With the season coming to a somewhat merciful end for both players and fans alike, one additional positive to take out of the end of this particular season is the draft position the Maple leafs managed to land themselves in this year. It seems they rarely manage to garner a top 10 pick, pulling off some some rare late season heroics well after they have been eliminated from the playoffs; guess a one time thanks has to be sent to the Ottawa Senators for ending our season on a good note with a loss and a high draft pick. With the loss the Leafs will pick in the eight spot but still have a shade over a 3% chance in the lottery to move up in the draft, please do not hold your collective breathe, this is not a recording.
General consensus is the top 10 picks of any one draft have a pretty high probability of reaching the NHL level and with the Leafs picking Nazem Kadri all those years ago at 7th overall my hope is they manage to find another diamond in the rough. There is the very real possibility that a couple of the top projected pick falls down to the 8 spot, although the top 3 picks appear to be a relative lock in Ekblad, Reinhart and Bennett but after that most mock drafts appears somewhat divided over the next 10 picks and that has this writer pretty excited at the endless possibilities of who will be available by the time the Leafs pick first.
International Scouting Services (ISS) recently announced their April 2014 draft rankings which had USNDP center and right winger Alex Tuch as the 8th seed in whom they appear to covet quite significantly in a Tweet back in December:
A current Boston College commit, Tuch definitely fits into the mold of a Brian Burke kind of player so it would not surprise me if he went much higher in the draft to Calgary. Standing a shade under 6’3.5″ and 220lbs he already has incredible size and is gifted with an incredibly high hockey IQ, superb vision and hands to boot while possessing both an accurate wrist shot and lethal slapshot. His skating is above average for a player of a size but still fleet of foot enough to join the rush.
CJ (powerplaycj14) on Youtube did a fantastic job of laying things out with respect to Tuch, the video of which can be found here:
While taking a poll of a number of available mock drafts out there, there appeared to be a pretty strong strong correlation that if the Leafs pick in the number 8 spot they will take center Jared McCann whom a number indicate as a player that fills a depth hole the Leafs have in their prospect pipeline. Jared McCann was also outlined in Craig Button’s (TSN) available draft list at the 8th spot coming to the Maple Leafs and is mentioned on a number of other lists (along with Bleacher Report) at that same position and may be the safe bet to cover here. The 17 year old London Ontario native current plays for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds coming off a commendable 62 point season (in 64 games) and 7 points in 9 playoff games. The 6’0″, 179lbs center represented Canada on the U18 gold winning team at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
Via NHL.com “Jared is a highly skilled and creative playmaker,” Edwards [Central Scouting’s Chris Edwards] said. “He has excellent hands and puckhandling ability. He sees the ice very well and can get the puck through traffic with great saucer passes.”
“He is not a guy who will always bring you out of your seat but is dangerous every shift and at the end of the game he will quietly have a goal and three assists. Jared is an excellent penalty killer, smart and reads the play very well.”
On NHL.com both Adam Kimelman (NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor) and Mike Morreale (NHL.com Staff Writer) along with The Hockey Writers had Jake Virtanen going 8th overall (but I should mention NHL.com group had him taken by the Winnipeg Jets at the 8 spot partly due to the age of their projections).
Ben Kerr of LastWordOnSports.com had this to say about Virtanen “Jake Virtanen is a power forward prospect who never hesitates to get involved physically. He loves to hit, and be involved in battles along the boards. Virtanen takes the puck to the net at every opportunity. He has the creative stickhandling and good agility to beat a defender with slick moves, but is also willing to go right through them if necessary to get to the net. Virtanen is a pure goal scorer who can score in tight with soft hands, and also has an excellent shot with big time power, great accuracy and a tremendously quick release that fools goaltenders. Virtanen has taken his game to another level of late, and has shown flashes of true dominance in the WHL. He also has good hockey sense and the ability to get open and elude defenders. Virtanen is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, but he does have decent passing skills and vision as well.”
“In terms of potential, the sky is the limit. If developed properly, Jake Virtanen has the skills necessary to be a top six power forward at the NHL level. He’s the total package, and the combination of size, skill, and speed is extremely intriguing.”
More of the article can be found here:
Virtanen is a dual Canadian-Finnish citizen and a really interesting potential pick, the aggressive and gritty game he plays while still being able to beat defenders and bury the puck spells of a complete game and high compete. Looking forward to seeing more of Virtanen in the near future.
As an interesting caveat, the draft lottery was held last night and although Toronto remained in the 8th spot, Craig Button (TSN) changed his draft rankings and indicates that the Maple Leafs may very well select budding power forward Nick Ritchie. Ritchie was an unknown to me but has me salivating at the thought of him playing on a line with Fredrick Gauthier in the near future; he already has NHL size at 6’2″ 230lbs and it shows in his games with the Peterborough Pete’s:
“Ritchie is a prototypical power forward with an impressive blend of size, skill and strength. He skates well for a big player and has agile feet. He bulls his way around the ice and has an impressive, erratic shot. (August 2013)” via Future Considerations.
More on Ritchie can be found here:
Finally there were a couple of names of interest that came up as potentially being available around the 8th spot which included Nikolay Goldobin, Haydn Fleury and Jakub Vrana so here are some snapshots of those players:
Nikolay Goldobin, an 18 year old 6’1″ 180lbs odd offensively gifted forward from Mockobckar, Russia has spent the last two years with the Sania Sting of the OHL putting up an impressive 94 points this past season. Although his -30 may raise some eyebrows, it should be noted that Sarnia are rebuilding and only won 17 games this past season (see Connor Brown in his early Erie Otter days).
Haydn Fleury is a 6’3″ 210lbs defenseman from Carlyle, Saskatchewan currently plying his trade with the Red Deer Rebels. Known for exceptional skating, footwork and great positioning Fleury has significant offensive upside. A great breakdown of the player can be found here:
Jakub Vrana a Czech forward currently playing in Sweden was best surmised by Mike Morreale over at NHL.com “He plays with determination and drive, has an excellent work ethic and is a very fast skater with excellent all-round skills,” Stubb said of Vrana. “He’s got OK size [6-foot, 183 pounds] and strength. But he’s able to control the game and create a lot of scoring possibilities with his quick moves.”
Already can’t wait for the draft to get underway and will be happy with really any of the players listed above (and then some). By no means a for sure pick but either Tuck or Goldobin are personal favorites from what I have seen/read. Anyways as always, food for thought or maybe perhaps more accurately puck for thought.