We now know the Leafs are scheduled to draft fifth in the June entry draft.
The next question is who will be available.
The Oilers are long shots to trade their first overall. There isn’t the depth of quality in the draft that would prompt the Oilers to trade down. Sarnia Sting winger Nail Yakupov (42 games, 31 goals, 38 assists, 69 points, 30 PIMs) is the stand-alone choice in the draft.
To get the skinny on this year’s player pool, consider last year’s class. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1), Gabriel Landeskog (2), Adam Larsson (4) and Sean Couturier (8) not only marched on to the roster of their teams but made significant contributions.
Yakupov seems the only player with that kind of potential. A proviso: with playoffs continuing in the CHL and the World Under 18s set to begin next week in the Czech Republic any ranking is subject to a drastic shakeup. Fifteen players are considered good enough to finish in the top 10. This is a difficult draft to handicap.
Yakupov’s obvious skill and flair put him at the head of the class but doubts remain about his ability to play a consistently physical style at 5’11. Scouts may not be altogether sold on his aggressiveness and while moving to the OHL indicates a desire to play in the NHL right away the KHL gives every young Russian an option to pull an Alexander Radulov and return home.
An uneventful playoff (two goals in six games) and Sarnia’s first-round defeat in the the OHL playoffs did nothing to reinforce his standing.
Quebec Remparts centreman Mikhail Grigorenko (59 games, 40 goals, 45 assists, 85 points, 12 PIMs) remains an intriguing choice. While he is bigger at six-foot-two thank Yakupov he is a good but not great skater. That coach Patrick Roy needed to challenge him to be a better all-around player will make teams a bit more wary. Still, let’s assume he goes second to Columbus.
The wild card here is Ryan Murray (46 games, 9 goals, 22 points, 31 points, 31 PIMs), a defenceman with the WHL Everett Silvertips . Murray is the most NHL-ready defenceman and a three-year-junior with World Junior Hockey Championship experience. He is a wonderful skater with good size but he is not a sure-fire defensive stud along the lines of the troika of Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Alex Pietrangelo who went second, third and fourth in the 2008 draft.
Assuming Murray is selected in the top three the Leafs could have the pick of two of the following three players: Alex Galchenyuk, an American born centreman, Swede Filip Forsberg and Mathew Dumba.
Galchenyuk was the first overall pick in the OHL draft but a knee injury limited the centreman to just two regular season and six playoff contests (2 games, 0 points, 0 PIMs in the regular season, four points in the post-season). Galchenyuk has excellent hands and desire but his skating is suspect.
Forsberg (43 games, eight goals, nine assists, seven points and 33 PIMs with Leksand in the Swedish Elite League) is literally a boy among men. He performed well against older opponents as a 17-year-old and Swedish players are often favored by NHL types because they are viewed as consistently competitive. Forsberg is not related to former NHL star Peter Forsberg.
Defenceman Mathew Dumba (69 games, 20 goals, 37 assists and 67 PIMs with Red Deer) brings the kind of sandpaper missing in the upper reaches of this draft but he remains a step behind Murray in the eyes of scouts.