The Toronto Maple Leafs Should Trade Their First Rounder This Year

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There is no hiding the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect pool lacks a superstar.

The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect pool is deep and loaded with many players who will likely play in the NHL someday but there is no one who projects to be a first-line forward or top-pairing defenceman.

This is to be expected when a team is consistently playing in the post-season and only drafts in the first-round twice over the past five drafts.

This is why the opinion may be controversial to some but I believe that the Leafs would be better off trading their 2024 first before giving up almost any prospect within their system.

However, there are multiple reasons that this would be the best outcome for the team in the long-run. Most importantly, they are the richest franchise and with their abundant resources, the Leafs scouting staff should be able to identify useful players in the later rounds of the drafts. So far, this has worked quite well.

It would be wrong though to assume that this means the pool is weak or needs a major overhaul. The Leafs do not need a superstar player given their already abundant star talent in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Morgan Rielly.

At this stage in the Leafs contention window, they should be trying to supplement their core with useful players, of course still hoping to find hidden gems on day two of the draft.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Should Trade Their First Round Pick

Despite the lack of first rounders, the Leafs have still seen great success from their prospects in recent years with Nick Robertson and Matthew Knies becoming fixtures within the Leafs middle-six this season.

As well, they have graduated Pontus Holmberg who has been an effective depth piece over the past two years and Nick Abruzzese getting cups of coffee here and there in the NHL.

The team also projects to graduate at least Ryan Tverberg, Topi Niemela, Dennis Hildeby, and Fraser Minten within the next year or two. This is leaving out most recent first round draft pick, Easton Cowan who is currently lighting up the OHL in his DY+1 season.

All of these players are great examples of why the Leafs don't need their first this upcoming draft. Three of them were drafted in the seventh, third, and fourth round respectively. Cowan and Minten although were drafted in the first and second round, their projections by many scouting services was much later, meaning that the team could have likely grabbed them deeper in the draft.

Not only are these players good examples of finding quality prospects in later rounds, they are also likely more valuable to the team themselves than in a trade due to their low draft pedigree.

Cowan and Minten both project to be middle-six/third liners. As young players on their entry-level contracts (ELC) making under $1 million per season, they are considerably valuable assets on a cap-strapped team like the Maple Leafs.

Much more valuable than a rental who will play a similar role for only two dozen regular season games and a playoff run. Unless the Leafs are able to secure an established and cost-controlled player who will be able to play multiple seasons for the team, it is almost certainly not worth it. Especially if the Leafs hope to be giving their trde partners the 32nd overall pick.

Many people have done deep dives into the expected value of individual draft picks, it has been widely debated and talked about since Michael Schuckers' 2009 paper on the subject. As such, we have well over a decade of analysis to look over and the consensus seems to be that there is a large drop in value throughout the first round.

By the end of the first round, the difference between a late first and late second is much less pronounced than the 10th overall pick and 20th overall pick. Meaning, if the Leafs choose to deal their late first, it's actual long-term value is minimal in comparison to the value they could obtain by acquiring a key piece for a cup run.

Another useful impact of pouring as many resources into their hockey operations department as the Leafs do is that they are in theory, able to find players to supplement their prospect pool outside of the draft.

In recent years, the Leafs have been able to extract value by adding overlooked free agents to their prospect pool. Mason Marchment, Justin Holl, Trevor Moore, and Bobby McMann are a few notable examples. There is also the NCAA and undrafted CHL free agents that have spent time in the Leafs organization like; Alex Steeves, Keith Petruzzeli, and Braeden Kressler among others.

This allocation of resources and adding to the team outside of conventional routes also extends beyond their prospect pool. The team has been able to lure free agents from Europe year-after-year to fill-out their roster, especially from the KHL. Ilya Mikheyev, Nikita Zaitsev, Igor Ozhiganov, Kirill Semyonov, Par Lindholm, and Mikko Lehtonen are notable examples in recent years that have had varying impacts.

Aside from all of the other ways that the Leafs could fill-out their roster and add to their prospect pool, the team is in a unique position this year. The Leafs currently holds eight selections from rounds three to seven in 2024. Of course the odds of finding a future NHLer drop off in the later rounds, eight picks could help to re-stock the cupboards quite well if used correctly.


As rumours swirl and we approach the 2024 Trade deadline, should Treliving decide to pursue a marquee trade target, the Leafs would be much better off dealing their first round pick than their current prospects for many different reasons.