We are days away from the 2020 NHL Draft so the SB Nation blogs got together and did a mock draft of the first round so we can see what prospects go where. Initially, we didn’t think we would take part in this exercise seeing as the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t have a first round pick until recently, but thanks to Kasperi Kapanen, we’re back in business.
Brigstew and I (but mostly Brigstew) have been talking about and researching prospects for much of the summer as we hoped to identify some talent in the second round. Since the Kapanen trade, it’s been a whole new world of talent in the first round. Brigs has done profiles on most of the guys we’re interested in and we have a roundtable going out soon on our targets for each round/pick, but for now, let’s talk about who we took at 15th overall.
William Wallinder, Defense, 6’4”, 194 lbs, MODO academy
Wait, that defenseman?
We picked a defenseman! And not only that, we got William Nylander’s Waluigi! To be completely honest, we picked him mostly for the name and the fact that he’s not one of the two third-pair upside defensive defencemen so many people assume the Leafs are taking. Kyle Dubas is fun, we are just following in his footsteps.
So many people have speculated that the Leafs are drafting a defenseman. Braden Schneider, this. Kaiden Guhle, that. Both of those players would be major reaches at 15th overall and would be trying to fill a hole on the team five years from now that needs to be filled now.
So instead of reaching for a defensive defenseman with low upside, we thought to go with the complete opposite player. Wallinder is an offensive dynamo, lankier than Flat Stanley, and more raw than a calf. He’s fun, with all the potential in the world, and is the kind of swings the Leafs should be taking with their defensemen.
Wallinder is a prospect for MODO, a place Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman called home about a decade ago. Like Hedman, Wallinder is a big defenseman with incredible feet and awareness with the puck. He has every physical trait and athletic instinct to be a top-end defenseman in the NHL, but where he lacks is the patience defensively. He’s often seen pushing for offense too far and giving up the puck and he’s a little lost in his own zone.
Wallinder is a player who played in a men’s league for 18 games last season at the age of 17 and he held his own pretty well, with some refinement, teaching, and a dietitian to fill out his frame, there is a lot of potential here. The Leafs aren’t drafting players to be 18-year-old NHLers (Nick Robertsons aren’t that common), they’re drafting them to be 23-year-old NHLers in five years time.
I find there’s too much of a skew towards “who is good now” and not “who is on track to be great for us in the future”, hence why you see people knocking Quinton Byfield down to three (or hot-taking him out of the top five) when we all know he’s going to become one of the premier centres in the game because he’s almost a year younger than his peers at the top end of the draft.
Why we picked him
We didn’t have strong feelings about who we picked when we were asked to write this article. I put my hand out for Wallinder mostly for the fun and to talk about defense drafting philosophy. There were votes for Rodion Amirov as well, who was available and would probably have been our more serious choice. He’s a great prospect and would fit in great with the Leafs should he fall (though I think Carolina is eyeing him too).
Wallinder is absolutely a stretch as this pick, he could realistically be gotten in the 20-40 range no problem, but no one would trade with us so we went ahead and took him.
Once again, we picked him because his name is awesome and he needs to be on the same team as Willie Ny.
Brigs did a great evaluation of Wallinder’s game in a piece published back in May. It’s linked below in case anyone doesn’t remember what happened all those years ago.
2020 NHL Draft: Looking at 9 potential steals in European junior
In his Scouching Report video, Will Scouch (friend of the blog) spoke about how Wallinder could be an incredibly creative and smart player on his good days, but when he was not on one of those days, he looked terrible. Smoothing out those edges and pushing him towards being that focused and reliable defenseman will quickly push him to be one of the best defensemen to come out of his draft year. He has the upside to be the best and it not be close. He also notes that Wallinder’s second half of the season in the Allsvenskan was a lot more conservative and responsible and Will’s underlying numbers reflected that.
This draft is very sketchy for defensemen. The few at the top are either limited in their upside, or are like Wallinder and are incredible risks. But when there’s the potential to draft a dynamic, moldable, right-handed ... wait what do you mean he’s a lefty? Crap!