In a lot of ways, this NHL draft is going to define Toronto for the next three to five years. It will go a long way toward either cementing or destroying Brian Burke's job security with the Maple Leafs.
He will be judged on what moves he does and doesn't make, and how many times he walks to the podium in the first round.
He will be judged harshly, critically and unfairly by an aggressively pessimistic media supported by a rabid fan base desperate for success in a city so surrounded by failure that none of the three major sports franchises has won anything since the Blue Jays won their second World Series in 1993.
That is a whole lot of repressed anger boiling over against Burke, who is quickly becoming the lightning rod for such outbursts.
At the draft, first and foremost, Burke cannot move his first-round pick (fifth overall) unless it is to move up and select higher. Furthermore, he has to nail (for those of you that get this horrible pun, well done) his pick.
It has to be a player with elite-level skill, not just physical size. It has to be a player who will appear in a national team uniform in the World Junior Championship tournament next winter (if said player is not already playing for the Leafs right out of camp). And, yes, Burke has absolutely zero control over his pick making a WJHC team. But Leaf fans will expect and accept nothing less.
That is the level of terror and anger and just general "I'm so tired of believing in this franchise year after year and getting nothing back"-ness.
At the draft, Burke must be "seen" as trying to acquire other elite players along the lines of Roberto Luongo, Rick Nash and Eric Staal, players who would immediately move the Leafs closer to a playoff berth, at least on paper.
He must make at least one trade on the national TSN broadcast to placate the frantic fan base. It can be as small as moving up to get a pick in the third or fourth round (which the Leafs are currently without), and he should probably try super-duper hard to nab a second or third first-round pick(s).
It's all about looking like he's working his truculent, Irish ass off to make the Leafs look better, which he will be doing anyway because he's far too competitive and full of that good old Irish pride to not do the best job he physically can.
But back to focusing on which player he will draft with the No. 5 overall pick.
I'll do a mock draft of the first 5 picks and outline which ones could be available for the right price and also which players will most likely go where. Then break down the Leafs options at No. 5:
2. Columbus Blue Jackets—Filip Forsberg (LW/C, Leksands, SEL, 6'1", 176)
Forsberg is being billed as the second-best player available, along with Ryan Murray and Grigs. But the key for Columbus here is that he is a "safe" pick. With their recent draft history, they really need this one to pan out.
3. Montreal Canadiens—Mikhail Grigorenko (C/RW, Qubec, QMJHL, 6'3", 200)
He's a big, mean centre. Also, the Habs rumoured new coach (Patrick Roy) is his current coach, so if Roy likes him, even more reason to pick him.
4. New York Islanders—Matt Dumba (D, Red Deer, WHL, 6'0", 175)
Billed as the next Dion Phaneuf with his hard-hitting, big point shot and good picking and moving game, the hope by GM Garth Snow is that announcers will be yelling "Dumba to Tavares and he scores!" for a long, long time to come.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs—The Leafs have an abundance of options here, but really only two make sense in terms of elite-level skill and fit within the Leafs needs; Ryan Murray and Alex Galchenyuk.
Ryan Murray, D, Everett, WHL, 6'1", 200, 46 GP, 9 G, 22 A, 31 PTS/Playoffs, 4 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 PTS.
Murray is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman who plays a great positional defensive game with an active stick. He excels in a top pairing/shutdown defensive role, but most scouts believe he has a much higher offensive ceiling that has yet to be tapped.
He is most often compared to Scott Niedermayer for his calm and poise with the puck and his smooth skating, puck moving and positionally sound defensive responsibility. Murray also was the only draft-eligible player (in his first year of eligibility) to be picked to play for Team Canada at the WJC tournament and was a key member of the team playing on the top pairing and playing the shutdown role.
An amateur talent evaluator whose opinion I really respect had this to say about Murray:
"People ask what I think about Ryan Murray? I project him to play a role similar to that of current Predator, Ryan Suter. Murray will be a hell of a defender, who plays in all situations, puts up good numbers but is the glue of a D group, who makes a high risk-high reward player next to him all the better. Pair a Ryan Murray/Ryan Suter with a P.K. Subban/Dion Phaneuf/Shea Weber/Ryan Murphy and let them do their thing (roam offensively)"—Brian Huddle .
Having that kind of player eventually line up next to Phaneuf is beyond amazing and adding him to the D core of Gardiner, Phaneuf and Schenn gives the Leafs an absolutely terrifying wealth of top defencemen that can only lead to good things.
The Leafs missed on Scott Niedermayer the first time (Leafs traded the third overall pick in 1991 to the Devils...they picked Scotty) and the Leafs could've had him in a rumoured trade several years later, but decided against it, so why not get Scotty's reincarnation this time around? (So what if it's only 11 years late right? Better late than never).
Check out the NHL Network profile.
Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia, OHL, 6'2", 185, Missed the regular season/Playoffs, 6 GP, 2 G, 4 PTS.
Alex Galchenyuk scored 83 points last season, finishing second in rookie scoring in the OHL to only his teammate and projected No. 1 overall pick Nail Yakupov. He torn his ACL in a preseason game and missed all but two games of the regular season this season, but was expected to challenge Yakupov before the injury for the top overall pick.
He has silky smooth hands and is a very intelligent playmaker, possessing good speed and size that allows him to control the puck and make plays with his chippy game and creativity. His game is often compared to Marian Hossa's, and you can see why with the way he controls the puck and sees the ice.
He has the potential to jump right into the Leafs lineup, but could probably do with at least a year back in junior to recover from his injury and get back to full strength (Much like Brett Connolly in TampaBay). Brian Huddle had this to say about him:
"Beyond Galchenyuk's lack of playing time this year, most pegged him, Ryan Murray and Mikhail Grigorenko as the the only possible ones to dethrone Yakupov this season from that spot. I agreed. I saw Galchenyuk last year live about a half dozen or so times, with a handful of TV games as well. I don't have the best grasp on him or Yakupov in comparison to many Sarnia-based scouts or full-time scouts in general, but I think I have a fairly good understanding of both as players. The difference in skill is debatable between the two of them, with Yakupov being a clearly more explosive skater, with a lethal arsenal of shots. In that sense, Yakupov is a better player, and will in all an almost certainty, go first overall. But for me, I think Galchenyuk projects better long term with his NHL size and more conservative NHL game. It's not much, but it's a hunch."
He is everything the Leafs are looking for in a No. 1 centre. If it comes down to him and Murray, the Leafs have to take Gally based on team needs. If Burke can someone ask a favour from a god or deity and land them both? I will bend the knee to Burke as supreme overlord.
Check out his NHL Network profile here.
6. Anaheim Ducks*—This pick is available as the Ducks need a retool not a rebuild. They need a second-line centre and some defensive help. Toronto could provide a package to grab this pick if a player falls here that they had high on their draft charts.
7. Minnesota Wild*—Wild will be looking to add a player to their roster to arrive alongside Mikhail Granlund.
8. Carolina Hurricanes*—If a high-ranked defenceman or Faksa isn't available, this pick will be moved.
9. Winnipeg Jets*—Could be available, but Jets are building through the draft, so probably not.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning*—Pick is available if the Leafs part with Franson and a pick. The Lightning need a puck-moving, power-lay quarterbacking defenseman in a bad way and will pay to get it.
11. Washington Capitals (COL)*—Caps have a very deep pool and could move the pick, but will probably keep this one and move their own pick later in the round.
12. Buffalo Sabres*—Most likely the Sabres are holding on to their pick.
13. Dallas Stars*—Stars are all about the draft. They are keeping the pick (Hello, Olli Maata).
14. Calgary Flames*—If they are smart, the only way Calgary doesn't pick here is if it moves up.
The wild cards in terms of how the top five will fall are Columbus and the New York Islanders. If Columbus decides it wants a defenceman, Murray will be taken. If the Blue Jackets decide they are, in fact, afraid of Russian players, they may take Grigorenko, causing Montreal to take Galchenyuk.
There are a lot of variables here, but it's pretty safe to say the Leafs will end up with either Gally, Murray, Forsberg or Grigorenko, and any of them would go a long way toward getting the Leafs back to the promised land.
Here's a couple of the better mock draft I've come across:
Also stay tuned for my next article dissecting the current Toronto roster and what Burke could, should, needs to do to it to get the Leafs back into the postseason. It's a four-part series.
Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed reading it. and if nothing else that it gives you something positive to think about when it comes to the train wreck that has been this season for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
If you don't agree with me, or you think I'm a genius, feel free to comment below, I love a good hockey debate and I always respond.
Also feel free to check out a series of articles that dissect the Leafs off-season game plans and players that might be the solutions.
Here's a link to Part 1 - "Finding a No.1 Center" -
Here's a link to Part 2 - "The Goaltending Situation" -
Watch for Part 3 - "Fixing The Blue Line" later this week.