Toronto Maple Leafs: Rodion Amirov brings right blend of skill and tenacity

The Toronto Maple Leafs management attend the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Toronto Maple Leafs management attend the 2019 NHL Draft at the Rogers Arena. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

With the 15th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Rodion Amirov and there was a lot of debate about the selection.

Going into the 2020 NHL Draft, all we heard about was the Toronto Maple Leafs needing to add a defenceman. So why not add another skilled winger in Rodion Amirov.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of backlash with the selection because the Leafs decided to take a skilled winger instead of going with a defenceman. Since the chances of the Leafs taking a defender with that pick who can fill the team’s immediate need were really slim, the front office decided to take a player they deem to provide more potential and help down the road.

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Amirov is a player many didn’t know a lot about going into the draft and there will certainly be more attention paid to him now. Here is what an expert had to say about the Leafs latest pick.

"“I just think, down the road, he may prove to be a real diamond in the rough. Even though he’s a well-known player, it’s just there’s been limited views on him and some games there’s limited ice time,” said Dan Marr, director of Central Scouting.“He’s the guy who could shoot up to end up being one of the best players to come out of this draft as well. There’s just that little bit of unknown that the best is yet to come with him and we need to assume that’s gonna (become reality).”"

This is where the Leafs benefit because they have deep roots in Russia and Amirov’s agent, is Dan Milstein who has a strong relationship with Toronto. This isn’t a player who relies solely on skill despite that being the label on him.

Interestingly enough, the young winger is drawing comparisons to Nikita Kucherov and the Leafs could try to bring him to North America earlier than we have seen other Russian players come. As Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun writes, Amirov’s contract with Ufa is done after the 2020-21 season.

The Leafs took all the time available to them before making this pick and it’s not surprising considering the team said they were discussing different options with the pick. Of course, there was one element of Amirov’s game that caught Dubas’ attention and a no-brainer when making the pick.

"“[The] number one [thing] is his speed,” Dubas told Kristen Shilton of TSN. “We considered it to be amongst the best in the [draft] class. We liked his ability throughout last year and then into this season as well to find a way to make an impact at the KHL level. He’s played for the national team and played well there. When he’s not producing he’s able to contribute using his speed on the penalty kill, forechecking. We really like his game on and off the puck."

The Leafs GM also made it a point to say that Amirov likely won’t reach his true potential for another five years and at that time, the team’s core will be in their prime years. It makes sense considering the Leafs have seen a decent return on their investment with Nick Robertson another skilled winger who has pushed ahead in his development a lot faster than many expected.

For the people who were calling for Toronto to take a defenceman with the pick, it’s certainly an important position and the Leafs have invested their past two first-rounders on their blue line. You can never have too many defencemen but the team has said they intend on addressing their immediate need through trades and free agency.

Adding Amirov also allows the team to consider other moves with their forwards knowing they have a capable winger coming up. It also helps that he is playing in the KHL so his introduction to professional hockey is already happening and so far he has five points in 10 games.

I almost wrote about Amirov in my potential draft targets but opted to go with two centres in Anton Lundell and Dylan Holloway who both went before the Leafs picked at 15. So to say Amirov isn’t the right pick for Toronto is certainly a knee jerk reaction based on the fact that mid-first-round draft picks shouldn’t be judged right away.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the draft plays out and in a couple of days, free agency.

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What did you think about the Leafs taking Amirov? Should they have gone for a different player? Let us know in the comments below.