The Toronto Maple Leafs have completed their 2017 entry draft, and we’re here to argue about it.  With ourselves.

17th Overall, Timothy Liljegren, RD

Liljegren Stats

 SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM    PlayoffsGPGATPPIM 
 2012-2013Kristianstad/Osby J18J18 Div.140334|
Kristianstad/Osby J20J20 Div.1161342|Qualification3000
 2013-2014Rögle BK U16U16 Elit2722194124|
Rögle BK U16U16 SM32240|
 2014-2015Rögle BK U16U16 Elit897164|
Rögle BK J18J18 Elit1447112|
Rögle BK J18J18 Allsvenskan143696|
Sweden U16 (all)International-Jr93360|
 2015-2016Rögle BK J18J18 Elit10000|
Rögle BK J18J18 Allsvenskan10000|
Rögle BK J20SuperElit297152226|Playoffs3123
Rögle BKSHL191454|
Sweden U17WHC-1763256|
Sweden U17 (all)International-Jr74376|
Sweden U18WJC-1871560|
Sweden U18 (all)International-Jr121672|
 2016-2017Sweden U18Hlinka Memorial51342|
Rögle BK J18J18 Allsvenskan00000|Playoffs1000
Rögle BK J20SuperElit125278|Playoffs3145
Rögle BKSHL191454|
Timrå IKAllsvenskan50114|
Sweden U18WJC-1870224|
Sweden U18 (all)International-Jr1719108|
 2017-2018Rögle BK J20SuperElit-----|
Rögle BKSHL-----|
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Optimist: Can you believe it?

Liljegren is a super-skating, puck-moving Swedish D whom everyone had top three prior to this season, because he is unquestionably overflowing with raw talent.  He dropped through the first round due to concerns over a down year—when the poor kid had mono!—and so the Leafs were able to swoop in to get a player with bona fide superstar potential.  A kid who was playing in the SHL—for Rogle BK—as a teenager.  At 17th!

It’s hard to overstate what a coup this is.  The Leafs were able to take the best player available, and by pure coincidence, he’s a right-shooting defenceman.  More importantly than that, Mark Hunter and the Leafs’ FO bet on talent.  They refused to be put off by uneasy chatter and overcaution over his down year.  They swung for the fences.  This pick is perfect.

Pessimist: Typical.  Leafs.  Fan.

Fourteen teams passed on Liljegren (Vegas did it three times.)  Four defencemen were picked ahead of him.  We’re very sure the Leafs are that much smarter than the rest of the league, right?  Than all the draft rankers, who dropped Liljegren down ten or fifteen slots over the course of this season?  Oh, and we’re very sure the Leafs aren’t drafting for need, even though they just happened to take two right-shooting defenders in the first two rounds.  No, the Leafs are the smartest, you see!

The genius of the Liljegren pick is that his flaws come with an excuse.  Mono made him bad.  As for playing in the SHL, well, last year’s falling RHD, Jacob Chychrun played in the NHL this season.  He wasn’t very good, but everyone was very excited he showed up at all.  Now let’s watch some Liljegren highlights and talk ourselves into him being Erik Karlsson.

Oh, and the kid can’t play defensively worth a damn.  Keep that in mind.  We’re sure that’ll fix itself, right?

Optimist: Boo hoo.

Obviously if Liljegren were poised to walk into the Leafs’ top four, he would have gone in the top three, as he was projected to in 2016.  The Leafs have to be graded on what they did based on where they were picking, and they may have just hit one hell of a home run.  Even if they didn’t, even if you’re completely right and Liljegren doesn’t live up to his potential—which is a risk of every single player drafted after the top ten, ever—this is exactly the pick I want the Leafs making. This is a stroke of genius, even if you’re not convinced he’s the next Karlsson.

(He’s totally the next Karlsson.)

59th Overall, Eemeli Rasanen, RD

Rasanen Stats

 SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM    PlayoffsGPGATPPIM 
 2013-2014Jokipojat U16Jr. C SM-sarja Q71012|
Jokipojat U16Jr. C Mestis110996|
Jokipojat U16Jr. C SM-sarja1363918|
Jokipojat U18Jr. B SM-sarja40110|
 2014-2015Jokipojat U16Jr. C SM-sarja Q414512|
Jokipojat U18Jr. B Mestis22881616|Playoffs1000
Jokipojat U20Jr. A SM-liiga1513410|Relegation3022
Finland U16 (all)International-Jr80224|
 2015-2016Ässät U18Jr. B Mestis Q71782|
Ässät U18Jr. B Mestis819106|
Ässät U18Jr. B SM-sarja130334|
Ässät U20Jr. A SM-liiga40004|
Finland U17WHC-1750002|
 2016-2017Kingston FrontenacsOHL666333941|Playoffs11145
Finland U18Hlinka Memorial40112|
Finland U18WJC-1861012|
Finland U18 (all)International-Jr40112|
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Pessimist: Here’s a quote about Rasanen from the good people at Finn Prospects.

Räsänen clearly likes physical game and he is extremely tough to beat in front of the net. However he often goes out of position when he is trying to make more physical play. Also his skating is a big issue. Räsänen is not slow but he is clumsy and both his acceleration and agility still needs huge amount of work as he has a lot of trouble in transitions.

Hey, does anyone have some spare quarters?  Because I think I found a Coke machine.

Optimist: Here’s NHL Numbers’ Shawn Reis:

That means Rasanen’s stat profile lines up with about a 65% shot at being an NHL player.  If that’s accurate, the Leafs have made a significantly above-average late second-round pick, since at least two-thirds of those fail.  Even before looking at anything else, if those numbers are on point, Rasanen is a great choice.

Yes, he’s a gigantic right-shooting defenceman, and it’s possible he’s not going to work out.  But all prospects are bets on the potential for growth.  If you can make Eemeli Rasanen into a passable skater, you have a 6’7” beast of a player.  And before you throw your Keaton Middleton comparisons at me: both of them played 66 games in their draft years.  Middleton had seven points.  Rasanen had 39.

Pessimist: How often do people see a giant d-man and think they’re picking the next Pronger or Chara?  How often do those guys even turn out as well as Keith Aulie?  Not often.  Don’t hold your breath.

The Leafs want to draft big defencemen.  They keep doing it, and they do it while looking past mobility issues that preclude those guys from being NHL players. 2016’s Maatinen and Middleton are already wasted picks, and Andrew Nielsen may well stagnate at the AHL level due to his limitations.  Rasanen is going to be the next name on that list—probably followed by the Leafs’ 2017 fifth-rounder.

110th Overall, Ian Scott, G

Ian Scott via Elite Prospects

2012-2013Calgary Northstar Sabres Btm AAAAMBHL-20.943
2013-2014Calgary Northstar Sabres Btm AAAAMBHL223.120.916Playoffs34.330.901
Team Calgary NorthAlberta Cup33.780.917
2014-2015Team AlbertaCWG51.80.938
Calgary Northstars Midget AAAAMHL162.750.917
2015-2016Team WhiteU17-Dev32.970.852
Prince Albert RaidersWHL263.240.892Playoffs15.520.8
Canada White U17WHC-1742.780.9
2016-2017Canada U18Hlinka Memorial11.860.913
Prince Albert RaidersWHL503.690.895
Canada U18WJC-1844.020.861

Pessimist: He looks like a mediocre WHL goalie that they picked because he’s 6’3”.

Optimist: Look at Matt Murray’s draft year stats in the CHL.  You have to trust your scouts on this stuff.  Look at this scouting report from Future Considerations (though it’s a little dated—May 2016).  He’s built like a goalie and he’s technically solid.

Pessimist: Why hasn’t he cleared .900 in junior?

Optimist: Goalies are weird, man.  Brayden Holtby went in the fourth round, and if he’d been a few days older, he would have been eligible to be drafted...after a year doing .895 in the WHL.  Sometimes you just take a chance.

Pessimist: Why does he have two first names and no last names?

Optimist: Now you’re just being nitpicky.

124th Overall, Vladislav Kara, C/LW

Vladislav Kara Stats by Eliteprospects

 SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM    PlayoffsGPGATPPIM 
 2014-2015Draguny MozhayskMHL B40212748109|
HK Trnava U18Slovakia U18 299162524|
Russia U17 (all)International-Jr41120|
 2015-2016Ak Bars Kazan U18Russia U18-----|
Irbis KazanMHL41491322|
 2016-2017Bars KazanVHL343584|
Irbis KazanMHL311192010|Playoffs7415
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Optimist: The Leafs continue to trust their quality Russian scouting department.  A strong overager who did well in the Russian second pro league.  Won’t be coming over the ocean soon, but nothing wrong here.

Pessimist: Forgive me if I’m not doing handstands over a kid who went undrafted after a middling performance in Russian junior.  The dude wasn’t even ranked by NHL Central scouting.

Optimist: It’s a late fourth.  Trust your scouts!  Russia has been good to the Leafs in recent years—think of Nikitas Soshnikov and Zaitsev.

Pessimist: Both of those guys were playing in the KHL at a high level when we found them.

Optimist: And older.  19 is overage but it isn’t ancient.  The kid has a lot of time to learn.

141st overall, Fedor Gordeev, LD

172nd overall, Ryan McGregor, C/LW

203rd overall, Ryan O’Connell, LD

Optimist: Let’s take the last three together, for simplicity’s sake.

Fedor Gordeev via Elite Prospects

2013-2014Vaughan Kings Bantam AAAGTBHL-----
2014-2015Toronto Red Wings Min Midget AAAGTMMHL5691625-
Milton IcehawksOJHL90114
Team GTHL RedOGC-16531410
2015-2016Team BlueU17-Dev30112
Ancaster AvalancheGOJHL446202636Playoffs100116
Hamilton BulldogsOHL80222
2016-2017Hamilton BulldogsOHL21012
Flint FirebirdsOHL623101343Playoffs50112

Pessimist: Oh, look, they drafted another big defenceman in Gordeev.  I’m so surprised.  If at first you don’t succeed, keep making the same mistake in the late rounds of every draft.

Optimist: I’m not exactly devastated they rolled the dice on a hometown boy with some physical gifts.

Pessimist: Not hockey ones.  But gifts!  I.e. height.  Kid’s a bust.

Optimist: McGregor seems like a tricky, quick, energetic forward with some two-way potential.  Let me guess—you think he’s a bust too.

Ryan McGregor via Elite Prospects

2013-2014Burlington Eagles Min Mdgt AAASCTAMM41120
2014-2015Burlington Eagles Min Mdgt AAASCTAMM3217203716
Appleby CollegeCISAA172350Playoffs20000
Team OMHA NavyOGC-1650000
2015-2016Team WhiteU17-Dev30000
Sarnia StingOHL581113244Playoffs71010
2016-2017Sarnia StingOHL6514132716Playoffs41120

Pessimist: Bust.

Optimist: And Ryan O’Connell?  He’s a seventh, but he looks like a decent passing defender in the making.

Ryan O'Connell stats via EP

 SeasonTeamLeagueGPGATPPIM    PlayoffsGPGATPPIM 
 2012-2013Ottawa Jr. 67s Minor Bantam AAAOEMBHL2239126|Playoffs9134
 2013-2014Ottawa Jr. 67s Bantam AAAOEBHL29322256|Playoffs8033
Ottawa Jr. 67s Minor Midget AAAOEMMHL20110|
Ottawa Jr. 67s Bantam AAABig Nickel Bantam60446|
 2014-2015Ottawa Jr. 67s Minor Midget AAAOEMMHL21216188|Playoffs10268
Ottawa Jr. 67s Minor Midget AAAOHL Cup50330|
Team HEOOGC-1651234|
 2015-2016St. Andrew's CollegeCISAA141784|Playoffs4033
St. Andrew's CollegeCAHS554273114|
 2016-2017St. Andrew's CollegeCISAA70444|Playoffs5145
St. Andrew's CollegeCAHS476273318|
 2017-2018Penticton VeesBCHL-----|
 2018-2019Boston Univ.NCAA-----|
Player statistics powered by

Pessimist: Bustiest bust that ever busted.

Optimist: So you’re just writing all of these players off?

Pessimist: Yep.  Because you know what?  Statistically, that’s exactly what I should do.  Look at draft pick value—less than 10% of the guys picked in any of these ranges are any kind of impact NHL player.  Right now, every fanbase is telling themselves this guy or that guy is the exception, the late-round gem that they could see on draft day, but that everyone missed.  And it’s delusional.  If there were enough evidence to know any of these guys was going to be something, they would not go this late.

Optimist: But we’re not holding these guys to a standard of “NHL lock”.  We’re just feeling out what there is to like about them, and what it says about our strategy.

Pessimist: So here’s what it says: the Leafs are not learning.  The Leafs continue, again and again, to draft oversized defencemen who are not adequate skaters or puck-carriers.  They did it with Middleton and Maatinen and they’re doing it again with Rasanen and Gordeev.  Beyond that, they’re showing a pronounced faith in their scouts over the wisdom of crowds—and we know that no NHL team has consistently shown an above-average drafting ability after the first two rounds.  When they pick a complete unknown like Kara, or an oak tree like Gordeev, they are showing a confidence that they’re the best scouts in the room.  Where’s the proof they are?  Remember, no player drafted by Mark Hunter after the first round has played a single NHL game yet.

Optimist: You have to see something other people don’t see with late picks.  You’re right, fourths and fifths don’t usually turn into NHLers.  So you need to look for an exception.  Once you’re using late-rounders, why are you so attached to going with the wisdom of the crowds?  Why do you need to follow the scouting services?  The Leafs have a large, experienced and expensive scouting team just for this reason: so that they can see something we don’t.  And if those picks are 15% chances of success instead of 10% chances—well, that is above average scouting.  We don’t know whether Kara, McGregor, or Gordeev have that slightly above-average chance.

Pessimist: But we know the Leafs are drafting for size, and they’re probably drafting for need.  They think they need Lurch the Butler to play defence along side their puck-movers. That and guys named Ryan.

Optimist: Even if you believe that: if Liljegren is a hit, that would outweigh six misses.

Pessimist: Misses add up over time, and echo down for years.  That’s how you end up looking around your prospect pool and talking yourself into how good Matt Finn is going to be one day.  We don’t know if these guys are misses, but we know this strategy can lead to them.

Optimist: There is a very good chance this is going to be the draft that saved the Leafs’ defence depth.

Pessimist: There’s a very good chance this draft leads to an indie band being named Mono and the Coke Machines.

How do you feel about the Leafs 2017 draft?