“And with our first pick in the 2012 Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pleased to select, from the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, Morgan Rielly.”
Twitter seemed to explode following this pick by the Maple Leafs at around 7:30PM ET Friday night, reason being Leaf fans wanted to see a forward drafted, rather than another defenseman.
Despite being a huge believer in Rielly, as a diehard Leaf fan, I was also puzzled with this pick. As Brian Burke approached the podium, I was screaming at the television for him not to pick another defenseman. But the more I calmed down and thought about it, I asked myself why I wanted the Leafs to draft a forward. Obviously a top 6 forward is on the top of the list of team needs, yet what did the available prospects at forward really have to offer. I had my eyes fixed on two names: Filip Forsberg from Sweden, and Mikhail Grigorenko from Russia.
There is no question that these two players have what it takes to excel in the National Hockey League, but there are a number of things we have to regard as Leafs Nation. Much like many other Leaf fans, I was hoping to draft a game-changing forward. Would this have been the best choice? I don`t think so. As we`ve seen with Kadri, the pressure in drafting a forward with the intentions of him being a big time player can prove to be problematic. The problem being that you cannot expect a draft pick to step in with immediate impact in the Leafs market, especially in trying times such as these. In fact, this opens up doors to move older players on the back-end with heavy contracts this summer.
In my opinion, provided he has a gameplan for this summer, Burke made the perfect pick at #5 last night. That gameplan being getting a high end top 6 forward, maybe two, via trade this summer. The Leafs do not have a lot of cap space to work with, so expect some renovations on the Leaf roster. Much of the contract issue sits on the defensive end of the team, headlined by Leaf favourite, Mike Komisarek. I`m kidding of course. Perhaps he became a Marlie favourite with all the time he spent in the minors this year. He bears a whopping $4.5 million to do so.
In any case, in Toronto, drafting a defenseman versus a forward proves to be more effective because the Leafs have more depth at defense. Wait a minute.. that doesn`t make sense? Well the way I see it, the Leafs have more lee-way to allow Rielly to develop on defense than a forward would. Drafting a forward would put the poor kid under an incredible microscope in a terrible situation. The pressure in Toronto isn`t a myth. Not making the playoffs since 2004 puts severe pressure on impact players coming into Toronto.
Looking down the roster, the forward lineup already has a ton of young talent. Adding another prospect to the mix likely doesn`t make the team better. In fact, scoring was not the issue at all last season in Toronto. The Leafs finished 10th in the league in scoring in 2012. Though Morgan Rielly is an offensive defenseman, the Leafs have an opportunity to move heavy contracts on the back-end, such as Komisarek, Liles, and even Phaneuf, who have a combined 15+ million dollar cap hit. I mean, Komisarek is not worth half of what he makes and Phaneuf is average at best while earning $6.5 million. Jean-Michael Liles could possibly be the only veteran on defense that`s worth his money.. when he`s healthy. There are a number of package deals with defensemen and forwards that Burke will be more keen to sending in a trade by picking Rielly.
Having a lot of depth and contract on the blueline, I like the pick Burke made Friday night. It gives significant opportunity to move assets from that position in order to beef up the front line. Rest assured that Brian Burke does not make this pick without intentions to acquire experienced quality forwards that will make an immediate impact.
So don`t fret Leafs Nation, there are better days ahead. Burke`s job could be on the line this year, so it`s safe to expect some big moves this time around.