July 31-in-31: Toronto Maple Leafs

by Jason Banks on July 27, 2017

With the organization’s offensive strength already in place and developing, the Maple Leafs took a different approach to the draft with a longer view than in the past. The organization only used a pair of selections on forwards both of whom are projects four plus years away from surfacing. Instead, defense was the asset class the team went heavy on with size at the fore front and a potential steal in the first round of a guy whose stock was seemingly falling. This was a draft to create depth to draw from in a few years.

 

 

 

 

Timothy Liljegren – 1st Round, 17th Overall

He was limited in action and put on the back foot in terms of conditioning with illness and injuries early on last season. He is a well-rounded defender that still needs more growth to his overall game and a uninterrupted development year. In early rankings he was a top three draftee, slipping late to mid/late teens in final rankings. He is the type to start an attack through a strong calculated carry up ice, or breaks down defensive positioning, with hard effective passes. He does not have a large point shot, but thrives on his quick release and snap shots from mid-range. The outlook currently projects him as top 2 pairing defender that will compliment Morgan Rielly or a similar partner. He remains a fantasy asset with his acumen for accumulating production at a strong rate especially with the class of point producers he is joining in Toronto.

 

Eemeli Rasanen – 2nd Round, 59th Overall

We are yet to uncover what the very large, Finnish, defender will be at the highest levels, but all signs point to him getting there. He is six-foot seven, with about 210 pounds on that frame with more strength and bulk to come. As a large overpowering defender in Kingston, he was found on the man advantage utilized for a powerful slapshot, and smart offensive instincts. As he matures, it is expected that he will be asked to be more aggressive and punishing at higher speeds to eliminate rush opportunities against him while there are very few holes in his defensive game at low speed. He might turn into a perfect 4-5 defending specialist who will thrive late in games when the chips on the table and he can be relied upon not only to neutralize a rush, but turn an attack up quickly the other way. For fantasy purposes, a ‘meat and potatoes’ player with average offensive capabilities.

 

Ian Scott – 4th Round, 110th Overall

Goaltending depth in Toronto has been bit of a sour point that is starting to turn around, the Prince Albert starter is an option with upside. The six-three crease dweller is a type that relies on his effective body positioning and use to block shots. He is not the type to steal games, but can keep his team around long enough they can take control. He will need to take a large step in the upcoming seasons of junior and is a long-term project with a murky outlook, but so is much of the 2017 class. Scott will always be second fiddle prospect to Joseph Woll as long as he is in the system, but should turn pro a year earlier. Might be seen in limited, continuous, exposure as an international option for team Canada.

 

Fedor Gordeev – 5th Round, 141st Overall

Another large hope on the blueline for the organization in need. The Russian born, North Toronto native is still getting his feet wet at the defensive position as he was utilized as a forward in minor junior. He has natural offensive abilities but needs to learn how to make use of them from the back end rather than of the half board. The upside is that his junior coach finds him a sponge of a student and feel that when he fully grasps the position, he will become an asset. For our purposes, he is a risky project that we would avoid and watch as he grows. For the organization, he is a motivated project that will help serving as a dressing room player as they continue their hope to bridge talented Russians into the system.

 

Vladislav Kara – 4th Round, 124th Overall

Once again, the organization has laid claim to another euro player who has a long window to surface in North America, and the current system can be just fine with that. The deep-Russian native has been utilized as a center in junior, but Mark Hunter (assistant General Manager) has talked about him as a winger. Kara is a player that will develop on a well-rounded game in the KHL until he is close to his mid-20s (you will have to follow his development notes with us) as he is unlikely to receive much exposure on this side of the continent. He has goal scoring ability and an interest being a tough opponent. What he becomes is a very open-ended book, and could find himself a spot as the organization has to explore more interesting options in the future.

 

Ryan McGregor – 6th Round, 172nd Overall

The Leafs seem to have made a nice, value take in the 6th round with the Center out of Sarnia. By all indications, McGregor is a smart and shifty offensive player who is playing well under his potential. There is no unanimous reason on why he struggled in 2016-17, but fingers are pointed towards recovery and sensitivity from a concussion suffered the previous season, and lack of build on his frame, the latter can be vastly improved with dedicated work. As a 17-year-old he was designated as a dressing room leader and was given credit as an assistant captain of the Sting. In his rookie OHL campaign, he was being versioned as an early-mid draftee but once again Toronto snagged a dropping player with upside.

 

Ryan O’Connell – 7th Round, 203rd Overall

Largely a throw away pick, O’Connell is more of an offensive defender with work to do and seems down to earth with his development path. He feels his education is just as important as his potential hockey future, with that he has committed to the NCAA for Boston University in 2018-19. First thing I think of when I see that NCAA commitment is the fact that he is not going to be a pro option for 5 years, if he comes out of quality. Unless he shows upside in Boston, he will not draw much attention from us or others. One thing I’ve noticed while researching him, he has won four season championships in the past five seasons at a trio of levels and he seems to up his game in playoffs, winners are valuable players to have in an organization.

 

 

In development camp held a couple weeks ago, several players displayed solid showings and had a few surprises. Liljegren came in and did a very good job in the eyes of General Manager, Lou Lamoriello, stating “He did all the little things” while “Not taking chances trying to be impressive.” Test one goes down as a checkmark for the Young defender who will likely come to the prospect tourney and early training camp in the fall before being sent back to Sweden to develop more. Adam Brooks was the most impressive forward with J.J. Piccinich as his side. Both are turning pro and turned heads with production in the ‘D-camp’, but that should be expected from guys who are turning pro. I’m not high on either player myself, but it is a positive that they appear ready for the next set of challenges at a higher level. Vladimir Bobylev has left the organization with a tough decision, unfortunately I don’t think it will go in his favor. He is likely to return to the WHL for a overage junior campaign, as the team does not have many openings in pro and a lack of contract space with only a single spot left for a pro contract. The good news is Bobylev played well enough that his outlook of being at the pro level is very solid and something to look forward to in 2018-19. Media has also fully jumped on the Joseph Woll bandwagon. He is the best goaltending prospect the Leafs have had since Tuukka Rask was drafted many years back, but looks like he will be hyped much like the epic failure that was Justin Pogge. The hype should be treated as white noise, well deserved white noise.

 

Invitees were also notably strong and some may surface in minor pro down the road. Both Mathew Robson and Jordan Papirny both had excellent showings in net, for Papirny this is his 2nd appearance for the Leafs to look at. He has the potential to be signed as an ECHL project for the organization. Forward Kristian Pospisil was strong enough in camp to earn himself an AHL contact with Toronto and has a good shot to make it meaningful. Nikita Korostelev is one of my favorite prospects the Leafs had (keyword: had). He had another strong showing in camp, but it doesn’t seem enough for him to turn pro, let alone I Toronto. As a Free Agent, he will garner interest and already had his rights dealt for in the KHL, but he appears to be giving the OHL an overage shot as he is committed to try and make it in North America. NCAA prospects Taro Hirose and Jacob Tortora also became notable names by the end of the mini camp, both are undersized, offensive threats who will garner lots of minor-pro interest once their college careers come to an end.

 

Overall the organization is in good shape down the road, but finding fantasy assets with sure-fire fantasy upside that we would recommend at this time is difficult. This makes the drafting and development of the organization more interesting to follow to see what type of players surface for different roles.