The NHL Draft is always an intriguing event, unlike the NFL draft their is usually a high volume of trades between NHL teams which include more than just draft picks. This year’s draft will be no different especially with a number of teams that want to make significant upgrades without paying a higher price in free agency.
Let me give you an example; the Toronto Maple Leafs acquired Dave Bolland from Chicago for a 2nd round pick and two 4th round picks. The Detroit Red Wings signed Stephen Weiss for 5 years at $24.5 million. Weiss suffered from an injury plagued season only recording 4 points in 26 games while Bolland was able to score 12 points in 23 games missing a majority of the season with an injury. Bolland was traded out of Chicago because the Hawks wanted cap space and Toronto needed more depth down the middle, Bolland commanded a $3.375 million cap hit. Toronto was rumoured to be one of the teams interested in Weiss but could not sign him and that appeared to be a lucky break. Even if Bolland wanted $4.5 million next season it would still be a better deal for the Leafs then what Detroit is getting for Weiss.
If Bolland does leave Toronto for free agency Dave Nonis will probably go down the same route to replace him or let Peter Holland take his spot. Now the Leafs may want to try and sign some players in Free Agency but they may not be in a position to make a major splash. Instead the Leafs will try to benefit from making a trade with a team that wants to part with a particular player or try to make cap space.
A team like the Philadelphia Flyers who has depth upfront may look to acquire a defencemen, the Nashville Predators may want to acquire a forward, Vancouver and Calgary are looking for a goalie. Teams like Pittsburgh, Washington, Vancouver, and Carolina may look for a shakeup and Toronto could try to cash in on what these teams have to offer.
Nick Kypreos reported that only 4 players have not been included in trade talks (Kessel, Rielly, Bozak & Bernier). Interesting that JVR is being included in trade talks but maybe Nonis believes that JVR can fetch them that top defenceman.
The NHL draft has become very important in the salary cap era because more teams have to use younger players that cost less on the cap. Look at the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, they rely on the younger players that they draft and develop. The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally decided that it was time to invest more in drafting and developing players. Players like Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, Morgan Rielly have been key parts to the Leafs core and the organization has many younger players that have the potential to do the same.
Connor Brown (picked in the 6th round in 2012) was the OHL’s best forward this season and management is hopeful that they a hidden treasure in the draft. Jerry D’Amigo (picked in the 6th round in 2009) looks like he is ready for a full tine NHL gig after an impressive AHL campagin. Petter Granberg (picked in the 4th round in 2010) had a memorable NHL debut in the season finale against Ottawa. Mat Finn (drafted in the 2nd round in 2012 was the driving force to Guelph’s Memorial Cup tournament.
The future looks bright for the Leafs but they still need that one player that can bring similar qualities to what Mats Sundin provided. That player could be in the draft or acquired in a trade (Sundin was acquired in a trade don’t forget).
The Leafs have the 8th pick in the draft but there is also the possibility of trading up as well. The Leafs would like to acquire a defencemen to compliment their top 4 but only Aaron Ekblad is projected in the top 10. That means that the Leafs will likely pick a forward with their pick and these are players that could be available with that pick.
According to mynhldraft.com the Toronto Maple Leafs would pick Nikolaj Ehlers with the 8th pick in their mock draft (http://www.mynhldraft.com/NHL-Mock-Draft/).
Here are possibilities for the Leafs; (scouting reports provided by the Hockey News)
William Nylander C/LW (Sweden): versatile player who has the skating and play making ability to be a dynamic player. His weaknesses include his small frame and defensive deficiencies. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10756)
Kasperi Kapanen RW (Finland): Sniper who likes to find openings in coverage. He will have to adjust to the North American game because of his size and defensive deficiencies. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?9616).
Nikolaj Ehlers LW (Denmark): dynamic goal scorer in his first season with Halifax in the QMJHL scoring 104 points in 63 games. His ability to create plays makes him and his linemates lethal in the offensive zone. Does not have a big frame which makes it hard to showoff his offensive upside. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10692)
Brendan Perlini LW (Ontario): Has the size and scoring ability but lacks the consistency and defensive play to break the NHL right away. Once he fixes that he can be a nice addition to any team. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?9638)
Kevin Fiala RW (Sweden): competes for the puck and once he has the puck he has plenty of raw playmaking ability that makes him a threat especially one on one. Not very strong and needs to add more size for the NHL.
Haydn Fleury D (Saskatchewan): Great skating ability and excels in a shut down role against the most skilled players. Great size and potential to put up points.. Needs to work on physical play and lacks natural offensive talent. 2nd ranked defencemen on the draft board after Ekblad. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10851)
Nick Ritchie LW (Ontario): Can be a great top 6 forward with his size and aggressive play. His type of play raises question marks on whether he can contribute in an everyday role on an NHL. Power forwards are rare in the NHL today so he will have to make use of his strengths. (http://forecaster.thehockeynews.com/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?8836)
Jake Virtanen LW (Alberta): Natural scorer that has the size and skating to be an effective winger. Needs to find consistency in his game for the NHL level. (http://www.forecaster.ca/hockeynews/hockey/player.php?10878).
Will any of these players be top franchise players in the future for the Leafs? Anything is possible but the Leafs will definitely look for a player with more size and offensive ability which is a hard quality to find in every player. Also the Leafs cannot put all their stock in first round picks, they need to rely on their late round drafting in order to continue building a dominant prospect pool.
Of course the Leafs will try to build for the future but also make significant improvements to get back into the playoffs. Judging by the way that teams in the Western Conference played in the playoffs the Leafs have a lot of work to do.