The Toronto Maple Leafs have seven draft picks at the 2017 entry draft. If they don’t trade any of them, they are in a good position to add some depth to the organization. There’s no top ten pick in there, but that’s the price you pay for playoffs. The Leafs’ picks are also heavily weighted to lower rounds, making them okay on overall volume, but weak on expected value of each pick.
The top two picks will get you an excellent, yet likely not “generational” player this year; 3 - 20 or so is a good pick on a sliding scale that historically drops very dramatically, and once you get past about pick 24 or 25, the historical value of a pick is very little different from one 30 or 40 spaces away. Once you get out of the second round, the chances of getting an NHL player with your pick flatten right out so that a third is barely worth more than a fifth.
The more picks you have, the better chance you have of pulling a needle out of the haystack.
The Leafs grade out at only a B- by my system, which is wholly seat of the pants and made up. I’m weighting the number of picks, the strength of them, and a few other factors like expectations of how many picks a non-playoff team should have.
The Leafs have enough picks to keep the pipeline flowing, but not a lot of chances at a jackpot.
What of the enemy, though?
To make the playoffs next year, and in years to come, the Leafs need to be stronger than the competition in the Eastern Conference, and to get stronger faster. Next year, the Leafs don’t want to be messing around with wildcard playoff spots on the second last day, they want to be in an Atlantic Division slot — one, two or three.
A lot of things go into getting the team strength to make that happen, not just drafting relative to your peers, but for today, I’m just looking at the draft position this year of the Atlantic Division teams.
How will our enemies fare on draft day? (All draft pick information is from the incomparable CapFriendly draft board.)
Montréal won the division and flamed out in the first round of the playoffs. Nothing could be better for our oldest enemy than that. They won the division, and they have a worse draft position than the Leafs! They are, in fact, picking 25th.
They have their first, their second and the Capitals’ second. The Capitals have an even worse draft position, so none of those are high picks. That is three picks in the 21 - 62 range, which is the section where draft pick value is fairly even, but not quite as needle in a haystack as anything lower than that.
They also have their third and their fifth. That’s it. They have five picks, with three in the okay range.
Their volume of picks is bad, but slightly offset by the weighting to higher rounds, so they get a C grade. This draft, barring hitting a late-round jackpot player, isn’t going to make the Canadiens better down the road, but it won’t contribute to backsliding either. It’s irrelevant in the near future.
The Senators destroyed their draft position by roaring up the easy path in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This is a double-edged blade since the Leafs have their second round pick, but the Senators finished ranked 28. Worse than the Habs even!
Now it gets even better.
They have their own first, and the Flames’ second. The Flames finished 16th, so that second is the 47th overall, their only silver lining. Other than that, they have their fourth and their sixth. That’s it. Four picks. They are actually worse off overall than the Habs!
With two picks in the good range, and two in the needle in haystack range, they will likely lose ground on organizational depth from this draft, get worse in the long run, and have nothing to make them better in the near future.
Grade for this mess is C-. If ever a team should just go big or go home, it’s them. Just trade them.
Boston finished with a draft position of 18, right behind the Leafs. We are very familiar with what a pick in that range gets you, so they have one good one, just like the Leafs do.
They don’t have their own second, but they do have the Oilers’, which is the 22nd, so only a modest step down, and better than the Leafs’ second rounder. In addition, they have a fourth, a sixth and two sevenths.
That makes six picks in total, but weighted more to the very bottom of the draft. The more important picks are good, the volume is okay, but the total strength is poor. This gets a grade of B-.
This draft should keep the Bruins ticking over with depth, if they don’t blow their selections like last year, but it’s not likely to make them great any time soon, either.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa is the most dangerous of our enemies. They have a record of smart drafting and good development, and their prospects are all over the Memorial Cup and the AHL playoffs. Tampa are also picking 14th, which is in the lower end of the good range, but they have a chance there at someone who will be an NHL player in a couple of years.
Then it gets worse. For the Leafs that is. Tampa has their own second and the Leafs’, as well as their own third. They round that out with two sixths and a seventh, giving them seven picks, split between the good end and the bad.
This is better than the Leafs, as the Leafs’ picks are more heavily weighted to later rounds and are lower in the pick order. Tampa gets an A- for this, even though they don’t have an excellent pick, they have a lot of chances to get multiple good players and continue to grow the team. They aren’t likely to draft next year’s Calder winner here, but they might have one or two very good players on the roster in a short period of time.
Florida is an unknown enemy. They keep changing their management structure, so they might be a circular firing squad or a smart group of people of diverse backgrounds. Who knows. They pick 10th, though, and a high number makes up for a lot of front office dysfunction.
They also have their own second, the Coyotes’ third, a fifth and a sixth. That is not good. For them, I mean. Five picks in total for a team that didn’t make the playoffs is not a recipe for growth overall. The first rounder has a lot of load to carry to ultimately make this draft a success for the Panthers.
Grading this is tricky because they have a chance at a player who may step into the NHL, not next season, but the one after. Mikko Rantanen was a tenth overall. This pick will likely have a greater impact than the firsts for the other Atlantic teams we’ve looked at so far. But overall, the Panthers have mortgaged their future quite a bit. They get a B- for having just enough picks to not be a laughingstock for a non-playoff team and the potential of that first rounder.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings pick ninth, so they start out neck and neck with Florida. And then ... well, things get really, really bad from a Leafs’ perspective.
The Wings have their own second, four thirds, a fourth, fifth, two sixths and a seventh. That makes 11 picks.
Those eleven picks are heavily weighted to the middle of the draft, but volume is how you win at middle round drafting. Add that to the very good first round pick and they get a grade of A here. They are also going to keep filling up Grand Rapids with good players, and in time — not next year, but sooner than we’d like — they will get younger, faster and better.
Imagine if they’d won the lottery?
Buffalo picks eighth, so they are in the same spot as they were last year. The Sabres just spent two years spending the fruits of their tanking draft pick collection, so they don’t have an oversized bundle of picks this year.
They do have their own second and Minnesota’s who have pick order 23, so it’s not a great second. They also have two thirds, a fourth, a sixth and a seventh. The total is eight picks, which is good, and weighted decently to the top end.
With one very good pick and two okay ones added to a good volume, they get a grade of A- and are likely just a bit better off than Tampa. This is good enough to keep pace with their turnover and likely improve, even fairly soon.
The Metropolitan Division
Toronto doesn’t want to be fighting for wild card spots next year, but they might be. And the draft lottery has given the top two picks to Metro teams who did not make the playoffs. New Jersey and Philadelphia both have ~11 picks each (there’s a conditional seventh which will belong to one or the other). They are both getting much, much better out of this draft. These are the A+ teams in this draft.
Also on the up is the Carolina Hurricanes, who are picking 12th and have 10 picks.
The Islanders are another team out of the playoffs who have done nothing to stock up on draft picks. They only have five. Their first might be good at 15th, but they are not improving out of this draft very much.
The Rangers have a terrible draft position with only one pick of value in their 21st overall and four late round needles to pull out of the haystack.
Overall, some of our enemies are improving, but the only Atlantic foe with a really good draft position this year is Detroit, and they have a long hill to climb. This is a good start for them though.
Toronto needs to find talent somewhere other than the draft to improve faster than teams with high picks or lots of them, or worse — both. Of course, that often means spending the picks they do have. The Leafs may not have seven picks to use in this coming draft at all.
In a few weeks we’ll be able to rate how our enemies chose, but for now, we know who is more likely to gain ground out of this draft and who is sliding back.