The simple answer is draft next the Erik Karlsson. Easy peasy. He was a 15th overall pick. The Leafs have the 15th overall pick and it’s a great draft year. Let’s just do that.
On the chance that it’s more complicated than that, we asked the TLN Contributors to play their own version of MFK with the draft pick, and decide if the Leafs should move up, move down, hold pat, or the bonus option of flipping the pick for immediate help. Here’s what everyone had to say…
They have to keep it. Given that this year’s draft is projected to be deep, I would imagine most teams would prefer to hold onto their first rounders for the sake of selecting a quality player, especially in the upper half of the draft. The Leafs are lucky to be back to in the first round after gifting the Hurricanes the 13th pick for the honour of terminating Patrick Marleau’s contract, so it would be a smart move to stay put at 15. Look at a few of the players that could be available at that spot: Kaiden Guhle, Yaroslav Askarov, Jack Quinn, and Hendrix Lapierre just to name a few. Those are some talented athletes and any of them would be a great addition to their system and could help the big club out big time. They will only be available if they don’t move the 15th pick elsewhere, hence why they should keep it.
I waver back and forth between “keep” or “trade for help”. This is probably the highest first round pick the Leafs are going to have in the next five years so you want to make it count, regardless of the option chosen.
On one hand, this team is built incredibly top-heavy which necessitates cheap contracts to fill out the rest of the roster. Not only are ELC contracts cheap but they often provide better value than regular contracts signed at the same price point. Having Sandin + Robertson + whomever is chosen at #15 all on ELC’s during our contention window will provide huge value and help lessen the burden of having 50% of our cap tied up in four forwards.
However, the drawback with keeping and using the pick is that whomever you’re choosing at #15 is likely a year or two away from joining the big club, and the Leafs feel pressured to contend now with just 4 years remaining on Matthews’ contract and 5 on Tavares’. This lack of patience may push the team to move the pick for immediate help, preferably in the form of a top-4 RHD. Dubas swung for the fences trying to acquire that very thing last year, but Barrie did not live up to the billing. Time for round 2? Aside from Robertson and Sandin, this is the best trade chip we have in our arsenal, so if there was ever a time to swing a big trade it may be now while the pick is an alluring mystery box to other GM’s.
I’m leaning 60/40 in favour of keeping the pick. There are some really good players available around the mid point of the first round, including one of the most highly-touted goaltending prospects in the last decade or so. The Leafs could use a young, promising netminder a la Carter Hart or Igor Shesterkin to grow with this young core.
Scott Maxwell (@ScotMaxw):
This is going to be a super boring answer, but I think the smartest answer possible is entirely based on the situation.
I’d be fine with trading it, but considering it’s a pick in a decent position, it’d have to be for a really good defenseman. Like, “the solution to the six year long quest to find Morgan Rielly a defense partner that isn’t bad” good. If it’s not that, I’d look to trade the 2021 pick because you could probably expect that to be much lower in the first round (although this year did prove that’s not a guarantee). I also don’t think it should be rushed, because you can always deal the assets you got from the pick if you still want to trade it.
As far as keeping it goes, I’d say they should probably look for options to trade down unless a top 10 talent falls to their pick, then definitely use it. At the same time, the Leafs already have 11 picks in the draft, so it’s not like they’re in desperate need for more picks (although only two of them are in the first three rounds). Basically, I’m cool with keeping it so long as they don’t waste it on this year’s Frederik Gauthier or Lawson Crouse, which I’m not going to pretend like I know who that is.
That said, if Dubas wants to trade down several spots, I’m always game for it to bring in even more assets. Part of what makes teams consistently elite is excellent drafting to help bring in cheap depth when you’re tight to the cap, and the wasted 2016 and 2017 drafts courtesy of Mark Hunter are part of what has made the Leafs cap crunch even more difficult. They’re already getting some help from the Dubas drafts (Sandin/Robertson probably both weren’t expected to be NHL ready this soon, and even going back to Dubas’ 2015 draft, Timashov provided cheap depth for the Leafs this season as well), so getting even more picks will help add to their depth and maximize their chances of getting NHL quality talent in the draft.
The only one I’m apposed to is moving up unless it’s because a great player fell out of the top 10 and the Leafs don’t want to risk any teams in front of them drafting that player. But for where the Leafs are right now, that’s probably not the best play here.
Keep it or trade down. A lot is made about the Leafs cap crunch, and it would be a significantly easier situation to manage if the Leafs were able to trade away mid-tier guys (Your Johnssons and Kerfoots) free of worry if they had cheap replacements on ELCs coming through the pipeline, which they unfortunately don’t due to lackluster 2016 and 2017 drafts. Dubas lead drafts have already yielded fairly positive returns early on, and with no drastic cap alleviation in the foreseeable future, the Leafs are going to need a steady stream of NHL talent playing on ELC deals in order to stay truly competitive (plus sought after prospects also serve as good trade bait come deadline time.)
“A boat is a boat but the mystery box could be anything… it could even be a boat!”
As a prospects guy, I almost always lean towards keeping the pick in situations like this. The Leafs could surely make a significant addition to their depleted prospect pool at 15th overall, but the chances of that player making an immediate impact are slim.
Now, let’s switch gears for a moment. I’m a football fan and I’m extremely excited for my Buffalo Bills to kick off their season this weekend. Newly acquired receiver, Stefon Diggs, is a big reason why. What does this have to do with the Leafs and the 15th overall pick in the NHL draft?
Like the Leafs, the Bills had a gaping hole on their roster at a position of need. Leading up to the NFL draft, many analysts and draft experts had Buffalo using their first round pick on a receiver that would hopefully address that need on their roster. Instead, they packaged that pick for an already established, high quality player that they’ll be able to insert into their starting lineup from day 1.
A key difference between the NFL and NHL drafts is the age and experience level of prospects. Football players are older at draft time and most are expected to make their team’s roster right away, and the Bills still decided to cash in the pick for a player that was more of a known commodity.
This isn’t to say the Leafs will surely be able to make a deal that addresses their needs in a similar fashion, and if they can’t they should obviously keep the pick, but the idea of cashing in the pick for immediate help rather than waiting and hoping a player can help you in a couple of years certainly holds merit. I expect Dubas to explore trade opportunities for their recently acquired first round pick in the days and weeks leading up to the draft.
Kyle Dubas and co. have shown that they can find gems in the late first and second round with selections like Sandin and Robertson already showing they can be slotted into the Leafs lineup. With the NHL expected to have a flat salary cap for the next couple of seasons, there’s an added benefit in having more cheap options that can be called up to the NHL roster if needed.
While the best-case scenario would definitely be the Leafs hitting on the steal of the draft and selecting a player at 15 who goes on to become a top contributor on a rookie contract for the next three years, the truth is that the draft is largely a crapshoot and there’s more value found in playing the odds. In 2018, their trade with the Blues to move down only 4 spots allowed the Leafs to still select Rasmus Sandin, and also gain a third-rounder which was used on the high-risk, high-reward talent of Semyon Der-Arguchintsev.
Trading down to gain another pick or two gives the Leafs the flexibility of not having to choose between the high-upside player or a safer bet, instead allowing them to do both. There’s always an added benefit of having additional assets, and by trading down to gain another mid-late rounder or two means that’s more players who could be used as a future trade piece at the deadline (see: Sean Durzi, Carl Grundstrom) or surprise their way into becoming a valuable roster piece (see: Travis Dermott, Connor Brown).
The Leafs should trade their first-round pick, if they can get a good defenceman in return. Toronto has a high pick in one of the deepest drafts that I can remember, and teams will want that pick if they can get their hands on it.
The return matters. If Kyle Dubas knows he has a shot at Alex Pietrangelo, he should go for it. If it’s another defenceman who the Leafs are high on, they should try and get that player. He just can’t make a trade just to make a trade, and I trust he won’t do that.
If there’s nothing available, keep it and you could hit the jackpot. The Leafs have a chance to draft at any position they want. Dubas could have a chance to land Yaroslav Askarov, who’s one of the best goalie prospects we’ve seen in a long time. If they want to build their defence core, a player like Kaiden Guhle or Brayden Schneider would be incredible for them.
This is a big decision that has a lot of consequences either way you go with it. If you draft, you keep the same team and build for the future. If you trade, you build now and lose some of that future. It’ll be interesting to see what Dubas does in the next few weeks.
I’m not sure I fully believe it but since I can’t imagine the answer is being give by anyone else in this group, I look to move up and see if there’s a chance for the Leafs to grab an even better player or specifically get the guy they want the most.
Ideally I’d like to see the Leafs either shed some more roster or salary in the process of doing that rather than dump their second round pick which probably only moves them up to 12th overall (based on draft pick valuation charts). Moving someone like Dermott, who looks to be on the outside of the Leafs plans or someone like Andreas Johnsson might allow the Leafs to get a strong (possibly NHL ready) asset and not have to worry about depth salary implications.
There has been a lot of talk about the Leafs being interesting in Yaroslavl Askarov and it’s unlikely that the Leafs see him at 15. Perhaps moving up to get their guy will make sense on draft day.
That being said, if the Leafs have a number of players they could be happy with at 15, go ahead and wait. If 15 comes and you still have a bunch of guys you’d be equally happy with, trade down. I’m pretty noncommittal on my response up until draft day. I’d just argue that trading the pick for immediate help is the one option that is a truly a mistake as it seems to hurt the both the Leafs in the here and now cap situation and in the long term by giving up on high end talent that will play on an entry level contract for three years.
Who’s to say who’s right here? Well, I guess you are. Tell us who got it right in the comment section.