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Miscellaneous Leaf Thoughts: 2018 Draft Edition

Dubas and his nerds, the Sault Ste Marie Connection, the choice not to pick Joe Veleno, and more.

2018 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Leafs have completed their 2018 NHL entry draft, the first with Kyle Dubas officially as the man in charge. What can we take away?

I want to start off by saying: I do not watch junior hockey, I am not any kind of a scout, and I rely on what I read to learn about this stuff. Prior to draft day, I had only heard of the Leafs’ first three picks (Rasmus Sandin, Sean Durzi, and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev). So these are very much armchair observations. Let’s roll.

First off, the complete list of players the Leafs selected, with links to our posts on them:

1. The Veleno Pass. Rasmus Sandin deserves his own bullet, and will get the next one, but the decision everyone is going to Monday-Morning-Quarterback is the decision to pass twice on centre Joe Veleno (the Leafs traded down from 25th to 29th to pick up a third-rounder; Veleno was selected 30th.)

Joe Veleno was this year’s surprise falling candidate; he was ranked 14th on Bob McKenzie’s pre-draft ranking, which is usually the standard for what the league is thinking (though this was a wild first round.) He was granted exceptional player status to play in the CHL as a 15-year-old, a status previously only granted to Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and, uh, Sean Day. While his goal-scoring hasn’t exactly wowed in the QJMHL and he’s not at all in the McDavid/Tavares class, he looks like a solid threat to be an NHL two-way C.

Yet he dropped. Obviously for a player to fall like Veleno did, a lot of teams have to not pick him, and so it was. By the time the Leafs’ pick came up, Veleno seemed to be pretty clearly the highest-ranked player left on the board (Ryan Merkley, a popular boom-bust pick, was gone at 21, to San Jose.) Kyle Dubas declined to take him.

There’s no way the Leafs weren’t entirely aware of Veleno, and they clearly made a conscious decision not to choose him. Why, we can’t know yet, but it’s a choice that they made eyes open. Let’s hope they’re validated.

2. Rasmus Sandin! Okay, let’s give Sandin the attention he deserves. Sandin is a smart player who moves the puck well and is perceived to be an excellent OHL defender. While junior defence is a different animal than the professional species, the fact is that the Leafs have long been long on zippy, cool playmakers and maybe less so on genuinely good defenders. Sandin also isn’t relying on giant size to do it, since he’s a smaller player. That might be something he has to overcome, but it also means he’s not the typical junior defensive defenceman who uses an early growth spurt to smother fellow teenagers and then struggles against adults. He’s not much of a shooter but can pass.

Sandin feels like an unspectacular pick, in some ways, because he lacks a real standout talent; his brains allow him to outstrip his physical skills. As our own Kevin Papetti put it, he’s greater than the sum of his parts. Hockey sense is supposedly the hardest thing to teach, and in what looks very much like the Draft for Hockey Sense, Sandin stands as the poster boy.

3. SDA! I am irrationally excited about this pick. (It is irrational to get excited about pretty much any pick after the early first round. Each year I find a player and do it anyway.) Peterborough Petes centre Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, whose name I am gradually learning to spell, is very small, as well as the youngest draft-eligible player. His September 15, 2000 birthday was one day short of rolling him into the 2019 draft.

He’s a project. In addition to being young, he’s 5’9” and weighs approximately 0 lbs. He’s been accused at times of being a perimeter player, which is probably natural for someone who has the mass of a feather. At the same time, his vision and playmaking are reputed to be excellent, he puts up 0.75 PPG, and he’s very much a boom-or-bust pick. That’s what I want in the third round; go for someone with an outside chance to be interesting. I’ll be watching you, SDA. Or at least, reading reports until you show up on the Marlies.

4. Small bodies, big brains. The recurring word again, and again, and again in this Leafs draft was smart. Kyle Dubas wanted smart players. Players with good vision who make the right play, even if they don’t dazzle with a particular skill. While a lot of words show up in a lot of prospect profiles, this kind of language is in the first line or two of the scouting reports of almost every player we chose.

He wanted smart players, we should add, and he did not care how big they were. Dubas selected zero skaters taller than 6’1”, and several players who were quite small. In addition to SDA, Holmberg, and Hollowell stand out as remarkably small players, none listed above 5’10” and all under 180 lbs.

5. The Sault Ste. Marie Connection. The Leafs used two picks, including their eventual first-round pick, on members of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Sandin and Mac Hollowell, selected in the fourth round.) The Greyhounds, you may recall, were the OHL team Kyle Dubas came up through and then ran for several years, and he’s still close with the SSM GM, Kyle Raftis.

The player you know is obviously a big thing in drafting, where no one person can possibly see all the prospects. An availability bias for information, though, is something to keep an eye on. Each pick should be evaluated on its own merits, but one hopes we’re getting only the best that the Greyhounds org has to offer, and not taking what’s on offer because it’s a Greyhound.

6. Overagers again. The 2016 draft was called the overager draft in Leafland, for the number of players who were selected after having fallen through the draft previously. (I’m using overager to refer to players who are draft-eligible for the second or third time, not in the sense of a junior overage player.) You may remember a lot of people yelling that picking overagers, who some analysts believe are undervalued by the anchoring bias that comes from being tagged as undrafted, was exploiting a market inefficiency. The most prominent result of that strategy right now looks to be Adam Brooks.

Kyle Dubas has at least one thing in common with Mark Hunter: he picked several players who were on their second time through, including D Sean Durzi, F Pontus Holmberg, and F Mac Hollowell. The overage argument has been laid out elsewhere—you get additional information from the added year of play, and you can get added value by freeing yourself from a bias—but at this early stage all we can do is note it.

7. Obligatory perspective. Look, while every pick seems critical in the heat of draft day, the reality is most of these players will not work out, unless Kyle Dubas had one hell of a day. By the time training camp starts, only the most devoted of nerds will be able to name everyone we picked, and that’s just how it goes. Even the picks that do work out are probably going to be two, three, or four years away from the NHL.

8. Sandin’s going to be on our top pair next year though, right? Definitely.


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