Toronto Maple Leafs: I Don’t Know Anything About This Draft

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: A general view of the first thirty-one selections are shown on the board after the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - JUNE 22: A general view of the first thirty-one selections are shown on the board after the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 22, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs will select a player at the NHL Entry Draft this weekend who will likely become a prominent contributor for them one day.

And I have no idea who that will be.

It’s not that I’m unclear as to which of their specific draft picks will be the one to turn into this valued future piece. No, I barely know any of the potential names who could be chosen by the Maple Leafs – or any team, for that matter – when Toronto’s management group steps to the podium on…Saturday afternoon, I guess?

The Leafs don’t have a first-round pick this year, so it looks as if Kyle Dubas will need to wait until day two to engage in his annual trade down.

This is the first year in a very, very long time where my draft knowledge is teetering on zero. Which isn’t all that surprising, frankly. Given how utterly horrid the Maple Leafs used to be not too long ago, the draft was perhaps the most anticipated event on this fanbase’s calendar. The draft symbolized hope to most, offering a new chance for this moribund franchise to select their new saviour.

Of course, circumstances have changed. The Maple Leafs are good now, regardless of what their recent playoff record might say, and on a mainstream level, the draft holds less significance. Saviours already litter the roster. When Auston Matthews and John Tavares represent the present, the future tends to take a backseat.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more apathetic leadup to a draft than this one. Even in a year featuring two defined superstars (Jack Hughes and Kappo Kakko) in the #1 and #2 spots – which, theoretically, should pump up the weekend’s marketability – the buzz just isn’t there.

When was the last time you saw a commercial for 2019 draft coverage? I genuinely can’t recall.

Remember the frenzy that was the Tavares Sweepstakes of 2009? Or the Taylor vs Tyler battle royale of 2010? Those were earth-shattering events which enveloped the entirety of hockey coverage for months on end. Even 2017’s Nico Hischier/Nolan Patrick draft happened to be endowed with a greater sense of frenzy and a harder media push than what is set to go down on Friday, and neither of those two prospects project as anything more than a very good second line centre.

Hughes and Kakko could be stars, man – franchise pillars who will alter the very landscape of whichever organization they happen to join. These kids should be dominating the news cycle at the moment. The question of “Hughes or Kakko?” should be on every hockey pundit’s mind right now as the Twittersphere becomes dominated with thinkpieces geared towards deciphering either’s value while others chronicle their respective rises from some form of childhood adversity into the potentially league-changing stars they are today.

And yet, here we are. Two days from the announcement of the first pick, as of June 19th, and not only are a large portion of fans barely aware of it, they are yet to even know the specifics of the salary cap. That is indefensible.

48 hours out from a weekend expected to be filled with trades and personnel movement, and NHL teams will be conducting business without being given any final knowledge of their financial limits.

Frankly, this all boils down to the same the top-down issues which plague this sport consistently.

The NBA and NFL treat their drafts as landmark moments of the offseason. Entire networks are dedicated to round-the-clock coverage in the lead up to the fateful day, with countless mock drafts and hot takes being flung at the wall hour after hour for fans to happily lap up.

Think about it. Have you heard a single hot take regarding this year’s draft outside of whether the Devils will possibly eschew Hughes for Kakko? No, you haven’t. I’ll answer that question for you.

Hockey is a phenomenal sport when you strip away all the off-ice tomfoolery. It bears the potential to grow and expand in popularity immensely moving forward, offering an entertaining product that could capture the caveperson instincts responsible for the success of the NFL. But the one thing standing in hockey’s way is the NHL. Namely, because the NHL has consistently failed at is allowing those who are already infatuated with hockey to truly love it.

I want to love the draft. Trust me, I really do. Nothing would make me happier than to get excited for a night of marquee selections with a splash of wheeling and dealing. I want to consume endless hours of speculation pertaining to what will ultimately play a hand in the future of the league.

Most importantly, I want to roleplay as a hockey expert for three hours on a Friday night.

Alas, most fans cannot do that.

They can’t play Armchair GM on account of the fact that they don’t even know what the salary cap will be. Their mock drafts are shallow because knowledge on potential sleepers is reserved for diehard observers alone. And they can’t spend one glorious night revelling in faux expert status because, frankly, even those aforementioned diehards are struggling to do the same.

What is the point of my endless rambling? Not much, really. I’m surprised you didn’t tune me out long ago. But if I must distil these loud screeching noises into one single message, let it be this:

Market the draft better. 

Make it an event. Hype up the biggest names. Put some effort into what fans clearly care about.

Or don’t, NHL. Seems to be working pretty well for you so far.

Mitch Marner is Not Different. dark. Next

Thanks for reading!