As the rebuild continues for the famed franchise, the 2016-17 season might be the most important and intense season since the early 90s. Much of the foundation has been laid, now the bricks get to be put in place. While 13 prospects skated in several games last year to get a taste of what they are working towards, no less than seven prospects will be expected to make the jump to become full time NHLers. With that amount of graduation, the system is in need of major shakeups and will provide several opportunities for new names.
In the 2016 Entry Draft the strategy was a much different one than employed by other organizations or in previous years. With 11 selections management selected with purpose and direction especially after adding the top prize of the weekend. A trio of the selections will be on the older side of 20 years when training camp starts, a statistic that is rather unheard of in today’s game. Five of the selections are already playing in pro hockey and two more may join them or return for an overage junior season. It was clear, that the focus was shorter term in the fact that they wanted players that will grow with the current crop of talent, rather than just adding 18 year olds that they hope will mature and become useful.
1st Round (1st Overall) – Auston Matthews – C – ZSC, Swiss League
The centerpiece of the franchise is now in place and will have huge expectations by both fans an management, but expect a couple seasons before he reaches maximum effectiveness. Matthews has a massive tool bag of skills and qualities that are possessed by very few in the game, and full maturity mentally and physically aren’t far away for the almost 19 year old. Mike Babcock has been on record of saying Matthews will start as the third line center in the fall, but this holds little significance as it can be expected that he will see the most minutes of the regulars, as he should be found on most powerplays and the odd penalty kill. The future of a Nylander-Matthews-Marner line is pretty exciting for fans and fantasy players alike.
2nd Round (31st Overall) – Yegor Korshkov – RW – Lokomotiv, KHL
The Leafs were one of a few teams sniffing at the big, intense, Russian’s services at the draft. Went a little higher than Central Scouting expected, but much of that is due to the organizations interest and selection placements. The expectation is that he will stay in the KHL another season at least before crossing into the system. The hope is that he will become a bigger version of Leo Komorov that will secure a spot in the midlines for several years.
2nd Round (57th Overall) – Carl Grundstrom – LW/RW – Frolunda, SEL
Shoring up mid-line futures was once again the goal with the selection of Grundstrom. He already plays a good two-way game who at only 18 can be found on many penalty kills in the Swedish Elite League. He has some offensive talents as far as reading the play, but is much more apt to create a play by creating turnovers through perseverance or roughness. Grundstrom will play his first season for Frolunda in the upcoming season after playing in the MODO system the past trio of seasons. His outlook from there is murky as his style is more suited to North America and he will be eligible to play in the AHL. He has the upside of being a Tomas Holmstrom.
3rd Round (62nd Overall) – Joseph Woll – G – Boston College, NCAA
The crease was a major concern going into the off season, but the acquisition of Freddy Andersen has quieted things for the short term, while the drafting of Woll has injected hope into the distant future. The large American netminder will spend several years finding himself and maturing with little pressure or competition for his job while securing an education. His talent is as high at the top drafted padded men, but was rather unknown to the general hockey community until now. Woll has already represented the US of A in international events on lower circuits but should see more worldly duties of the WJC coming up. He is currently the best of his position in the Leafs prospect depth chart and projects to be a high quality, starting goalie, but the wait will be very long for those watching.
3rd Round (72nd Overall) – James Greenway – D – University of Wisconsin, NCAA
Adding size to the defense is a real need for the future of the franchise down the road, standing 6’5 at the age of 18, James Greenway hopes to fit the bill. He projects as a middle of the road complimentary defender down the road and like Woll is a product of the US Development Program in creating players to represent the best of US hockey. Greenway is heading through the NCAA program as well for Wisconsin, so it will be 3-4 years before he goes pro, but he should have a quick ascension to notability when he does.
4th Round (92nd Overall) – Adam Brooks – C – Regina Pats, WHL
Interesting pick here, 20-year-old, leading scorer and assistant captain of Regina who was questionable if he would be selected at all. The Leafs laid claim to him with several options and expectations in mind. He qualifies to return to Junior as an overager, but will do all he can to fight for an AHL Marlie job as an offensive center to help replenish the depth chart. At sub 6’ the outlook towards the NHL is an upward battle, but his playmaking abilities and reliability make him a player that can surprise.
4th Round (101st Overall) – Keaton Middleton – D – Saginaw Spirit, OHL
Back to size on the blueline, Middleton fits the bill as a quality, stay at home defender. Already tipping the scale at over 234 pounds while standing 6’5 the Leafs have a player that provides a presence to the organization. While there are several knocks to his game and has little excitement too him, he seems like a teachable commodity that could be built into notoriety, if only for opponents crossing into the attacking zone.
5th Round (122nd Overall) – Vladimir Bobylyov – C – Spartak, KHL
Taking a chance on Russians seems like a thing the Leafs are willing to do lately, adding a large swingman to the system. Bobylyov showed much growth in statistics in his 2nd season of Canadian Junior, but it wasn’t enough to keep him here as he has chosen to develop his game back in his homeland where we will be a pro and make some notable money. For the organization this isn’t a bad thing as his size makes the junior game a little un-challenging to his play and he will now learn more and utilize his talents where he is not the big kid on the block. Another positive is that he now has a connection to co-draftee and linemate Jack Walker from playing in Victoria last season. If his heart is in it Bobylyov could become a rather effective secondary scorer down the road.
6th Round (152nd Overall) – Jack Walker – LW/D – Victoria Royals, WHL
As mentioned above, Leafs connected the dots with the selection of offensive linemates in the B.C. island town. The highlight to Walker is his elusive skating, as he is shifty as he is speedy while his hands also keep pace. He also is a reliable two-way player who’s history started as a defensemen. Rumor has it that the 2016-17 season will see him return to the blueline for Victoria as per his own request. That said he is soon to turn 20 and qualifies to play Pro, here the Leafs may decide where they see him fit best and grow his game in their own best interests.
6th Round (179th Overall) – Nicolas Mattinen – D – London Knights, OHL
The Leafs have something in Mattinen, they just don’t know what yet. Selecting fish from a familiar pool in London, they have chosen raw size who will be afforded opportunities and a player that has a cannon of a shot. On the surface he is a defensive minded, heavy playing defender who plays the game correctly and responsibly. But the upcoming season will see Mattinen see increased icetime and responsibilities with hope they can unlock hidden potential. He is not a notable prospect at the moment, but we shall monitor closely.
7th Round (182nd Overall) – Nikolai Chebykin – RW/LW – Dynamo, MHL
Not a whole lot of information is known on the final Leaf draft selection, but he is owned by a reputable Russian franchise so he will gain notoriety soon. According to most scouting polls they did see him being selected late, unfortunately those scouts don’t give out reasons. He showed he could score in the MHL and is deserving of promotion, and he has a listed pro-quality size.
Unfortunately for us, Leafs take a milder stance on Development camps rather than on ice skill building and play. They focus on more off ice situations in instruction on training programs, eating habits, social media expectations, handling themselves personally and professionally amongst other un-exciting contributing developmental factors. Because of this there isn’t much to be said of play in only scrimmage games.
Auston Matthews of course was the star of the camp as the non-management side familiarized themselves with him and got a taste of what he is and apparently they were impressed. He only contributed a single assist in play but displayed his control of the game.
Mitch Marner popped in five points in his second development camp stint, but he still has work to do to hit his target size for Leafs camp.
Joseph Woll stood out at the best goalie in camp. Take that for what you will, but the other options were just there to eat pucks other than NCAA signee Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Trevor Moore came to camp as a Free Agent invitee and has now been signed to a three-year contract. He will spend his time on the Marlies but clicked well with Marner.
Andrew Nielsen and Travis Dermott showed they are ready to turn pro, but Nielsen has the option of being returned to the WHL.
Dmytro Timashov was an extremely talent that showed off his skills that might be utilized in pro at some level in the upcoming season.