Toronto Maple Leafs: The Draft After Timothy Liljegren

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 23: (L-R) Lou Lamoriello and Brendan Shanahan of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend the 2017 NHL Draft at the United Center on June 23, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs Mark Hunter has lost his way.

The general consensus is the Toronto Maple Leafs 2017 draft is underwhelming. Again. Sure they got that Timothy Lijegren kid at 17. Sort of fell into their laps. After that? The Leafs selected two more big hulking defencemen and a goalie with bad statistics. A mystery Russian. And a kid from some private school.


That seems the consensus of every so-called expert or analyst on TSN,  Sportsnet or Fan 590. I even hear rumblings from fans and bloggers who cover the team. Everyone is questioning Mark Hunter and the Leafs draft strategy. Two drafts in a row? What’s the Leafs thinking process? More big hulking defencemen? Bruisers? Did Brian Burke hack into the Leafs draft list? It appears the experts know more than Hunter. Again.

In 2015, the Leafs selected skill. Regardless of size, the Leafs selected players like Mitch Marner, Jeremy Bracco, Jesper Lindgren, Martin Dzierkals and Dimitry Timashov. They skate like the wind. And they score. Kids who play with the puck as if it’s on a string. The analytics community danced in the streets.  Praise rang down on Kyle Dubas and Brendan Shanahan for their forward thinking. On defence, they added Travis Dermott and Andrew Nielsen. Dermott was accepted as a maybe. Neilsen as a WTF? Two years later? After spending the 2016-17 season with the Marlies,  both are now considered very good prospects

A Draft Inefficiency

More from Editor In Leaf

In 2015, the Leafs found an inefficiency. Smaller, skilled players are undervalued and thereby slipping in the draft. Score one for the Maple Leafs! Unfortunately, some others noticed this strategy and smaller players began flying off the board. Sooner and faster. So, for 2016 Hunter needed to find another inefficiency. Hunter (and the hockey world) discovered that older players can become useful NHL players. In this piece by Zac Urbak, he discusses over aged players and how NHL teams undervalue them

"The overwhelming majority of players selected in the NHL draft are first year eligible players, but there are typically a handful of players in their second or third year of eligibility that are selected. My initial research suggests that NHL teams routinely undervalue players that were passed over in their first year of eligibility. ("


So in 2016, Shanahan, Hunter, and the Leafs select some overaged kids. Adam Brooks looks like a keeper after shredding the WHL for a second straight season. Yegor Korshkov chosen 31st was having a tremendous year as a 20-year-old in the KHL scoring over .5 ppg before breaking his leg. Vladimir Bobylev got his season going with the Victoria Royals after sitting for half a season with Moscow Spartak. Jack Walker regressed slightly yet three of the four over-age players look like good prospects. The three will attend the Leafs Development Camp later this week.

The Leafs also selected some big hulking defencemen. JD Greenway, Keaton Middleton and Nicolas Mattinen. The one skill all three have in common besides being 6’4 or taller? Skating is a strength. They all must improve however for big men, they are mobile defenders.

Timothy Liljegren, Selected 17th

While watching the Entry Draft, it seemed like fate or divine intervention. The Leafs needed a defenceman. They needed a right-handed strong skating, puck moving defenceman. An analytic darling. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights, and Calgary Flames select at 14, 15 and 16. When the Leafs are called to the podium, Liljegren is available. Before the season started, “tank for Liljegren” articles ran rampant. Hunter called his selection “A no brainer”

"Liljegren missed half the 2016-17 season. As a result, he spent his time playing catch-up. While an immediate recovery from sickness or injury is difficult for any athlete, it is close to impossible for a 17-year-old. Furthermore, bouncing between Rogle and their junior team further disrupted his season while affecting his rankings. Ultimately the fall in his ranking is due to his illness, time missed and a lack of conditioning and not a regression in his game."

So Liljegren’s fall was the Leafs gain.

Next: Understanding the Cap

The Leafs draft their preordained right-handed, fast-skating, puck on a string defensive prospect. The analytics experts are happy. But what is next? The Leafs have six more selections in the draft and there is a method to their madness.

Rounds two through seven, coming shortly.