It's that time again soon where Leaf Nation can begin to speculate on how the Leafs will draft this year. Unfortunately we won't be able to draft our position as Boston holds our ninth selection.
However, we do hold Boston's and Phildaphelia's first round picks. We also have our own second-round selection. That makes three picks falling between 24 and 39 depending on how Philly and Boston's finish in this year's playoffs.
This years draft is the weirdest I've seen in years. Is it a weak draft? It's certainly not as strong as in 2003. What it is though is a level field. After the the first three or four picks it can really be anyone's guess. Some lists have players in the top 10. Other lists have that very same player in the late third round.
The general consensus is that for the most part, all of these players will need seasoning - even the number one overall.
As for the Leafs, I feel that they should be focusing on offensive skills more than pugnacious grit and defensive acumen. They shouldn't be looking at solid players that have third line, checking role ceiling potentials. Mika Zibanejad rated 11 by THN is projected as a two-way forward.
I feel strongly that coaches can teach the two-way style. They can't teach offensive skill. Get these other kids in the third round down. Forwards picked in the top 60 should be pure, raw skill sets with high offensive potential. With few exceptions.
So with that, I present a list of players that I reasonably expect could go in the range of 24th to 39th spot. Some clearly may go earlier—others may not get nabbed until the fourth round.
The players I've picked, I feel fit the Leafs needs and priorities. They are all at least three years away from helping the big club in any capacity—yet they could be "home run" cornerstone type players.
In order of availability, these are who I'd pick—if they are taken, I'd move down the list to the next available player (THN ranking in parenthesis):
Zack Phillips (9) - Goal scoring centre for Saint John. Not a great skater but consistently puts points on the board. YouTube has a great highlight clip of him scoring some schnazzy goals.
The ISS has him at 31 so he could slip down to the Leafs earliest pick wherever that is. Or if it's not too costly, maybe the Leafs move up a few slots.
Mark McNeill (16) - Mark is built like a pro NHLer already. Prototypical power forward, who quite honestly might not make it past the eighth spot. Excellent hockey vision, and doesn't quit. It'll be a toss up between Phillips and McNeill if they both slip to within a range to grab them earlier.
Rocco Grimaldi (32) - Think Pinball Clemons on skates. This kid is fast and talented, gets in the corners dirty, goes to the net and can score. Plus he's stocky, cocky and has a low center of gravity—mainly because he's only 5'6".
That said, he causes fits for defenders and is hard to knock off the puck. If he was 6'2" he'd be going in the top five. Better speed with the puck, and better hands puts Grimaldi ahead of another smallish player in Catenacci. I'd take a flyer on him for sure!
He's an acclimatized Russian, living in North America for half his life and he speaks perfect english. He's an offensive dynamo who just needs to get bigger, and more confident.
Daniel Catenacci (35) - First overall OHL pick is one on the fastest skaters in the draft like Grimaldi. Also like Grimaldi, he's a smaller player with a low center of gravity at 5'10. Plays with intensity & grit. But can that translate to the NHL?
John Gibson (27) - As a rule, I'm against drafting goalies in the first three rounds simply because they mature much, much later than others. The exceptions are when scouts label a prospects ceiling as "franchise" like they have John Gibson.
He's calm, plays the angles well, has a big body and is the consensus top goalie in this years draft. Five years minimum away from NHL regularity. But that's okay because we have OptimusReim.
Stephan Noesen (39) - Who is this "Noesen" kid? Well, if you ask my Kitchener Ranger season ticket holding co-worker, he's that "punk kid who dominated us in this years playoffs". And indeed he did—this kid can play with skill, speed & razzle-dazzle!
Victor Rask (54) - He's been projected to be a top-10 pick for awhile but little ice time with his Swedish League team seems to have hampered his development, and as a by-product his ranking.
This kid does have the whole package though—size, talent and drive—to be a skilled NHLer. And it would be interesting if the Leafs drafted him like they did a certain other Rask. It would be even more interesting if we traded him to Boston for a washed up goalie.
Tomas Jurco (28) - Highly skilled, razzle-dazzle forward. This kid's got mad skills with the puck! And not just on shoot outs—Tomas puts points on the board during the game too. Could be a late round home-run steal.
Top-end talent potential is there, and I'm talking All-Star potential. He could also be a huge bust, it just depends on his motivation and drive. Want to see some of his moves—just YouTube him.
Michael St.Croix (46) - His father is former Leaf's goaltender Rick St. Croix. Another progeny! He's fast, elusive, and he see's the ice really well. He's not too big, and that's a factor in his poor defensive game.
He also plays a unique east-west open style game that could make him prone to concussions once he starts playing with bigger, better players. But the talent is definitely there.
Tobias Rieder (65) - Yes, he's rated early third round, however my Kitchener Ranger co-worker swears he's the real-deal. He had a slow start which really hurt his points totals finishing with 49 points in 65 games for a rookie. Most of his points came in the second half after he acclimatized to the game.
He was hitting and chasing the puck like a demon the few games I saw him play. I like his ceiling potential better than another similar Ranger in Mikkel Boedker—he just needs to get bigger & stronger. Well they both do really!
Tyler Biggs (20) - Another NHL progeny as his father was a journeyman character player. He's a slightly bigger—and thus higher ranked—"Brad Ross" type player. Projected as a power forward, not afraid to agitate, go to the net and into the corners.
I don't really think the Leafs can afford to draft pugnacious over raw skill set with their first three picks but he is a Burke-type of player.
- Keegan Lowe (68) - Simple payback for Kevin Lowe. "We now own your son Mr. I'll-sign-Dustin-Penner-to-an-offer-sheet-behind-my-back". Oh snap! Plus the kids got some potential stay-at-home defensive solidness along with being the progeny of a seven-time All-Star who won six Stanley Cups! Not too shabby.