, I'll keep my blurbs on them more brief.
Timur Mukhanov – Smaller (5'9") Russian forward prospect played more in the VHL than in junior. Was over a point per game in junior, held his own in semi-pro thanks to his skating, energy, strong two-way play and smarts.
Felix Nilsson – 6'0" center/winger in Sweden. Had arguably the best tracking data for driving play in the U20 junior league, where he had 41 points in 36 games. Also got into 18 SHL games with limited minutes, but acquitted himself well. Not among the best forward prospects in Sweden for this year, but arguably the best of that next tier. Can play at center, has potential as a two-way depth forward thanks to his smart play and work ethic on the ice. Lacks high end offensive skill, which limits his ceiling.
Connor Levis – 6'2" right winger on Kamloops, used most often on the third line next to Leafs prospect Fraser Minten. Has a good shot and plays a pretty smart and reliable game as a winger. Was a point per game as a third liner most of the season, but like Nilsson lacks any real elite skill in any area. I saw him a lot while watching Minten this season and I like him, just not in any of the higher rounds.
David Edstrom – Edstrom is a 6'3" center from Sweden who had some excellent two-way impacts. He had 15 goals and 28 points in 28 games as a junior, and 4 points in 11 SHL games that he got into down the stretch. Good, smart, reliable two-way center who can do the small things right. Potential as a depth center with no real elite offensive skill, except maybe small area abilities in front of the net.
Beckett Hendrickson – A 6'1" forward on the US's national development team in the USHL, Hendrickson is a bit of an unheralded prospect on a loaded team. He typically played in the middle six, getting less attention than the other top forwards (Will Smith, Oliver Moore, Gabe Perreault, etc). While he certainly is not as good a prospect as those, he made the USNTDP for a reason. He's a bit bigger than average for a forward, but his tracking data is is at good across the board, but elite in two specific areas: first is his playmaking, and second is his ability to get pucks from the boards into the middle of the ice with said playmaking. He is committed to the University of Minnesota, a program that did a great job developing Matthew Knies as a bigger, board to middle supporting winger. I'd love to swing on Hendrickson in the later rounds and see if they can elevate his game as well.
Matthew Mania – Aside from the great name, Mania is a 6'0" right shot defenseman who played on Sudbury in the OHL. He is basically the OHL's version of Molendyk, but without the same level of raw physical skills. By tracking data, Mania was one of the best overall defensemen in the OHL by offensive, transition and defensive impacts. He rates out the strongest on driving transitions, He was elite in all three, but like Molendyk only had "good" point production (38 points in 67 games). But Mania really took off in the second half of the season after a coaching change in November.
Carter Sotheran – Sotheran is a 6'3" right shot defenseman who plays on Portland in the WHL with Cagnoni. He doesn't have a lot of offensive skill, but is a smooth skater for his size and uses it to drive good transition data. He rates out as an effective defender as well, especially for stopping zone entries. His lack of offensive skills will limit his ceiling to that as a third pairing defenseman in the NHL, but if he actually makes the NHL at all as a later round pick that's a success. I like him as a later round swing.
Albert Wikman – Wikman is a 6'1" left shot defenseman from Sweden who plays a similar role and style as Sotheran. He's a good skater and has a strong defensive game, but doesn't have much offense to speak of. I saw some scouts say his offense improved later in the year to the point he was flashing some intriguing skills, but I don't think it will ever be a big part of his game in the future. But his skating and defense alone make him interesting to me in the later rounds, if he lasts that long.
Hoyt Stanley – Stanley is a 6'2" right shot defenseman who played in the BCHL and is committed to Cornell in the NCAA. When he was drafted to the WHL in 2020, Stanley was listed as 5'7" so he's gone through a big growth spurt since then. He is a good skater despite his size and growth spurt, and has shown flashes of good offensive and defensive ability. But there is inconsistency and awkwardness to his game, mostly from mechanics by some reports. If you chalk a lot of that up to him refining his physical coordination after a growth spurt, you can see some potential if/when he figures all that out.
Rodwin Dionicio – Dionicio is a re-draft guy, having gone undrafted last year. I even wrote about him as a late round option then too. He is a Swiss-born defenseman playing in the OHL, who saw his stock increase after going from a very, very bad Niagara team to Windsor where his offensive production exploded (43 points in 33 games). His skating is a bit suspect, but he has improved it a noticeable amount from last season. He also has the size (6'2") and handedness (right shot) to go with his offensive potential to make him an interesting late round swing.
Rather than write out profiles of all of the goalie options I like, since I usually write a bigger list with longer mini-profiles closer to the draft, I will just list the top names and a couple extras that I just like. I'll star the two that I like the most.
- Trey Augustine
- Michael Hrabal
- Jacob Fowler*
- Carson Bjarnasson
- Adam Gajan
- Tomas Suchanek*
- Yegor Zavragin
Now that every regular season is over for all junior and pro leagues, my next step will be to widdle down my final list from the above to something shorter. I will then use the names to write full profiles, probably at around 12-15 in total. I will start writing them soon, but will only publish them starting a couple of weeks before the draft.
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