The NHL lockout is over, so naturally hockey fans are scrambling to look up depth charts and read previews to remember all the things they forgot during the prolonged off-season, namely “Who won the Cup last year?” and “Jaromir Jagr STILL hasn’t retired yet???” Lost in the hysteria was the release of mid-season NHL draft rankings, most notably those of Corey Pronman and Craig Button.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement includes changes to the draft lottery system, so now all 14 teams that miss the playoffs have an opportunity, if the ping-pong balls fall their way, to win the number one overall pick. Of course, each team’s odds will be weighted differently depending on where they finished, but it does give Leafs fans a glimmer of hope of landing Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones if they were (God forbid!) to finish out of the post-season for the ninth year in a row.
Last season, the Maple Leafs finished the regular season with a 35-37 record, good for 80 points and 13th in the Eastern Conference. Overall, they finished tied for 26th with Anaheim, and ended up picking fifth where they selected Morgan Rielly. With a roster that remains largely unchanged from last season (except for the additions of James van Riemsdyk and Jay McClement and the departures of Colby Armstrong and Luke Schenn), it’s hard to imagine this team improving much.
The Leafs will more than likely draft somewhere in the middle of the top ten, my guess would be somewhere between 4-7, and will probably be looking for an elite centre. As much as we would all like to see MacKinnon or Jones in a Leafs jersey, it’s not likely to happen. Jonathan Drouin, most people’s pick for third overall, turned heads at the World Junior Hockey Championship and could challenge either MacKinnon or Jones for one of the top two spots. For this list we’ll focus on the players who will most likely be available for the Leafs in that 4-7 range based on Pronman’s and Button’s respective rankings.
Alexander Barkov – I wasn’t able to catch any of Finland’s games at the WJHC, but reports suggested the centerman was solid but unspectacular. Playing in Finland’s top professional league, Barkov has 29 points in 33 games, fantastic numbers for a 17-year-old. He’s big (6-foot-2, 194 pounds) and obviously very talented, but Pronman suggested his skating needs some work.
Elias Lindholm – Another centerman, Lindholm wowed scouts with his fine play for Sweden at the WJHC. He’s viewed as a strong, two-way threat who, like Barkov, has played well in his country’s top league, posting 21 points in 32 games. His speed sets him apart from Barkov.
Sean Monahon – The Ottawa 67s superstar didn’t make a stacked Canadian WJHC squad, but his strong play with the 67s has put everyone on notice. The big centerman sees the ice extremely well and has added some physicality to his game this year. His skating is the only sore spot, but that won’t likely hold him back from being a top ten pick.
Valeri Nichushkin – Just another big, supremely-skilled centerman who improved his draft stock with a solid WJHC. The Russian also drew the ire of Canadians after this hit on Tyler Wotherspoon in the group stage and again after scoring the overtime goal that sunk Canada in the bronze medal game. He plays with a blend of skill and physicality, and already has some KHL experience at 17.
Who do you think the Leafs should draft this June?
NOTE: The original article erroneously stated there would be no draft lottery after the season. The error has been corrected.