Dissecting The Draft For The Maple Leafs: Part Three


Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

In part three of our draft breakdown, we’re going to look at the options for the first 15 picking teams, breaking down what they’d like to do and what they’ll likely do.

Florida Panthers – #1 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Aaron Ekblad: If nothing else materializes for the Panthers, and there’s a decent chance it won’t, the Panthers are likely to take Aaron Ekblad first overall. Ekblad is the most NHL ready prospect and if the Panthers want to make it back to the playoffs, they want to push while Brian Campbell and Roberto Luongo are still solid pieces.

Option 2 – Move down a few spots (2-5): That being said, the Panthers are trying to move the pick. GM Dale Tallon has said he has received one “fair offer” so far. Now this could be a lot of smoke and mirrors, but the Panthers are clearly saying to everybody else in the draft that if you want Ekblad, you have to trade for the first overall pick. The move the Panthers would most like to make is to trade down, but not very far. If Edmonton can be convinced to part with their number three pick, the Panthers still get a top flight prospect in either Reinhart or Bennett, as well as whatever the Oilers gave them in the deal, and the Oilers fill their need by grabbing Ekblad.

Option 3 – Move down further (6-10): More far fetched but still possible is the idea that the Panthers move down to the low single digit picks. The Toronto Maple Leafs have said they’d have interest in the number one pick and the Panthers, who have Barkov, Huberdeau and Bjugstad down the middle, could get a very high ceiling winger with the #8 pick, plus whatever the Leafs send to them to move up.

Buffalo Sabres – #2 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Sam Reinhart or Sam Bennett: By far the most likely path for the Sabres is to draft Reinhart or Bennett with the second pick overall. Buffalo needs the best talent on the board, which is probably one of those two centres. The backup would be if by some chance the Panthers pass on Ekblad, whether the Sabres would go for Ekblad over whichever of Reinhart and Bennett are left. If that happens, the Sabres probably grab Ekblad.

Option 2 – Move down (still in top ten): The option they’d most like is to trade down. There’s a reason each of the top four teams in the draft have spoken at least a little about their pick being available and it’s because the ‘top tier’ of talent isn’t as strong as in past years. That being said, the step right under the best players in the low single digits looks stronger than in past years, so moving down and adding another pick or prospect is a great opportunity. I think the Sabres would like to pick in the top 5-6, and would make a deal to move down those few spots. That being said, unless Ekblad falls to them at two, there’s probably no deal to be made. If he does fall, they could flip picks with Edmonton for another pick later in the draft, and still end up with Reinhart or Bennett that they thought they were getting anyways.

Edmonton Oilers – #3 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Leon Draisaitl: While the Oilers want Ekblad, it all depends on what the pricetag is to move up to Florida’s #1 spot. The most likely scenario is the Oilers don’t move and pick third. That being said, the Oilers aren’t nearly as likely to take whichever of Bennett or Reinhart are still on the board. They’ve had a high interest in Leon Draisaitl from day one, as he adds a measure of grit down the middle that they feel they need.

Option 2 – Pick Sam Reinhart: Also possible is that Ekblad goes first and Sam Bennett goes second, leaving Reinhart on the board. Reinhart is roughly the same size as Draisaitl. He’s less physical but more skilled. If he’s still available, there’s a chance the Oilers may pass on Draisaitl for him.

Option 3 – Trade up, Pick Aaron Ekblad: Despite a plethora of young defencemen on their roster and in the minors, Aaron Ekblad would be an upgrade they sorely need. This all comes down to cost, as the Oilers other need at centre can easily be addressed with the #3 pick, so if Florida asks for too much, no deal will be made.

Calgary Flames – #4 Pick

Option 1 – Pick a top centre: This is out of the Flames hands but if Ekblad goes first, Reinhart second and Draisaitl third, than Sam Bennett will fall to them and be a no brainer at number four. Likewise if Reinhart falls, they’ll make that move. If Draisaitl is the top centre on the board, he’s still likely to go to the Flames as they’ve shown interest in him as well.

Option 2 – Move down: This depends a lot on the teams below them. Several teams have interest in Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle, Sam Reinhart and Leon Draisaitl, and those are four of the likely top five picks, so if you want one you’ll have to make a move into the top 5. If a team like the Leafs really want a top flight centre, they’ll have to make the move here. If that move happens, it’s likely for the rights to James Reimer, as Calgary is going into next season with Karri Ramo as their starter. Ramo is 27, has less than 100 NHL games and a career sv% of 902. James Reimer is 26, has 140 games in the NHL and has a career sv% of 914. Who would you want? Addressing the goaltending need and still getting a top player at eight would work for the Flames, as they need to re-stock their prospects for a rebuild.

Option 3 – Pick Michael Dal Colle: This is less likely but Dal Colle is considered by most scouts inside the top five players in this draft and could be a good fit alongside Sean Monahan one day. This only happens if they can’t move the pick and view Dal Colle as having higher upside than Draisaitl or whichever other centre is still on the board. Consider it unlikely, but possible.

N.Y. Islanders – #5 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Michael Dal Colle: The Isles look fairly solid at centre and adding an elite winger to play with John Tavares, especially with Matt Moulson and Thomas Vanek gone, is the most likely move the Islanders make. This pick is likely decided for them, as Ekblad, Reinhart, Bennett and Draisaitl are all likely gone, leaving Dal Colle as the consensus best pick on the board.

Option 2 – Move down: If a team feels strongly enough about Dal Colle to move up, the Islanders have to at least consider moving down a few spots, still getting a good winger, and adding likely another pick or prospect. They’ve already lost their first overall pick next year to Buffalo, so depending on what’s offered they have to at least listen.

Option 3 – Pick William Nylander: This is less likely, but possible. Nylander can play centre or wing and he has already been playing with men in Sweden so he may translate quicker to the NHL game than other prospects. If you don’t want the pick you give up next year to sting, and signing Halak will already help them immensely, then Nylander remains an outside shot.

Vancouver Canucks – #6 Pick

Option 1 – Hope for a minor miracle: If Draisaitl, Dal Colle or any of the other consensus top five fall to six, the Canucks are taking him. The only way that happens is if a team goes off the board and grabs Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers or Jake Virtanen. That’s incredibly unlikely, but possible.

Option 2 – Pick William Nylander: The Canucks top three centres are Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Shawn Matthias. Sedin is 33, Kesler wants out and Matthias isn’t going to be as good as Nylander. The top prospects in the organization play wing or defence, so centre is a real area of need, and with all the other top centres likely gone Nylander may fit in well here.

Option 3 – Pick Ehlers or Virtanen: The other likely option is the Canucks pass on Nylander and grab either Ehlers or Virtanen. Ehlers is a dynamite offensive prospect with a very high upside, though more question marks than Virtanen. Virtanen is a scorer with a great shot, and has local ties, but hasn’t been linked to the Canucks at all. Despite that if the Canucks pass on Nylander, those are the two most likely options they go with.

Carolina Hurricanes – #7 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Ehlers or Virtanen: Even if Nylander is still on the board, the Hurricanes will lean towards a winger as the Staal brothers have them set down the middle. Virtanen is probably the more likely of the two to go here, as the Hurricanes top prospects are all left wingers and Virtanen can play the right side.

Option 2 – Move down for Fleury: The Hurricanes also need defensive help. While Haydn Fluery is the consensus second best defenceman in the draft, he’s going to go a lot lower than #7. If you’re Carolina, you probably think Toronto, Winnipeg and Nashville are all going to pass on Fleury. That leaves the Ducks at 10, the Coyotes at 12 or the Capitals at 13 as likely landing spots for Fleury. If the Predators or Coyotes want to move up to get an highly valued offensive talent, something they both need, the Hurricanes could move back, still get Fleury, and another pick or prospect

Option 3 – Pick Nylander: Unlikely but possible, the Hurricanes could grab Nylander and bring him along slowly, allowing him to face lesser talent as a third line centre. This would also give the Hurricanes depth for if they moved Eric Staal, something they’ve been rumoured to look into. That’s unlikely, but Nylander as your teams third line centre would make the Hurricanes very strong down the middle.

Toronto Maple Leafs – #8 Pick

Option 1 – Move up: There’s been a lot of talk in the last week or so from the Maple Leafs braintrust about moving up in the draft. While talk has surrounded moving up to #1, that’s not going to happen. Likewise I don’t think Edmonton is likely to move down. The two real options are Buffalo and Calgary. Both of those organizations could use a young goaltender like James Reimer, who is better than anything in house. While Calgary has Ramo as their starter, Buffalo would mix Neuvirth with Enroth, both of whom are only under contract for a year. Reimer is an upgrade over any of those goalies, and this is the only way Toronto moves up to grab a centre they’d want. I doubt they want to trade Reimer within the division, so a move to number four will give them the centre they need and Calgary gets a starting goalie and a solid winger in the process.

Option 2 – draft the best forward available: At the eight pick, the Leafs are looking at some mix involving Virtanen, Ehlers, Nylander and Nicholas Ritchie. Nylander and Ehlers are the smaller of the four, and less likely than Virtanen or Ritchie. Either way it’s likely two out of the four are already gone so in part this decision is made for them. I think the Leafs would prefer Virtanen over the rest, but Ritchie is the likely second choice as he’s a big tough winger.

Winnipeg Jets – #9 Pick

Option 1 – Draft the best forward available: The Jets could use more prospect depth up front, and whoever is left out of Ehlers, Nylander, Virtanen and Ritchie may be that pick. Another person to consider is Brendan Perlini, a big power forward that would do well with the Jets fans.

Option 2 – Pick Haydn Fleury: The Jets need help on defence, and drafting the second best defencemen in the draft is a good way to solve that problem. Fleury is a big x-factor, as some teams have him rated far higher than others. Do the Jets have him rated high enough to stop them taking a Ritchie or Perlini? Probably not.

Option 3 – Move down: The third option plays into Fleury, if the Jets like Fleury they may try to move down to get into a spot to take him, while grabbing an extra later round pick in the process. If they do move down it’s under the assumption Anaheim won’t take him, as Nashville won’t either. The Coyotes might and the Capitals probably would.

Anaheim Ducks – #10 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Kasperi Kapanen: Kapanen is ranked very highly by some teams in the NHL and it sounds like the Ducks are one of them. While some teams seem to view Kapanen as low as a mid teens pick, others have him in the top eight of the draft. If the Ducks view him that way, he’ll undoubtedly be the best player on their board and this will be a no brainer for them.

Option 2 – Draft a power forward:  Nicholas Ritchie, Brendan Perlini and Alex Tuch all represent big power forward that will be available around the 10 pick. Ritchie and Perlini stand the best chance of being gone by 10, but all three could also be available. If that’s the case, Ritchie or Perlini would be more likely to catch on, as they both have a higher ceiling and are left wingers, the position they need more depth on than the right side.

Option 3 – Pick Haydn Fleury: Anybody around this rank needs to consider Fleury, as he’s not only one of the best prospects on the board but the only defenceman that may go for awhile. The Ducks could use a good you defensive prospect and will consider Fleury, but too many good forward options remain so it’s likely they’ll pass.

Nashville Predators – #11 Pick

Option 1 – Move up: The Predators have a very young defensive core that looks pretty set for them for the next few years, while also having young defensive prospects. As such they’re in one of the best positions to move up. While it’s unlikely they can get to the top of the draft, because the top few teams won’t want to drop to an eleventh overall pick, moving up to Vancouver or Carolina’s spot is definitely possible and would get them a superior talent in Ehlers or Virtanen than what’s available at 11.

Option 2 – Draft a power forward: Again some mixture of Ritchie, Perlini and Tuch will be available, though it’s less likely they’ll all be there. A big power forward seems to fit with Nashville’s current drafting attitude.

Option 3 – Go for offensive upside: If Kapanen or Kevin Fiala are still on the board, both would represent a high offensive prospect that Nashville desperately needs.  Fiala is a higher risk higher reward prospect than Kapanen and could easily fall much further than this, but if Nashville wants to compete in the west it’s time to start taking some chances on forwards with your back end set and Pekka Rinne between the pipes.

Arizona Coyotoes – #12 Pick

Option 1 – Draft the best forward available: The Coyotes need more offense to be able to compete in the west. While they’ve grabbed good prospects in the past like Max Domi, they’ll need other forwards to be able to compliment what they already have. One of Kasperi Kapanen, Nicholas Ritchie, Brendan Perlini or Kevin Fiala will be available, and all would be solid prospects in the Arizona system.

Option 2 – Pick Haydn Fleury: If the Coyotes don’t go for a forward, it’s a no brainer they’ll take Fleury, the consensus number two defenceman in this draft. The Coyotes need help everywhere, but have gone with forwards for their top picks in recent years. Adding Fleury to stabilize the back end makes sense.

Washington Capitals – #13 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Haydn Fleury: If Fleury is still around, he’s gone at #13 to the Capitals. The Capitals need defencemen at the NHL level and while Fleury will need time to develop, he’s the only defencemen anywhere near this level.

Option 2 – Go high risk: If Fleury is gone, Washington should stick with their guiding principle in the past which is to go for high risk high reward skilled players. Kevin Fiala falls in that group as does Jakub Vrana, though Vrana is a lot more likely to bust. Robert Fabbri also has a shot at fitting in here.

Option 3 – Pick a power forward: While Ritchie and Perlini are likely gone, Alex Tuch is likely not. He’s a big guy but he also has high offensive ability and is able to fill multiple roles. Tuch is a character guy, something Washington has been said to not have enough of and could fit in well at Washington.

Dallas Stars – #14 Pick

Option 1 – Pick Kevin Fiala: Due to the solid prospects the Stars already have, they’re in a position to take a bit of a risk here and snag Kevin Fiala if he’s still around. Fiala is highly skilled, with some scouts putting his ability on par with Leon Draisaitl. While his size and defensive ability aren’t that great, Fiala is a solid gamble who should turn into a great second liner for the Stars.

Option 2 – Pick the best forward available: If Fiala is gone, the Stars will go for the best player available. Perlini, Tuch and Kapanen are all likely to be gone, so the Stars will be looking at a mix of Sonny Milano, Robbert Fabbri, Jared McCann, Jakub Vrana and David Pastrnak. It’ll all come down to how the Stars rate those players. If they view any two as even, their biggest need is at left wing, so Milano and Vrana might get the edge.

Option 3 – Move down: Considering Milano, Fabbri, McCann, Vrana and Pastrnak would all be good fits and the chance of all of them being available is decently high, Dallas should consider moving down several picks and picking whomever it still available. That obviously depends on the teams below them, which after Detroit are Columbus, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and San Jose.

Detroit Red Wings – #15 Pick

Option 1 – Move up: The Red Wings have a bunch of mobile young defenders in the minors, so the ability to move up and grab a power forward is there, but only if they can make a deal work. The Red Wings like to keep their prospects in the minors for a long time before bringing them up to the NHL, but if they feel that the window for Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen is closing, which it is, they’ll need to take someone who will be ready for the NHL quickly.

Option 2 – Move down: The surest way to tell how much Detroit trusts their scouts is to look at past drafts. In 2013 the Red Wings moved down in the first round. In 2011 they traded out of the first round complete for a pair of second round picks. Detroit trusts their scouts to find value wherever they end up, so they look to maximize value by trading for other assets. As such expect them to trade down.

Option 3 – Actually draft someone: While I wouldn’t put money on this, if Detroit uses this pick Sonny Milano, Alex Tuch, Robert Fabbri or Jared McCann are all possibilities. I think this only happens if they can’t find a buyer for their pick.

So while there’s a lot of possibilities, this is my educated guess at what the draft may possibly end up looking like.

#1 – Florida – Aaron Ekblad

#2 – Buffalo – Sam Reinhart

#3 – Edmonton – Leon Draisaitl

#4 – Toronto (from Calgary) – Sam Bennett

#5 – N.Y. Islanders – Michael Dal Colle

#6 – Vancouver – William Nylander

#7 – Nashville (from Carolina) – Jake Virtanen

#8 – Calgary – Nikolaj Ehlers

#9 – Winnipeg – Nicholas Ritchie

#10 – Anaheim – Brendan Perlini

#11 – Carolina (from Nashville) – Haydn Fleury

#12 – Arizona – Kasperi Kapanen

#13 – Washington – Alex Tuch

#14 – Dallas – Kevin Fiala

#15 – Detroit – Sonny Milano

And here’s a quick breakdown of the players each team is likely to be interested in if they don’t trade their pick.

#1 – Florida – Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett

#2 – Buffalo – Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett

#3 – Edmonton – Aaron Ekblad, Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennet

#4 – Toronto (from Calgary) – Sam Reinhart, Leon Draisaitl, Sam Bennett

#5 – N.Y. Islanders – Michael Dal Colle, Leon Draisaitl

#6 – Vancouver – Michael Dal Colle, Leon Draisaitl, William Nylander

#7 – Carolina – Jake Virtanen, Nikolaj Ehlers, William Nylander

#8 – Toronto – Jake Virtanen, Nicholas Ritchie, William Nylander

#9 – Winnipeg – Nicholas Ritchie, Brendan Perlini, Haydn Fleury

#10 – Anaheim – Brendan Perlini, Kasperi Kapanen, Haydn Fleury

#11 – Nashville – Kasperi Kapanen, Kevin Fiala, Nicholas Ritchie, Brendan Perlini

#12 – Arizona – Kasperi Kapanen, Kevin Fiala, Alex Tuch, Haydn Fleury

#13 – Washington – Haydn Fleury, Alex Tuch, Kevin Fiala, Jakub Vrana, Robert Fabbri

#14 – Dallas – Kevin Fiala, Jakub Vrana, Robert Fabbri, Sonny Milano, Jared McCann, David Pastrnak

#15 – Detroit – Sonny Milano, Robert Fabbri, Jakub Vrana, Alex Tuch, Jared McCann

That’s it for part three of our draft breakdown. Part two breaking down the prospects can be viewed here. Part one looking at team depth and need can be viewed here.