Should the Toronto Maple Leafs Trade Up in the 2014 NHL Draft?

James OnuskoContributor IIIJune 20, 2014

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 9:  NHL Top Prospects (left to right) Sam Bennett, Leon Draisaitl, Aaron Ekblad, Michael DalCole and Sam Reinhart take in morning skate before Game Three of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on June 9, 2014 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The Toronto Maple Leafs currently sit in the eighth spot for the upcoming NHL draft. Unless that pick is a total swing and a miss, they should land a top-six forward or a top-four defenceman if they remain there.

While there is no generational superstar in this year's draft—there could be two next year in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.

The top-four players in this year's draft should be strong NHL players unless something very unexpected happens. Predicting future NHL success for 17- and 18-year-old hockey players is an inexact science, but elite prospects tend to have successful careers.

Not always, with Rick Dipietro and Alexandre Daigle being two notable exceptions.

While the Leafs have several areas of need, they must upgrade their defence immediately. The club also needs to add a centre who can play in their top six in the next year or two.

The ever-present salary cap is an ongoing concern and ultimately, no one knows the organizational plan outside of a handful of individuals in the Leafs' management group.

Adding a top-pairing defenceman or a dominant centre is always challenging to do in a trade.

Occasionally, these players come available as unrestricted free agents, but currently, the Leafs do not have the salary-cap room to pursue one of these types of players. 

More importantly, the unrestricted free-agent list is very thin at these two positions.

Therefore, developing one of these players from within the organization is a club's best bet. The biggest question mark surrounds what it would take for the Leafs to move up to get one of the top-four picks in the draft.

Trading Morgan Rielly, Phil Kessel or James Van Riemsdyk to do this may not be an organizational step forward. However, it may take one of these players to be made available for trade, to make a deal happen. 

Dion Phaneuf would be a possibility but not many teams would want to take on Phaneuf's full contract which has a lot of term and dollar value left  until the 2020-21 season.

In defenceman Aaron Ekblad and centres Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl, the Leafs could land a potential impact NHLer.

Ekblad would have a good shot at making the Leafs as early as next season. Draisaitl would likely have an outside shot at doing the same.

Bennett and Reinhart likely have to get much stronger physically to be NHL regulars. Bennett oozes talent though, and he's learning at the foot of Doug Gilmour who serves as a great pro-player comparison for the Kingston Frontenac star.

If the Leafs did not have to give up more than one roster player along with their No. 8 pick, they would have to seriously consider doing that deal to land a top-four selection. 

If the roster player is anyone other than Kessel, Rielly or Van Riemsdyk, it could make good sense. Of course, there are other needs to be addressed, but adding Ekblad, or one of these talented centres, would go a long way in improving the Leafs in the next year or two.

Taking the long view may not be an easy sell to Leafs fans who have been among some of the more long-suffering, yet patient in the NHL in recent years. Their loyalty to the organization deserves some reciprocity from the Toronto management group.

The next few weeks will go a long way in shaping the upcoming seasons in a profound way.