The 2018 NHL draft will be underway this evening. The Toronto Maple Leafs hold the 25th overall selection. Assuming Dubas doesn’t trade up or down, and decides to draft at that spot, it’s worth looking at some players who should be of interest, and at least some should still be available. There usually tends to be a split between those who want to select the best player available, versus the best player of positional need. Perhaps the best strategy is a little overlap between the two? For example, the Leafs are notoriously stacked on the wing with less depth on center and defense. If the best player available is a right winger, do you still select him? I say yes if he is clearly ahead of the pack, but if it’s close enough that I have to think, then I go with the positional need.
Here is a list of prospects that are projected to go in the 20-27 overall range according to Bob McKenzie’s final pre-draft rankings, and I will go over which players would fit the Leafs best.
20. Rasmus Kupari (Center): A skilled playmaking center who has been playing pro in Finland. Size is a bit of a concern at just over 163 pounds, but he has the speed to make up for it. Hard to tell what his true potential is with limited playing time in Liiga, but he’s impressed scouts enough to earn the #20 ranking. Play style has been compared to Aho. Not a terrible pick but not with who I go with here.
21. Isac Lundestrom (Center): Known for his two-way play more than his offense, he has been rated all over the map, and it’s hard to project what his potential could be with only 15 points playing in Sweden this year. He plays tough and skates well. Safe pick here but I am inclined to shoot for a higher risk/boom player at this spot in the draft.
22. Ryan McLeod (Center): Big guy at 6’2, 200 pounds. Has excellent speed to match his size. He’s got top 6 upside, or at worse a great third line two-way center. Came up big in the 2016/2017 playoffs putting up 20 points in 20 games. You love to see that elevation when the games tighten up in playoffs. I like this pick as an eventual Kadri replacement.
23. Ty Dellandrea (Center): Didn’t have the best statistical season in the OHL, with only 59 points in 67 games. That scares me off him a bit. Having said that, he was on a horrible team and was clearly one of the few bright spots. Known as more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, I think the Leafs avoid this.
24. K’Andre Miller (Defense): A ton of upside with this young man. Has great size at 6’4, can skate well, is physical and provide offense. The only real risk here is that he is a forward turned defenseman, so the experience isn’t quite there, but it leaves a lot of room for grooming. He is one of my hopefuls for sure. He could be exactly what the Leafs need in a few years.
25. Bode Wilde (Defense): Excels in puck moving, which is extremely valuable in today’s NHL. He is a two-way defenseman, sort of a jack of all trades. No clear weaknesses here. A very safe pick with low chance of busting. I would actually be surprised if he is still available at 25 but if he is, the Leafs should absolutely consider selecting him.
26. Jared McIsaac (Defense): Similar player to Wilde. Another good puck mover with two-way game. He is a smart player and uses his body very well defensively. The one thing he may lack is NHL strength. Luckily there are many cases of defensemen who can succeed in the NHL using IQ over strength. I prefer Wilde myself.
27. Rasmus Sandin (Defense): A mobile offensive defenseman who can rush the puck and create offense. Again on the smaller side at 5’11, but I really like the potential he has. A super smart player and put up a good season in the OHL. Not the most physical player, but rarely gets beat 1 on 1. On the fence about this one.
Wild Card – Ryan Merkley (Defense): Being such a polarizing player has him rated all over the place. He’s one of the most talented players in the entire draft and is the definition of boom or bust. What will worry GM’s is that he’s not well disciplined and has public issues with his coaches. He managed to put up 67 points in 63 games in the OHL this season which is quite incredible for a defenseman. You are sacrificing some defense with him however. He is a very risky pick in the first round but I can’t get over his skill level. If he can develop into a 60 point defender in the NHL even if his defense is suspect, that is amazing value for a late first round pick. Go for it!