Toronto Maple Leafs 2015 NHL Draft Preview (Part One)


Toronto Maple Leafs 2015 NHL Draft Preview (Part One)

As the Toronto Maple Leafs season continues to descend down the standings and towards the basement, fans are starting to look towards the NHL draft for a glimpse of hope. This is a highly anticipated draft with elite-level talent and a solid mix throughout, but just what kind of player can Toronto hope to land?

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In their last 10 games the Leafs are 1-9, the second worst record in the league. (The Buffalo Sabres are 0-10.) While Toronto are currently 22nd in the league, their free-fall won’t be able to reach all the way to the bottom.

The Leafs already have 47 points on the season and the Sabres are currently projecting to finish with only 54 points. With 34 games to go, the Leafs would need to go 3-30-1 to finish with 54 points, and that’s simply not going to happen.

Likewise, the Edmonton Oilers are on pace for 58 points, while Arizona and Carolina are both looking at 66 points. To finish with 66 or less, the Leafs would need to finish 9-24-1, which would also be a long-shot.

Keep in mind all four of the bottom teams are likely to move out good talent at or before the deadline, making it even more unlikely Toronto will finish below any of them. The worst record the Leafs can pile up probably lands them the fifth overall pick, which is not actually that bad.

While the top two players in this draft have a far higher skill level than normal, the top portion of the draft in general is very strong. At number five the Leafs can expect a very good player who likely plays either centre or defense, both positions they  need to improve on.

On top of this, they would still have a shot at winning the draft lottery and the game-changing Connor McDavid. While a charge up the standings is possible, though unlikely, here’s the top 15 prospects as ranked by NHL Central Scouting, ESPN (Corey Pronman) and the International Scouting Services.

ESPN’s rankings are behind a paywall, however I strongly encourage anyone to pay the fee as Pronman is one of the best scouts and the ESPN Insiders club is filled with interesting NHL articles. Player standings were determined by adding up the rank of each player, with the lower the number, the higher the pick.

Connor McDavid – Centre – Erie (OHL)

6’1″ – 195 pounds

23G – 43A – 66P in 25 GP

NHL Rank: #1 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #1 Overall

ISS Rank: #1 Overall

The consensus top choice is a game changer for any rebuilding team. A true franchise number one centre, many feel McDavid is the best all around prospect since Sidney Crosby.

Jan 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) looks on from the ice against the Chicago Blackhawks during the first period at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

He was a point a game player in the OHL as a 16-year old and currently averages 2.64 points per game. Consistently called a generational talent, McDavid has elite vision and anticipates plays before they happen.

His puck skills are elite and his skating is strong, allowing him to outclass anyone else his age. On display at the World Juniors earlier this month, McDavid was one of the best players on the ice and got better as the tournament went along after recovering from his hand injury.

He’s NHL ready and can step in immediately. There used to be a case that this was a two horse race, but there really isn’t now – McDavid will go number one.

Jack Eichel – Centre – Boston University (NCAA)

6’2″ – 196 pounds

13G – 23A – 36P in 22 GP

NHL Rank: #2 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #2 Overall

ISS Rank: #2 Overall

Eichel may have fallen behind McDavid in the two horse race, but that doesn’t take anything away from the type of talent he is. He’s a high end number one centre with an elite skill level and strong work ethic, who can lead the powerplay and the penalty kill.

Like McDavid, he’s NHL ready and will be able to contribute right away. At times he can be completely uncontainable, using his size, strength and hockey IQ to dominate.

The only knock on Eichel is that he’s a late October 1996 birthday, with the majority of the draft being born in 1997. However, while he is three quarters of a year older than some of the others in the top 10, it’s not going to knock him out of the number two spot which he has secured.

Noah Hanifin – Defence – Boston College (NCAA)

6’3″ – 203 pounds

3G – 11A – 14P in 24 GP

NHL Rank: #3 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #3 Overall

ISS Rank: #4 Overall

Hanifin has bounced around in the rankings a bit, but generally is seen between third and fifth overall. He’s a strong two way defenceman, with very good to elite skating ability.

Hanifin is best suited to a high tempo style of play, with his ability to move the puck quickly and effectively. He had an effective World Junior tournament and looks to project as a top tier shutdown defenceman with offensive upside. Despite his size he doesn’t play the most physical game, but that may come with time.

So who do you think the Maple Leafs should select? Can they win the Draft Lottery and get Connor McDavid? Tell us in the comments below.