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What can the Maple Leafs expect out of a 25th overall pick?

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A stroll through history reveals a big range of potential outcomes.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven
The Leafs just fall down when this 25th overall pick skates by.
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Now that both the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks are eliminated from the playoffs, we know the final draft position of the Toronto Maple Leafs: 25th overall. Both of those teams finished with fewer points, so they move into place in the draft order ahead of the Leafs.

We know that on average, drafting at 25th is likely to get you someone who will play in the NHL, but it’s very unlikely to get you a star. It can also get you someone who never makes it. There is very little difference between the 25th overall and a second round pick in terms of probability of future value.

While the historical chance of a first-round pick turning into an NHLer is around 80%, that depends on how you define NHLer, and also is heavily driven by the sure things in the top half of the draft.

Not every draft is the same, of course, but most rumours of “deep drafts” are grossly overstated, and usually apply to the top ten, not the hundreds of players taken after. The 1999 draft of nothing but the Sedins remains as the most unusual, but there doesn’t seem to be a reverse version where every player in the top 100 was a star.

It doesn’t matter what position a team drafts at, the job is the same: know the players who might be available, have a plan if your player isn’t there anymore, and be ready if your GM suddenly trades your pick. But it helps to have reasonable expectations.

From the incomparable Hockey Reference, this is every 25th overall player taken in the draft since 1969.

25th Overall Picks via Hockey Reference

Year Team Player Nat. Pos Age Amateur Team Amateur Lg. GP G A PTS
Year Team Player Nat. Pos Age Amateur Team Amateur Lg. GP G A PTS
2017 MTL Ryan Poehling US C 18 St. Cloud State NCHC
2003 FLA Anthony Stewart CA RW 18 Kingston OHL 262 27 44 71
2002 CAR Cam Ward CA G 18 Red Deer WHL 668 1 11 12
2001 MTL Alexander Perezhogin SU LW 18 Avangard Omsk KHL 128 15 19 34
2000 DAL Steve Ott CA C 18 Windsor OHL 848 109 179 288
1998 DET Jiri Fischer CS D 18 Hull QMJHL 305 11 49 60
1997 DAL Brenden Morrow CA LW 18 Portland WHL 991 265 310 575
1996 COL Peter Ratchuk US D 19 Shattuck-St. Mary's High-MN 32 1 1 2
1995 COL Marc Denis CA G 18 Chicoutimi QMJHL 349 0 6 6
1994 NJD Vadim Sharifijanov SU LW 18 Salavat Yulayev Ufa KHL 92 16 21 37
2004 EDM Rob Schremp US C 18 London OHL 114 20 34 54
2005 EDM Andrew Cogliano CA LW 18 St. Michael's Jr. B OJHL 866 157 211 368
2006 STL Patrik Berglund SE C 18 Vasteras Sweden-2 694 168 154 322
2016 DAL Riley Tufte US LW 18 Blaine High-MN
2015 WIN Jack Roslovic US C 18 USA U-18 USHL 32 5 9 14
2014 BOS David Pastrnak CZ RW 18 SODERTALJE Sweden-2 254 94 109 203
2013 MTL Michael McCarron US RW 18 USA U-18 USHL 69 2 6 8
2012 STL Jordan Schmaltz US D 18 Green Bay USHL 22 0 3 3
2010 FLA Quinton Howden CA C 18 Moose Jaw WHL 97 10 7 17
2009 BOS Jordan Caron CA RW 18 Rimouski QMJHL 157 12 16 28
2008 CGY Greg Nemisz CA RW 18 Windsor OHL 15 0 1 1
2007 VAN Patrick White US C 18 Tri-City USHL
1993 BOS Kevyn Adams US C 18 Miami (Ohio) CCHA 540 59 77 136
2011 TOR Stuart Percy CA D 18 Mississauga St. Michael's OHL 12 0 3 3
1999 COL Mikhail Kuleshov SU LW 18 Cherepovets KHL 3 0 0 0
1992 OTT Chad Penney CA LW 18 North Bay OHL 3 0 0 0
1978 PIT Mike Meeker CA RW 20 Peterborough OHL 4 0 0 0
1977 MNS Dave Semenko CA LW 20 Brandon WHL 575 65 88 153
1976 STL John Smrke CA LW 20 Toronto OHL 103 11 17 28
1975 CHI Daniel Arndt CA Saskatoon WHL
1974 BOS Mark Howe US D 19 Toronto OHL 929 197 545 742
1973 MNS John Rogers CA RW 20 Edmonton WHL 14 2 4 6
1972 BUF Larry Carriere CA D 20 Loyola College 366 16 74 90
1971 MTL Terry French CA Grand Falls
1970 NYR Mike Murphy CA RW 20 Toronto OHL 831 238 318 556
1979 NYI Tomas Jonsson SE D 19 MoDo Ornskoldsvik Sweden 552 85 259 344
1980 TOR Craig Muni CA D 18 Kingston OHL 819 28 119 147
1981 CHI Kevin Griffin CA London OHL
1991 WSH Eric Lavigne CA D 18 Hull QMJHL 1 0 0 0
1990 PHI Chris Simon CA LW 18 Ottawa OHL 782 144 161 305
1989 WIN Dan Ratushny CA D 18 Cornell ECAC 1 0 1 1
1988 PIT Mark Major CA LW 18 North Bay OHL 2 0 0 0
1986 PIT Dave Capuano US LW 18 Mount St. Charles High-RI 104 17 38 55
1987 CGY Stephane Matteau CA LW 18 Hull QMJHL 848 144 172 316
1985 VAN Troy Gamble CA G 18 Medicine Hat WHL 72 0 1 1
1984 TOR Todd Gill CA D 18 Windsor OHL 1007 82 272 354
1983 DET Lane Lambert CA RW 18 Saskatoon WHL 283 58 66 124
1982 TOR Peter Ihnacak CS C 25 Sparta Praha Czech 417 102 165 267
1969 MNS Gilles Gilbert CA G 20 London OHL 416 0 9 9

What can we learn from this list? The good news is, you can get a player at 25th overall who will play over 1,000 NHL games. The Leafs are the team that did it with Todd Gill. Following on his heels for time in the league at over 900 games is Brenden Morrow — who seems to be the star of the group on historical performance — and Mark Howe. Andrew Cogliano, a very reliable utility checking line player is also coming up on 900 games.

If you judge by points, there’s Howe, Morrow, Mike Murphy and Cogliano. Points come with longevity, and you can’t guess that on draft day, so how about points per game played? I assume you can guess who rises right to the top.

Leaving aside the one game wonder with one assist, the top man by points per game is, of course, David Pastrnak. And he will, in time, be the best player on this list. But he just barely beats Howe, a defenceman, so perhaps Howe is the star after all. Next is Murphy, then comes the man who paved the way for Pastrnak to play NHL hockey. Peter Ihnacak, taken by the Leafs in 1982 from Czechoslovakia, had .64 points per game in 417 NHL games and was a pioneer of European integration into the NHL. Next up is Tomas Jonsson, a Swede taken in 1979 by the Islanders who had .62 points per game in 552 games. You usually need to look a lot harder today to find players that other teams have overlooked. But it’s certainly not impossible.

On the bad side of the ledger for 25th overall picks, there are six players on the list who have never played in the NHL. One is Ryan Poehling, taken by the Canadiens last year, and another is Riley Tufte, drafted by Dallas the year before, so let’s ignore those. But there are also 12 players who played less than 40 games. There are two good players just breaking into the NHL in that number, Jack Roslovic with the Jets, and Jordan Schmaltz with the Blues, but the rest are players who never made it, including Stu Percy, taken by the Leafs in 2011.

There’s a couple of names that stand out to me for those that seem to have played a lot of NHL hockey. A deeper look at their careers might make the picture less rosy. Michael McCarron of the Canadiens and Jordan Caron of … well, who is he with these days? Krefeld Pinguine of the DEL.

Both of these players illustrate a form of stubbornness around first-round picks. The Canadiens keep trying to develop the now 23-year-old McCarron into an NHL player. He has a Josh Leivo-esque career of playing a dozen or two games each year for three years, and he has Josh Leivo-esque fans who believe passionately that he’ll make it (largely because he’s big). He keeps playing about like a good AHLer so far. He might make it, he’s not out of the age bracket where that’s still possible, but if he were a second round pick, he might never have seen so much fruitless NHL time.

Jordan Caron is older, and at 27, he’s not a mystery anymore. But when he was McCarron’s age, he got passed around from Boston, who drafted him, to two other NHL teams, who just kept trying to play this first round pick, and he just kept on putting up .18 points per game. That’s Roman Polak’s career NHL point pace.

There’s other examples of this: Quinton Howden traveled from team to team putting up Polak numbers, and now he’s in the KHL. Anthony Stewart wandered through some bad teams, including the Atlanta Thrashers, racking up 262 games and only 71 points. He finished his career recently with a few years in Europe.

Alexander Perezhogin played parts of two seasons in Montréal, badly, before going back to Russia and having an excellent KHL career. He played this year on a good team, and at 34, he’s slowing down, but he’s a real player. Just not an NHL player.

If we put the cutoff on this list at players who put in over 300 games, players who had real NHL careers, there are 18 of them. And the ones to come, of course. But removing the players who absolutely were given a chance, over and over, and just failed, the chances of getting a career NHLer of note at 25th overall is less than half. The slim chance of getting David Pastrnak, however, is exactly why picks in the first round, even ones with this chance of success, are rarely traded.

The Leafs have four main options for this pick, one I think is so unlikely as to be laughable, but I’ll include it: What should they do with this pick?

Poll

What should the Leafs do with their first-round pick

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Pick a player with it and get the next Pastrnak
    (570 votes)
  • 7%
    Trade up for a better pick
    (177 votes)
  • 20%
    Trade down for two second rounders
    (453 votes)
  • 46%
    Trade the pick as part of a package for a player
    (1047 votes)
2247 votes total Vote Now