When the Leafs stepped to the podium at the United Center in Chicago, they did it under markedly different circumstances than last year. In 2016, they were a team hoping to reclaim some respectability, given the chance to draft their superstar for the next decade and beyond. It was a foregone conclusion that they would take Auston Matthews.

In large part thanks to Matthews, the Leafs were a playoff team, shooting their first round draft pick out of the lottery, into 17th overall. As a result their draft pick this year was much less predictable than in years past. Would the Leafs address organizational weaknesses at centre and defence? Are they willing to add another small scoring winger to the Leafs prospect cupboard?

For a Lou Lamoriello team, any window into their thinking is rare and cherished. We got just that, when the Leafs took Timothy Liljegren 17th overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft.

And I gotta say, if this is a window into their thinking, I like what I see. Liljegren was ranked highly at the start of the year, but a combination of inconsistent play and illness saw his stock drop. He went from 3rd in Bob McKenzie’s midseason draft rankings to 15th in the final version. There always seems to be a player who takes a precipitous fall in the rankings as they ear progresses, and this year, Liljegren had that dubious distinction. However, there are a lot of reasons to think that this was an overreaction on the part of draft pundits.

The Nations Network, (in my opinion, one of the best public sources for draft research) ranked him 6th overall in this draft class, making him an excellent value pick, especially when viewed from a statistical point of view. It’s rare for defensemen to play regular minutes in the SHL at this young an age. This makes Liljegren’s year, as topsy-turvy as it was, very impressive.

More qualitatively, his skillset seems to fit in beautifully in the modern NHL. He can skate, he can pass, and he can carry the puck. He also has the confidence to use these skills, sometimes to his own detriment. All told, he has the talent that scouts drool over. There are questions about his defensive ability, but that’s par for the course with prospects like this. I don’t doubt that there’s validity to those questions, but I’m always a fan of betting on puck skills, skating, and playmaking. Liljegren has all three, and that’s a rare package outside the top 15.

Our resident draft expert, Kevin Papetti had this to say when he ranked Liljegren 7th in this draft class:

He ranked second on most lists to begin the season, and a battle with mono certainly did not help his performance in the early going. However, he remains one of the best skaters and puck carriers in this draft class, and there is just so much upside here given his offensive skill set.

Liljegren takes plenty of risks, and while there will surely be some frustrations along his development path, it is tough to pass on such an impressive skater. His ability to spin away and elude pressure is incredibly impressive, and he is an ideal power play quarterback thanks to his ability to gain the offensive zone. I tend to prioritize skating and puck carrying, and Liljegren simply amazes at times in these areas.

His defensive question marks and mediocre season keep him out of the top five, but all the tools are here to be a valuable defenceman at the NHL level. Ranking Liljegren anywhere between #6-9 is reasonable to me, but any later and you are underestimating his offensive upside. Still, there is a bit more risk here compared to the other top 10 picks, and this needs to be considered as part of the equation.

Liljegren bounced around this year, playing for numerous teams in Sweden, another potential reason for his stock slipping. You can check out his stats below.

Timothy Liljegren via Elite Prospects

2012-2013Kristianstad/Osby J18J18 Div.140334
Kristianstad/Osby J20J20 Div.1161342Qualification30002
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 J20SuperElit297152226Playoffs31230
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 Allsvenskan00000Playoffs10000
Rögle BK J20SuperElit125278Playoffs31450
Rögle BKSHL191454
Timrå IKAllsvenskan50114
Sweden U18WJC-1870224
Sweden U18 (all)International-Jr1719108
2017-2018Rögle BK J20SuperElit-----
Rögle BKSHL-----

Finally, you can watch him in action here.

Let us know what you thought of the pick in the comments. Where will Liljegren play in the upcoming season?

Do you like the pick?

Love it2071
I’m pleased756
Wouldn’t have been my pick, but I’m okay with it48
Dislike it3
Hate it9
I’m becoming a Golden Knights fan32