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Tank Watch 2016: The return to mediocrity for the 2016 NHL Draft

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The Leafs season is half over. As the calendar turns to 2016 let's begin looking elsewhere for comfort: the future.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Boy I was hoping we wouldn't need one of these trackers this season, but here we are. January 11, 2016 and the Toronto Maple Leafs are near last place in the NHL. I was hesitant on when to publish this, at the half way mark, after game 42? At the trade deadline? Well, after the season in 2015 and where we are in the standings, we may as well keep our eye on the prize as the new year dawns.

Let's review the new draft rules shall we:

The biggest change is the odds of getting 1st overall (via NHL.com):

Non-Playoff Team
(Fewest Pts. to Most)
New Draft Lottery Odds Odds Under Former Allocation
1 20.0% 25.0%
2 13.5% 18.8%
3 11.5% 14.2%
4 9.5% 10.7%
5 8.5% 8.1%
6 7.5% 6.2%
7 6.5% 4.7%
8 6.0% 3.6%
9 5.0% 2.7%
10 3.5% 2.1%
11 3.0% 1.5%
12 2.5% 1.1%
13 2.0% 0.8%
14 1.0% 0.5%

Worse odds for the bottom 4 teams, better odds for everyone else.

There are actually three separate lotteries being held, one for the first overall pick, one for second, and one for third. Three chances to move up, and the last place team can fall all the way down to fourth.

Let's take a look at some of the top ranked prospects (all numbers as of 1/11/16 at eliteprospects.com):

Auston Matthews - Zurich, NLA
C - 6'2" - 194lbs
22GP - 14G - 11A - 25P

Forget his standout play at the World Juniors, Matthews has been remarkable as a first-year pro in Switzerland's NLA with the ZSC lions. Even a major injury likely wouldn't affect his status as the aforementioned "prize" this year. You don't often find big centres with the power and the puck skills that Matthews has. He's going to be a first line centre in the NHL. - Scott Wheeler

Matthew Tkachuk - London, OHL
LW - 6'1" - 194lbs
30GP - 15G - 46A - 61P

Playing on the OHL's best line with Mitch Marner and Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak, Tkachuk worked his way onto the United States' World Juniors roster as one of their five draft-eligible player. He's a passer above all else, and his size allow him to protect the puck along the boards and behind the net to control possession. Manages and slows down the game as well as anyone in this class. - Scott Wheeler

Jesse Puljujarvi - Karpat, SM-Liiga
RW - 6'3" - 196lbs
32GP - 5G - 8A - 13P

Speaking of power, Jesse Puljujarvi can overwhelm defenders by driving the net off the rush or dominating them in offensive zone puck battles. It certainly helps have a heavy, NHL shot too. He's been a star for quite some time now and there's no reason to believe his tools won't translate in the NHL. He can beat defenders wide and score with a quick cut to get his shot off. - Scott Wheeler

Jakob Chychrun - Sarnia, OHL
LHD - 6'2" - 194lbs
35GP - 5G - 19A - 24P

Chychrun is a high-risk offensive weapon who isn't afraid to try and make a flashy play. He's not the best defender in the class but he's a mature player for his age and an athletic force. Already built for the NHL as an athlete, and gifted enough offensively. He'll need some fine tuning in his gap control but he rarely gets exposed one-on-one because he's physical enough to remove the carrier from the puck. - Scott Wheeler

Patrik Laine - Tappara, SM-Liiga
RW/LW - 6'4" - 209lbs
24GP - 8G - 8A - 16P

SPEAKING OF POWER. - Scott Wheeler

Julien Gauthier - Val D'or, QMJHL
RW - 6'4" - 212lbs
30GP - 29G - 8A - 37P

Gauthier -- no relation -- has found a niche in the QMJHL as a pure scorer. Val d'Or has a ton of passers, which helps and needs to be taken into consideration in evaluating his play. He earned his spot on Team Canada at the World Juniors though, and his physicality will benefit him in making the transition to the NHL at a younger age than some of the other scorers in the class. Could end up as more of a complimentary piece than the likes of Puljujarvi and Laine at the next level. - Scott Wheeler

Michael McLeod - Mississauga, OHL
C - 6'2" - 187lbs
39GP - 17G - 28A - 45P

I'm not as high on McLeod as some others but he's among the most complete forwards in the class. Scores most of his goals by going to the front of the net to finish off rebounds or get a shot off from passes in around the crease. Excellent skater too. Could develop into a well-rounded 2/3C but I doubt his first line upside. He and Nylander complement each other really well.

Alexander Nylander - Mississauga, OHL
RW/LW - 6'0" - 172lbs
34GP - 22G - 28A - 50P

Was Sweden's best player at Ivan Hlinka and has been one of their best players at the World Juniors. Like his brother, he's a shifty skater who can handle the puck in and out of traffic. Not afraid to turn back away from the net in the offensive zone to wait for his play but can also cut to the middle. The most accurate shot in the OHL. - Scott Wheeler

Here's where the lottery odds sit right now:

Team Points Games
Remaining
% at 1st +/-
Tampa Bay 46 40 1.0% -
Ottawa 46 39 2.0% -
Pittsburgh 45 41 2.5% -
Colorado 45 39 3.0% -
Philadelphia 43 42 3.5% -
Carolina 43 39 5.0% -
Anaheim 41 40 6.0% -
Winnipeg 41 40 6.5% -
San Jose 40 43 7.5% -
Calgary 40 42 8.5% -
Toronto 39 42 9.5% -
Edmonton 37 39 11.5% -
Buffalo 36 40 13.5% -
Columbus 34 39 20% -

Right now the Maple Leafs are 4th last, so just out of double digit odds for the top pick. In my eyes the overall play is improving, but the standings are not. With injuries to almost every goaltender they have signed, and a new injury to JVR that could keep him out until March, are all signs pointing to the tank, or is this just a string of bad luck until a last minute miracle run into the playoffs? Personally, I'd be OK with either one. The Leafs are 8 points our of a wild card spot, and 10 points out of an Atlantic playoff spot with games in hand on all other teams except Boston.

If the Leafs don't make a run for it, the biggest changes on this list I want to see are Edmonton and Pittsburgh making the playoffs. Edmonton because they'll win the lottery otherwise, and Pittsburgh because the Leafs get their first round pick if they make it.

We'll check in on the tank watch again next Monday.