Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
There 2014 NHL Entry Draft is closing in, just two weeks from this Friday, and what the plan for the Toronto Maple Leafs is isn’t clear. There have been rumours of the Leafs moving any pick and almost any player on their roster. But if you look past the rumours and concentrate on the facts, a picture begins to form of what the Leafs may likely do. Part of understanding what may happen with the Toronto Maple Leafs this year is understanding what the other teams around them need and are thinking. In order to understand that, here’s a look at what the bottom 15 teams look like on paper, what their needs are and who they may end up drafting.
#1 Florida Panthers
Better off than several of the other franchises picking early, the Panthers already have several young studs on their roster. Jonathan Huberdeau regressed this year but is expected to be a very good player while Aleksander Barkov looked solid in 54 games as an 18-year-old. 21-year-old Nick Bjugstad towers over the competition at six-foot-six and almost hit 40 points this year. The key factor with those three is that all of them play centre, locking in the Panthers down the middle for the foreseeable future. On defence the Panthers have former third overall pick Eric Gudbranson, second rounder Alex Petrovic and another first rounder in Dmitry Kulikov. The Panthers weren’t bad this year because they had no talent, they were bad because they have young talent. With the first overall pick they can go any way they want, picking up a top flight centre to give them a one-two punch with Aleksander Barkov (with Huberdeau likely moving to the wing), or solidifying a young defence with Aaron Ekblad. It should be noted they faced a similar situation last year, when they took Barkov at #2 ahead of Seth Jones, the stud defencemen of that draft. The Panthers were 29th in the league in both goals for and goals against; though with Luongo between the pipes they should fare better next year. They could also trade down a few picks, still get a solid winger they could use and other picks or prospects. The three options are Ekblad, trade down a bit and get a top centre like Reinhart or Bennett or get a winger like Dal Colle, or trade down into the 6-10 range. If that’s the case, they’d go after a skilled winger like Ehlers or Virtanen.
#2 Buffalo Sabres
Unlike the Panthers, who lost because they had young talent, the Sabres had a horrific season because they have no talent. They finished their losing season off by getting bumped out of the number one overall pick, how very Buffalo. They do have a lot of young talent, but it’s questionable how much of it is very good or elite. Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson, Zemgus Girgensons and Mihail Grigorenko down the middle doesn’t scare anybody. While Marcus Foligno and Joel Armia may become solid wingers, they look at more of a top nine role than a legitimate number one set. On defence, Tyler Myers is still young and Jake McCabe and Mark Pysyk are slowly coming around, but the Sabres need to take whoever they feel is the best player on the board. With Rasmus Ristolainen also on defence, the Sabres may lean towards offense, but the first overall pick will shape their decision. While anybody would be an immediate help, the Sabres are going to be right in the middle of the pack looking for that number one pick and Connor McDavid next year. They scored the fewest goals for this season, but finished 25th in goals against. If the Panthers pass on Ekblad, Edmonton could move up to #2 to get him, with the Sabres still getting an excellent forward and whatever else was in the trade. Otherwise the likely course is the Sabres selecting a number one centre for the future, likely Reinhart or Bennett.
#3 Edmonton Oilers
Eventually, one day, the Oilers aren’t going to get a top five draft pick. Maybe. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be three of the faces of the Oilers, but Nail Yakupov, Sam Gagner and David Perron are all 25-years-old or under. The Oilers have a plethora of young defencemen as well. Oscar Klefbom, Martin Marincin, Justin Schultz, Philip Larsen and Jeff Petry are all 26 or younger and saw time with the Oilers this year. The Oilers also have high hopes for Darnell Nurse and David Musil. That being said, if Ekblad is still available the Oilers are going to take him. If he’s not, the Oilers will take the best centre available as they’re set for the future on left wing with Hall and Perron and on right wing with Eberle and what they hope Yakupov can become. They may also have something in left winger Anton Stepyshev, who at 19 has already played four years in the KHL. At Centre they’re weaker, with Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Boyd Gordon. While a trade up to get Ekblad is possible, there’s also a small chance they may trade down. Rumblings have them more interested in Draisaitl than Bennett but the likely course of action is one of Reinhart, Bennett, Nylander or Draisaitl will be an Oiler after the draft.
#4 Calgary Flames
After finally blowing it up, the Flames started their rebuild with three first round picks last year. Despite that they’re low on real top end talent. John Gadreau had 80 points in 40 games and was named the best player in U.S. college hockey, but is likely to spend time in the AHL before making the jump. Sven Baertschi and Emile Poirier look like solid prospects while Sean Monahan, who went sixth overall last year, had 34 points in his rookie NHL season. Other than Monahan the last top ten pick they had was Dion Phaneuf. John Gillies is also considered a premier goalie prospect at 20. The Flames did well this year with a lot of hustle and heart, but are low on talent. They’ll take the top player available, whoever that might be. They may also be a possible trade destination for several teams, including the Leafs. They could use Reimer for sure, but mostly the Flames needs to expand their depth pool and getting an asset to move back a few spots would be the surest way to do that.
#5 New York Islanders
What a horrendous year for the Islanders. They lost Tavares to injury, they traded Moulson and a first for Vanek, then failed to get anything for Vanek. Now they have to give up next year’s pick and any chance at Connor McDavid with it. Outside of Tavares, the Islanders have solid young players in Ryan Strome, Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic and may have found a gem in former sixth rounder Anders Lee. First round picks Griffin Reinhart (#4, 2012) and Ryan Pulock (#15, 2013) are closing in on being NHL ready. They would love to bring in Griffin’s brother Sam, but that would require trading up and since they’re losing a first next year that’s not an option. The good news for the Islanders is they’ve signed Jaroslav Halak, a big upgrade for them if he provides only average goaltending, which means they should be back to a fringe playoff team next year. Trading for Dan Boyle’s right also seems to indicate the Isles are going for it, so the pick they give up next year won’t be nearly as good. In this draft, they’ll go for the best player available.
#6 Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a perplexing team, are they setting up for a complete rebuild or are they retooling for another run? After going from two strong goaltenders to zero in the period of one year without getting much to show for it, the Canucks are a mess. The Sedins, Burrows, Hamhuis and Bieksa are all on the wrong side of 30, with Kesler and Edler just exiting their prime. Not only is Kesler exiting his prime, he’s repeatedly asked to be traded and exit the organization. Lack and Markstrom are young goalies, but both are unproven. More concerning is the Canucks horrific draft record. Of the last five years, not one has been able to crack the NHL for even half a season of games. Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk look to be solid forward prospects, but other than that the farm system doesn’t look likely to produce any top end talent. The Canucks are in the position of needing the best prospect on the board, with their high prospects all playing left wing or defence. That gives Nylander or Draisaitl a great opening to become a Canuck as they’ll likely be the last centres on the board, with Draisaitl a more natural centre and Nylander a more natural winger. That being said, the Canucks GM has said they’d like to move up in the draft if possible, as he’s very interested in Reinhart. If they’re unable to move up, the possibility of grabbing Virtanen, another player they have interest in, is there.
#7 Carolina Hurricanes
Anchored by the Staal brothers, Eric (29) and Jordan (25), the Hurricanes have other great young forwards like 21-year-old Jeff Skinner. Along with Skinner, the Hurricanes have Andrei Loktionov, Riley Nash and Elias Lindholm still growing into their roles. On the back end, Justin Faulk, Andrej Sekera and Brent Bellemore were the only defencemen on the right side of 30. Ryan Murphy split time between the AHL and NHL this year. The Hurricanes need defensive help, or help on the wing. If they like Haydn Fluery, the consensus second best defencemen, they could trade down several slots and get him. Otherwise a plethora of wingers will be available, such as Tuch, Perlini, Ritchie, Ehlers or Virtanen. That being said, four of their top prospects play left wing while none play right. Perlini and Ritchie are left wingers, meaning the Hurricanes may lean towards Kasperi Kapanen, Virtanen, Ehlers or Tuch. Of the early picks, the Hurricanes seemingly have the most obvious reason to move down. There’s also rumours that they’re open to moving Eric Staal, which would indicate a total rebuild. There’s no way that happens without them landing more first round picks in the deal.
#8 Toronto Maple Leafs
While the Maple Leafs have had brutal collapses in each of the last three years, as a team goes they’ve positioned themselves well. Bozak, Kessel and Lupul are all in their prime, while James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri are both young at 24 and 23. On defence, the Leafs are all under 30 other than Tim Gleason, who may be bought out this year. Bernier solidifies the Leafs in goal. They also have several RFA’s they could trade, like James Reimer and Cody Franson, so the Leafs may be in a position to move up. While the obvious need is on defence, the Leafs were tied for 7th for goals for in the East but were 13th when it came to goals against, once again Haydn Fluery is the best defencemen available and he’s set to go lower than the #8 pick. A trade up to Vancouver’s #6 or Carolina’s #7 may be a possible scenario, as the Hurricanes may have interest in Franson and the Canucks could use more points from the back end. Another concern is by the #8 pick, the Leafs wouldn’t be able to draft an impact centre, which would be the next thing they need the most with Lupul, Clarkson, Van Riemsdyk and Kessel all locked into long term contracts on the wing. If the Leafs don’t move they’ll still be several strong options available on the wing. There are also reports that the Leafs will look to moving into the top three, which wouldn’t be as expensive as in other years. While getting Ekblad is far fetched, a top three pick would give you a shot at Reinhart or Bennett, which would help their long term outlook.
#9 Winnipeg Jets
The glaring need for the Jets is in goal but that’s not something they’ll be able to fix this year with no top end goalies available in the draft. The Jets may fix that issue by trading with the Leafs for James Reimer. While UFA’s Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller will be available, the Jets have Pavelec locked in for three more years at $3.9-million, so a cheaper goalie may be necessary. Jacob Trouba was excellent for the Jets as a rookie on defence and is joined by other young defencemen like Zach Bogosian, who is 23. The back end also has Mark Stuart and may have Dustin Byfuglien, depending on if he plays forward or not or if he gets traded. On offense, the Jets could use some help. They’ve had issues with Evander Kane, but he’s still a part of their offensive punch. Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler are all solid players, but not the stars that most Western Conference teams have. Mark Scheifele looked solid overall this year and is continuing to become a bigger part of the team. The Jets top prospects are well spread out, with every position covered, which should allow the Jets to take the best player available, be it a winger or Haydn Fluery. They may take a risk on someone with high offensive upside that other teams have questions about, like Nikolaj Ehlers, if he’s still available.
#10 Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim has shockingly good depth in the minors for a cup contender. Hampus Lindholm looked good in the AHL, despite injuries. Top picks Rickard Rakell, William Karlson and fourth rounder Sami Vatanen all should catch on. Frederik Anderson and John Gibson are above average goaltending prospects, setting the Ducks up for years to come. In the NHL, Emerson Etem and Kyle Palmeri have looked solid despite their youth. The Ducks are locked in long term with Perry and Getzlaf as the stars of the show. Silfverberg also rounded into better form this year. The Ducks defence is old though. Five defencemen who saw time with the Ducks are over 30, with 2 almost done their careers at 37. As such Haydn Fluery, would be an excellent fit. Outside of Lindholm and Shea Theodore, the Ducks need more young defencemen. Other than defence, the weakness for the Ducks may be at left wing. If the Ducks view two prospects as identical, expect them to lean to the left side rather than the right. With several solid prospects playing the left side, if they don’t go after Fleury, a left winger is a great bet.
#11 Nashville Predators
A disappointing season saw the end of Barry Trotz’s tenure, so the Preds will have only their second coach in franchise history next year. A defensive first team, the Predators have Shea Weber and Josi Roman both locked up into the 2020’s (2026 in Weber’s case). Pekka Rinne is also locked up long term. Up front, the Preds lack punch, with an offense led by Patric Hornqvist, Craig Smith and Mike Fisher. They’re young on the back end, with every defencemen on their NHL roster 28 or younger. That means the Predators need to draft the best offensive option available. Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok and Taylor Beck will all help as they round into form, but the Preds will need more punch. With seven defencemen already set on their roster, and Joe Piskula worth a look in the minors despite his age, the Preds could move a defencemen to move up in the draft for a better offensive prospect, something they’ll likely pursue.
#12 “Arizona” Coyotes
Keith Yandle, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Connor Murphy and Michael Stone are all young defencemen that will be with the Coyotes for years to come. On offense the Coyotes are much older, with seven players over 30 years of age. Their highest scoring forward, Radim Vrbata, is a UFA and may not be back. In a lot of ways the Coyotes are similar to the Predators, but in a far worse position. Mike Smith is no Pekka Rinne, they don’t have the defensive corps and their weak forwards don’t have the young depth coming in. As for their farm system, what it lacks in depth it makes up for in big names. Max Domi, Henrik Samuellson and Brandon Gormley are all first round picks who should be with the Coyotes for years. The Coyotes will go for offense with their pick, again possibly a higher risk higher reward style prospect.
#13 Washington Capitals
The Capitals have all sorts of questions, with few answers. While Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, John Carlson and Karl Alzner are all signed long term, the Capitals have some expensive decisions to make. Dustin Penner and Mikhail Grabovski are free agents, with Mike Green a year away from being a UFA. With Halak traded, Holtby is currently set to be backed up by Philipp Grubauer. Yikes. They’ll likely bolster their goaltending by going after Ryan Miller and Jonas Hiller as few teams are still in the market for a starter. The good news is that the Capitals stars are young, all under 30. Tom Wilson played 82 games in his rookie season and Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump to play 17. Andre Burakovsky and Madison Bowey look to help the Caps within the next few years, but for now the Capitals have questions up front, need defensive help and have no goalie of the future to speak of. They’ll take the best available player, which could very well be Fleury. If he’s gone, or they feel he isn’t the right fit, the Capitals will go for help up front as the other defencemen all have question marks.
#14 Dallas Stars
The Stars first line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin is going to be dangerous for years to come. Benn is the oldest at 24, followed by Seguin at 22 and Nichushkin at 19. Cody Eakin and Alex Chiasson are also young contributors. On defence the Stars are also relatively young outside of Sergei Gonchar. Lehtonen is on the happy side of average between the pipes, so they’re set in goal. The Stars can expect some help on defence from Jamie Oleksiak in the future and Brett Ritchie and Jason Dickinson appear to be solid prospects. 2012 first round pick Radek Faksa was only okay in the OHL this year, despite being 20, which isn’t a good sign. Still the Stars have good depth in the minors and should be able to steal a solid prospect at #14. They may go for a higher risk higher reward type of player like Kevin Fiala, should he still be around.
#15 Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings system paid off this year as they still made the playoffs despite being the second most injured team in terms of man games lost due to injury. Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff all stepped into full time roles for the team. While Nyquist looks like a breakout star, Tatar and DeKeyser have shown they can put up points and Lashoff has been a solid defencemen. The interesting thing to note about all of them is none of them are young. Lashoff and Tatar are 23 while Nyquist and DeKeyser are 24, showing the Red Wings spend time developing players and not pushing them before they’re ready. The Wings also have solid prospects still in the minors in Anthony Mantha, Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan and Zach Nastasiuk. That being said, the Red Wings are old. Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Alfredsson, Mikael Samuelsson and Daniel Cleary may all retire this offseason, while stars Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg are all 33 or older. Stephen Weiss, Drew Miller and David Legwand are all over 30 as well. The bright side is their defence is younger, with only Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson being over 30. They also possess a plethora of mobile defenders in the minors, something that could catch other team’s eye. They also need to get bigger up front so a move up to a higher pick may be possible to fetch a big power forward, especially if they feel the window with Datsyuk and Zetterberg is closing.
That’s it for part one of our draft breakdown. Part two of this series will look at the top 25 prospects that could fit in to the top 15 spots. Part three will look at how the draft may unfold and how that will affect the Leafs.