The downside of going for it at every trade deadline is you can be left twiddling your thumbs at the entry draft.
In their effort to spend and win in the present — not the worst option when you dress the fourth-highest regular-season scorer and the Hart Trophy runner-up — the Toronto Maple Leafs have whittled their draft selections in the 14 combined rounds of 2021 and 2022 to a grand total of six.
That the Leafs spent their 2021 first-round pick, to Columbus, for Nick Foligno, only to see Foligno injured and unable to contribute much during the playoffs is a bout of bad luck and a reminder of the risk.
“Do I regret anything in the last six months?” general manager Kyle Dubas asked himself, following another first-round exit.
“I regret that we weren’t able to deliver on the promise and the hope that our regular season instilled in our fan base. And it’s up to us to rectify that so that we don’t sit here again and deal with that.”
The Maple Leafs are in far too deep to adjust course and focus on the future. Seizing the prime years of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander is the mandate.
So, unless Dubas has another Kasperi Kapanen deal up his sleeve, Toronto’s draft won’t begin on July 23 but rather July 24, in Round 2.
Dubas has never been afraid to trade down in the ladder to gain multiple picks, and he has traditionally favoured home-run skill over size in his approach to prospects.
Last season, the Maple Leafs were busy on the floor, drafting 12 players in total, with a heavy continent of Russians, Finns and Americans.
This week, Toronto will yield a much smaller crop, but we expect it to target teenagers from those same nations.
TOR 2 (57th), TOR 5 (153rd), TOR 6 (185th)
Potential Round 2 targets
Josh Doan, right wing, Chicago Steel: “He’d be a target, for sure,” confirms Sportsnet’s prospect guru Sam Cosentino. The Maple Leafs have poured hours into scouting the USHL’s Steel during their 2021 Clark Cup championship run and have their sights on a few players from a roster that was overseen by current Marlies coach Greg Moore in 2019.
Passed over in 2020, the 19-year-old Doan’s stock has skyrocketed thanks to a growth spurt (6-foot-2, 176 pounds) and stat spurt (31 goals, 70 points in 53 games).
Praised for his work ethic and net-front courage, Shane Doan’s son has already worked out with Auston Matthews in Arizona.
“He’s a really good player. He’s still young,” Matthews said.
The catch, Cosentino says, is that Doan could be selected as high as the first round and likely early in the second, begging the question: Could Dubas trade up?
Toronto also has Doan teammates Matthew “Mackie” Samokevich (a patient, playmaking centreman who can skate the wing), Ryan Ufko (a small, puck-moving, right-shot defencman), and Jack Bar (bigger, smooth-skating D-man who can start transition) on its radar.
“[The Leafs] have eyes on him,” Cosentino says of Samokevich, who might not be on the board at 57. “They really love his skill.”
Prokhor Poltapov, right wing / left wing, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva: At the 2020 draft, Toronto selected Russians with its first, fourth and fifth picks. The Leafs scout the country heavily, which could lead to Poltapov joining the organization.
The St. Petersburg native made his KHL debut this past season for CSKA Moscow but spent the bulk of the past two years with its MHL farm club, putting up an impressive 25 goals and 52 points in 61 games. An unintimidated, skilled winger with nifty hands.
Ville Koivunen, right wing / left wing, Karpat: Toronto’s draft-and-develop connections to Finland run deep, and the playmaking Koivunen fits the profile of Dubas’s ideal pick.
“His game is one of pure, unrelenting skill, and an attacking mindset to match,” describes Elite Prospects in its draft guide. [LINK: https://www.eliteprospects.com/2021draftguide]
“Koivunen wants the puck on his stick, wants to be a game-breaker, wants to make something happen every shift.”
Last year’s first pick: Rodion Amirov
Amirov absolutely shone in 2020-21.
The Russian was named best forward en route to the 2020 Karjala Cup after scoring in every game against grown men. He followed up that performance with six points in seven matches at the world juniors.
In his second campaign with Ufa Salavat Yulayev, the 19-year-old scored nine goals in 39 games, ranking third among all under-20 skaters in the KHL.
Amirov signed his entry-level deal with the Leafs on April 15 and flew to Toronto to begin training with the Marlies in the spring.
“He just needs to get bigger and stronger,” one scout says. “He’ll be a good two-way forward, though.”
Rodion Amirov with the Auston Matthews “good goal” celly pic.twitter.com/LCAqBuyCpn
— alberto (@twistedleafs) December 31, 2020
There is no one overwhelming need in a Maple Leafs system that, frankly, could use a boost at all positions.
The organizational emphasis on winning in the Auston Matthews era has seen a steady trickle of prospects (fair thee well, Filip Hallander) and draft picks leak away. As a result, the AHL Marlies have tumbled from champions to a middle-of-the-pack group.
Because of this, there is pressure for some on-the-brink (and cap-friendly) talents like Nick Robertson, Rasmus Sandin, Joey Anderson, Adam Brooks and Timothy Liljegren to establish themselves as NHL fixtures.
Behind them are a handful of intriguing names: Amirov, Topi Niemelä, Roni Hirvonen, Nicholas Abruzzese, Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Mikhail Abramov, Artur Akhtyamov, et al. But there is a sense that more development is required before any of them make the leap.
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