Toronto Maple Leafs 2015 NHL Draft Preview (Part Three)


Toronto Maple Leafs 2015 NHL Draft Preview (Part Three)

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?

Click here to view part one.

Click here to view part two.

Matthew Barzal – Centre – Seattle (WHL)

6’0″ – 180 pounds

7G – 11A – 18P in 19 GP

NHL Rank: #9 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #12 Overall

ISS Rank: #8 Overall

Limited by a shoulder injury, Barzal has shown when healthy to be a playmaker who is defensively responsible. Last season he had 54 points in 59 games including 40 assists, showcasing his passing and vision.

The last portion of the WHL season will go a long way to determining how scouts view Barzal as he is healthy again. If he continues at a point per game pace, after being a point-per-game pace last season, some may view him as plateauing.

Pavel Zacha – Centre – Sarnia (OHL)

6’3″ – 210 pounds

11G – 12A – 23P in 26 GP

NHL Rank: #8 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #13 Overall

ISS Rank: #11 Overall

The offensive production has not been what the big Czech centre hoped for in his rookie OHL season. The Sarnia Sting are a middle tier OHL team, so some of his production fault can be explained away.

Zacha had a solid World Juniors for the Czech and translates as a big dynamic centre. He’s solid defensively and highly skilled with a strong work ethic.

This is his first season in North America and the transition hasn’t been completely smooth, but again the second half of the year will go a long way to how scouts view Zacha. A strong finish will easily be viewed as the ‘real’ Zacha, which could propel him up the draft chart.

Mikko Rantanen – Right Wing – TPS (Liiga)

6’4″ – 211 pounds

4G – 11A – 15P in 39 GP

NHL Rank: #2 European Skaters

ESPN Rank: #28 Overall

ISS Rank: #5 Overall

Rantanen, like Lawson Crouse, has scouts all over the place. He was one of Finland’s best players in the World Juniors and uses his sizeable frame very well.

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He’s got very good offensive instincts, but could use work in his skating and defensive play. His shot also needs some work, but his intelligence and frame leads to a player with very high potential, if he can put it all together.

Rantanen is seventh on his team in scoring, but more concerning is that Ryan Lasch is the leading scorer for the team. Lasch played 11 games with the Marlies in 2012-13 and was largely ineffective, with just five points.

That same year he spent time in Norfolk (AHL), Fort Wayne (ECHL) and Vaxjo (SHL). He wasn’t offered a contract renewal with Toronto and has played in Sweden and Finland ever since.

The be all and end all of that is that Lasch, who was very undersized for the NHL (5’8″) and didn’t truly flourish in the AHL, has 21 more points in three extra games. Now obviously Lasch is a man playing in a man’s league and Rantanen is only 18, but as a late 1996 birthday is one of the oldest in the draft.

Furthermore, Rantanen is 6’4″ and 211 pounds – hardly a kid who could be pushed around easily. While some scouts see a potential high end winger, there should be caution as he has not shown himself to be a very good offensive player nor has he proven to be an above average defensive player yet.

He’s got too many tools for a team not to take a chance on him, but he has all the makings of a player who falls in the draft. The number one ranked European skater by the NHL last year was Kasperi Kapanen (William Nylander was second) and he fell all the way to 22.

Kapanen had 14 points in 47 games last year and is far smaller. Rantanen is likely a top 15 pick, even possibly as high as a top ten, but to suggest he’s a top five pick like the ISS have him ranked raises real question marks.

Nick Merkley – Right Wing/Centre – Kelowna (WHL)

5’11” – 191 pounds

16G – 52A – 68P in 47 GP

NHL Rank: #13 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #17 Overall

ISS Rank: #13 Overall

Merkley is currently third in WHL scoring, using his speed, puck handling and uptempo game to beat opponents. He’s a dangerous offensive player who, despite being on the small size in terms of height is still a good size in terms of mass.

He’s been very impressive thus far and has scouts drooling with the thought of what he can do when he bulks up to NHL size. He’s listed as both a centre and a right winger, depending on where you look, which gives him another dynamic to his game.

While he can shoot, his strength lies in his passing and setting up his teammates. This suggests Merkley latches on long term as a centre, where he can better distribute the puck.

Travis Konecny – Centre – Ottawa (OHL)

5’10” – 175 pounds

19G – 22A – 41P in 42 GP

NHL Rank: #26 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #8 Overall

ISS Rank: #14 Overall

The jury is still out on Konecny, who some see as a top 10 pick, but others view as a late first rounder. Despite a slow start to the season, he’s a point per game player with blazing speed.

Sep 15, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA; Phoenix Coyotes center Max Domi (15) defends during the first period against the Los Angeles Kings at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

He’s small but tough and fearless, the kind of player who is often described as a buzzsaw in the mold of a Max Domi or Brad Marchand, both of whom are only 5’9″.

Konecny’s a skilled puck handler with good vision and solid defensive play. His speed and ability to read the play allow him to project as not just an offensive force, but a possible penalty killer in the NHL.

He can play centre or on the wing, and is as intense and with as good a work ethic as anybody in the draft. Konecny is years away from the NHL on size alone, but once he bulks up he could transition into a pest and agitator who can score and play defense, which is the worst kind of pest.

Kyle Connor – Centre – Youngstown (USHL)

6’1″ – 182 pounds

14G – 25A – 39P in 31 GP

NHL Rank: #14 North American Skaters

ESPN Rank: #21 Overall

ISS Rank: #15 Overall

A 1996 birthday, Connor has been a strong offensive force in the USHL for several years. He’s a high energy, high scoring centre with very good skating ability.

A good defensive player due to his speed and hockey IQ, Connor projects as an all around type of player who can do everything well, but nothing great or elite. Dylan Larkin was the first USHL player drafted last year, landing 15th overall with the Detroit Red Wings.

That being said, Larkin played for the US U-18 Development Program, which plays teams in the USHL, NCAA as well as international tournaments. The highest ranked USHL played who didn’t play for the US Development Program last year was the 20th overall pick Nick Schmaltz, a centre drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks. Connor is set to play for the University of Michigan next season.

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