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Nicolas Mattinen is back in the draft — and the rest of Mark Hunter’s large adult sons?

Last summer Fulemin looked at one aspect of the Leafs drafting strategy. One year on, how are those big boys doing?

2017 NHL Draft - Portraits
Ah, remember when the press asked Torontonian Gordeev if he’d ever heard of the Leafs as a kid?
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Last summer AT Fulemin wrote an examination of a seeming trend in Mark Hunter’s draft strategy for big defencemen.

I think it’s fair to say that some of these picks have been the most controversial in Hunter’s tenure. More than once I’ve seen the Middleton and Maatinen selections characterized as “lighting draft picks on fire”—in other words, that these players showed so little beyond height that their chances of being NHL contributors are effectively zero. Progressive-minded fans tend to think old-school hockey thinkers overvalue size to a fault, and when their team picks a big player who seems to have obvious flaws—poor skating, or meagre point production—well, they get upset.

One year later, where are they now?

Andrew Nielsen

Last year at this time, Andrew Nielsen was a very controversial fellow. A lot of PPP staff (raises hand) were unconvinced he would ever make the NHL. A lot of fans disagreed.

He had improved in the AHL, for sure, and was often partnered with his close friend Travis Dermott, but he looked like he was getting leapfrogged by new guys. This season has been a big slide backwards for Nielsen while at the same time Dermott vaulted into the NHL.

Injuries haven’t helped the picture, as Nielsen has only played 65 games and six playoff games, but most of that is a result of healthy scratches while Timothy Liljegren has made himself a full time roster spot at 18, as well as Martin Marincin experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

Nielsen went from 14 goals and 39 points (and 82 PIM) in 2017-2018 to six goals and 26 points (143 PIM) in 65 games this year.

No one slots Nielsen in on their fantasy rosters anymore. This might be a blip, but it looks like a lifestyle choice for truculence from the cheap seats.

Stephen Desrocher

Stephen Desrocher, the former Frontenacs captain and defence partner of Eemeli Räsänen, was never offered a contract by the Leafs, and played a few games for Western in USports this season. Turns out his huge points production at 21 in the OHL was just a big guy beating up on kids after all.

J.D. Greenway

We covered Greenway’s struggles this season here:

He has lots of time yet to regroup and grow as a player.

Keaton Middleton

We covered Keaton Middleton’s return to the draft here:

He seemed much more plausible even than Desrochers, and he could still show up in pro hockey, but not at an NHL level, which was always unlikely just based on nothing but draft position.

Nicolas Mattinen

And another one’s gone, another one’s down, another one’s back in the draft:

Drafted out of the London Knights in the sixth round, I always assumed this was a favour for a friend pick or just a case of the only name left anyone recognized.

At 20 in the OHL, he scored 30 points in 64 games. He looked better on the Memorial Cup team where he finished the season, but that’s his junior career peak.

Eemeli Räsänen

The biggest boy of all is bound for the (roughly estimated) fourth-best team in the KHL at 19.

This makes him the most successful of all, and the most highly paid. He has years yet to develop, so any firm opinion on him is premature. He put up nearly identical points in the OHL to the previous year (where he was paired up with the above mentioned Desrochers). He played much of this season in a reduced role and with lesser teammates.

Considering that he was drafted in the second round last year, he should be the best of the bunch, however.

Fedor Gordeev

Fedor Gordeev played on the same OHL team that Mattinen was traded away from to a better club. Gordeev modestly improved on his modest points totals from the previous season, but he also seemed to come as a surprise to viewers in development camp last summer, looking better than anyone would expect a just-drafted player out of the fifth round to be.

His OHL team is bad, so he had no playoffs this season, and his team is bad, so it’s hard for a defender to get points if he’s passing the puck to forwards who can’t score.

Gordeev is working out with the Marlies, and he might be something someday, you never know. A better OHL situation next season might help him more than it did Mattinen.