How many draft picks are enough?
Leaving aside the first round picks, this handy chart show the value of each team’s draft picks assuming the current standings position and using one method of valuing each pick. It gives us an idea of where the Leafs are at relative to the league.
You should expect bad teams that haven’t been spending picks to be at the top, even when you take out their really valuable first overall picks. You should expect teams who have been contending for years to be at the bottom.
The Chicago Blackhawks are therefore doing really, really well at pick retention and the Calgary Flames need to sit and think about their choices for a moment.
The Leafs are not very high up this chart.
There’s good reasons for that. They haven’t had a lot of assets to sell other than the big fire sale last year, and they’ve spent some on acquisitions. They also come into their new incarnation as a rebuilding team with a very bare cupboard.
We should expect to see the Leafs spending picks while they have only limited options for acquiring them. They can trade players, or they can trade down to turn one pick into two. I’d like to see them do some trading down in this coming draft to maximize the number of chances of getting a good player out of the lesser picks.
The other option for a pick-deprived team who wants to spend to grow, but doesn’t want to be handcuffed a few years down the road with a dwindling prospect pool, is to find the so called free-wallet: undrafted or unsigned players.
Miro Aaltonen is just the latest one of these the Leafs have snapped up. He actually was drafted in the sixth round in 2013, so he is sort of a back dated found pick. Aaltonen was taken five spots away from Antoine Bibeau in that draft, so the Leafs could have had him then. Now they have both.
They also have Trevor Moore, Nikita Soshnikov, Nikita Zaitsev, Justin Holl and Kasimir Kaskisuo. Along with Aaltonen, these players all have one thing in common: they were signed before they were 25, so every one of them began their Leafs career on an ELC and waiver exempt.
The Leafs also found some freebies via the waiver wire (yet another way to make up for pick deficits): Alexey Marchenko, Ben Smith and Seth Griffith. The problem with all of those players is, as the great and unrelenting saga of Frank Corrado proved, they aren’t waiver exempt and they can’t be moved to and from the AHL at will.
Before there was Frank Corrado, there was Petter Granberg, a decent borderline defender who can’t crack an NHL lineup. He was a draft pick of the Leafs, just like Josh Leivo, who has played only 17 games this season as he sits, unsent to the Marlies because he would be claimed on waivers. Granberg was claimed on waivers by Nashville, and they managed to send him to their AHL team without losing him after he sat around for most of a year not playing.
Finding NCAA, European or even CHL graduates who are free agents and young enough to be waiver exempt ELC contract signings is more useful for a team than having Josh Leivo around. Miro Aaltonen, who likely won’t make the Leafs roster next year, is almost exactly Leivo’s age.
The waiver rules make it almost impossible not to move on from a player whose exemption has expired, but who might be useful enough to another team to be taken. History is proving that someone like Griffith or Granberg have to hit their second or third try at waivers before other GMs give up on them and realize they are being sent to the AHL for a good reason.
A drafted player who moves into the AHL as they finish junior hockey or early from Europe has to have become fish or fowl, AHLer or NHLer, by the time the waiver exemption runs out. The ones who are neither as they hit 23 or 24 are not as useful to have around as the exempt replacements that are easy enough to find when you pour money into your scouting department.
These free agent players are closer to known quantities too. No one knew what Leivo would be when he was taken with a third round pick years ago. But Aaltonen is more of a sure thing now than he was in his draft year. What he is happens to be left wing depth and a power play scorer, and if that sounds like Leivo, I don’t think that’s an accident.