Toronto Maple Leafs should use late-round assets to move up in draft

With a flat cap over the next few seasons, the Toronto Maple Leafs will need to start stocking up on promising prospects.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have some well-documented difficulties with their salary cap ahead of them, made worse by the current economic climate leading to the league imposing a flat cap for at least the next two seasons.

This means the Leafs will need to rely heavily on their development strategy and do their best to get some top prospects into their system to help them manage this difficult financial situation.

Obviously, the best way to do this is through the NHL Entry Draft, where the team has had some successes in the early rounds over the past 10 years.

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Morgan Rielly, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are obviously the highlights, being stars in the league and some of the most important players on the team by far, but even some of the Leafs’ more recent first and second-round picks are impressing.

Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren are showing signs they can be regular NHL defencemen as they continue their respective development processes, while last year’s second-rounder, Nick Robertson, has turned heads so much that in any re-draft he would easily be taken within the first round.

The problem for the Leafs, however, is that they have not been able to build up a wider portfolio of prospects such as this in their system, trading away last year’s first-round pick as well as this year’s (assuming the team doesn’t land the first-overall selection).

Robertson is a case of how lucky some teams can be; landing a first-round talent with the 53rd overall pick doesn’t happen often and the Leafs need to give themselves the very best chance at adding some legitimate future NHL talent.

In this year’s draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs have just one selection in the first three rounds, which is not ideal when teams around the league are going to be needing to rely on younger, cheaper contracts as they move forward.

The Leafs’ solitary pick, assuming they beat Columbus and do not have a shot at first-overall, comes in the second round.

Interestingly though, the Leafs actually have a whopping SIX picks in the final two rounds of the draft – equating to almost 10 percent of sixth and seventh-round picks.

With such an abundance of assets in the later rounds, where drafting really becomes a guess at best and the likelihood of any player actually having a real impact in the NHL is greatly reduced, the Leafs should look at possible trades that could see them move up into the first three rounds again.

The Leafs are not in a rebuild, with one of the best offences in the entire NHL, so the need to stockpile high-value draft picks has clearly been neglected over the past couple of years, but the landscape of the sport has changed almost overnight and the team needs to take a new approach moving forward.

Giving away first-rounders to offload a hefty contract is no longer something the team should consider; instead they should find ways of adding higher-value draft picks to help restock a prospect pool that has been depleting, positively, by the promotions of numerous prospects up into the NHL.

Using assets that individually may hold much value, but combined could be intriguing to other teams, could be a way for the Toronto Maple Leafs to get back into the early rounds, along with their existing second-round pick.

Obviously drafting is not an exact science and players do not always live up to their pre-draft rankings, but selecting players in the first three rounds does increase the chances of landing a genuine future NHL player, especially considering the depth of quality available in the 2020 Draft.

Some contracts may need to be packaged with the late-round picks in order to facilitate these type of moves, with Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson recently under the spotlight thanks to their moveable deals, but if it can help the team add another top young prospect who can make an impact and help the team’s tight cap situation, then it is certainly something worth exploring.

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