I love draft day. It’s the most optimistic day of the year. Young mens’ dreams are realized, and we fans get to begin dreaming of a new crop of NHL players. The Leafs had five picks in the 2013 draft, taking Frederik Gauthier, Carter Verhaeghe, Fabrice Herzog, Antoine Bibeau and Andreas Johnson. I’ll be following up with another report soon, covering other Leafs draft picks from years past.
Gauthier returned to Rimouski after a solid rookie tournament and training camp. He has had a solid season so far, putting up 13 points in 13 games. He is also plus-5, quite good for a centre used in a shutdown role. Gauthier had his first career fight last week, taking on seasoned fighter Matt Boudens. Gauthier looked good in his fight, getting the win over the much smaller Boudens. One marked improvement in Gauthier’s game is his faceoff ability. The season is admittedly still young, but Gauthier has gone from well below average at 46 per cent to hovering just below 50. Not great by any stretch, but still an improvement which Gauthier will continue to work on in his journey towards professional hockey.
So far, Verhaeghe looks like the best offensive player of the Leafs’ 2013 draft. The Niagara Icedog has been lights out all season, putting up 25 points in just 12 games, good for third in the league scoring race (on another note, the OHL’s leading scorer is none other than Connor Brown, a Leafs’ draft pick in 2012). Kept out of the top six for much of the 2012-13 season, Verhaeghe was stuck behind veteran NHL draft picks Ryan Strome and Steven Shipley on the centre depth chart. Now, with both veterans graduating to pro, Verhaeghe has been given ample opportunity to shine. Could Verhaeghe be the sleeper pick of the draft for the Leafs? Only time will tell, but his exceptional season with Niagara has certainly given many Leafs fans high hopes for the Hamilton native.
The Swiss native who was drafted in the fifth round is in his first CHL season, moving from Zug of the Swiss league to the Quebec Remparts. Herzog is known for his goal-scoring instincts, and has used them to good effect for the Remparts, scoring seven goals in 12 games. Herzog, labelled a project pick when drafted, bulked up during the offseason, going from 176 pounds to 194, according to draft reports and the Remparts’ website.
The Leafs’ sixth-round pick from the 2013 draft, Bibeau is a netminder for the newly named Charlottetown Islanders (formerly the PEI Rocket). Bibeau is in his third season on Spud Island, and his second as the team’s starter. He has posted a .918 save percentage so far, a respectable increase over last year when he posted a .911. It’s always hard to project how goalies will progress after junior, but it’s good to see that Bibeau has improved this season.
The final pick of the Leafs’ 2013 draft, Johnson is a Swedish right-winger who plays in the Elitserien for Frolunda HC. Listed at 5-foot-9 and 156 pounds on draft day, Johnson gained some size and height over the offseason, putting on 16 pounds and growing just under an inch. Johnson plays a high-skill game, as he is said to have good speed and vision, as well as both scoring and playmaking ability. He has played the entirety of the season with Frolunda’s men’s squad, scoring 8 goals and getting 13 points in 14 games. These are exceptional numbers for an 18-year-old playing in a men’s league, but given his lack of size, Johnson could have a hard time transitioning into the far more physical North American leagues.