What should the Leafs do with their 2017 first round pick?
It's been over a week since the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs in 6 games by the Washington Capitals. While the loss does sting as the Leafs played well throughout most of the series, there is no denying that the future of the team is extremely bright and that good times may be coming quicker than many hockey fans would have originally anticipated.
With a solid offensive core and a good starting netminder, it seems obvious that what the Leafs need to take the next step is to make a significant upgrade on defense. The current defense core of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nikita Zaitsev, and Connor Carrick is a good start, but it lacks an impact player that can effectively play both ends of the ice.
This offseason presents the team with an opportunity to improve the roster in the hopes of improving both their playoff chances and the likelihood of going far if they can make it. That opportunity to improve starts with what they choose to do with their first-round pick in the upcoming draft.
Depending on how the rest of the current playoffs turns out, the Leafs will likely pick either 17th or 18th overall. While many hockey minds agree this upcoming draft class isn't as strong as in recent years, whichever spot the Leafs end up with presents the team with a good opportunity to draft a solid defensive prospect that may take years to develop. If they don't feel that way, the Leafs could trade their pick to a team that is willing to give away a solid defenseman who can play now and improve the back end immediately.
So the question is, should the Leafs keep their 2017 first round pick or trade it?
|Photo by Graig Abel/Getty Images|
As mentioned, the 2017 draft class isn't the strongest in comparison to recent years and lacks the all-star talent of players like Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, and Jack Eichel, but there are still some good quality prospects the Leafs can select at either 17th or 18th overall.
One such player the Leafs may consider taking is defenseman, Nicolas Hague, of the Mississauga Steelheads, who is currently projected to go 17th overall. At 6 foot 5 and weighing 220 pounds, he is blessed with great size and would be a big player on the ice. While he isn't a very physical player, he makes up for it with his offensive skills, finishing this past season with 18 goals, 28 assists, and 46 points in 65 games played.
His team is in the midst of a deep playoff run in the OHL and can potentially make an appearance at the upcoming Memorial Cup in Windsor. If the Steelheads qualify for it, Leafs fans will get a great chance to see what he is capable of.
Another potential player to consider is Callan Foote of the Kelowna Rockets. The 6 foot 3, 209-pound defender had a good season in his draft year, finishing with 6 goals, 51 assists, and 57 points in 71 games played. The son of former NHLer, Adam Foote, is viewed as a solid two-way defender who has a good 200-foot game and is a smooth skater.
While he isn't viewed as a top prospect, he has the potential to become an everyday NHL player. All things considered, he could be a good fit for the Leafs if selected.
Erik Brannstrom of HV-71 is another player the Leafs could potentially pick at 17th or 18th overall. Despite a small frame of 5 foot 10, he his quick, efficient with the puck, and has a ton of offensive skill. The native of Sweden appears to be a model for what modern NHL defenseman will be so his presence in the Leafs lineup could be effective.
Besides defenders, the Leafs have other players to chose from, including Lias Andersson, Elias Pettersson, Ryan Poehling, Maxime Comtois, and Kristian Vesalainen among others. The point is, the Leafs will have a skilled and valuable prospect added to their team should they keep their first round pick.
|CREDIT: AP PHOTO/STACY BENGS|
If the Leafs don't want to play the waiting game and improve the team for the immediate future, then it makes sense to trade their first round pick this offseason if a willing trade partner with an excess number of defensemen can be found.
As stated earlier, the Leafs do boast a competent defensive core at the moment. Despite this, they do need an upgrade to help propel the team to the next level towards Stanley Cup contention.
There are some players the Leafs could potentially target with their first rounder as a centerpiece in a deal. One such option is Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild. The five-year veteran had a breakout campaign in 2017, setting a career high in points with 25 along with 3 goals and 22 assists. He is a great puck handler, has good offensive instinct, and can be a reliable player in his own end, something the Leafs could definitely use.
Granted, he is likely not available given the Wild just had a solid regular season. With the NHL expansion draft looming, however, and the possibility of Minnesota losing a valuable player for nothing, it is possible Brodin may be on the trade block which the Leafs should look to answer.
Another player the team should consider is Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings. The eight-year NHLer experienced a career year offensively, finishing with 9 goals, 30 assists, and 39 points. Throughout his career, he has maintained a positive Corsi-for of 55.4% and has come through in the clutch for his team numerous times.
L.A. may look to keep Martinez on their roster into the future but, like the Wild, the Kings run the risk of losing a key asset in the expansion draft. If Martinez does become available, the Leafs should definitely be on the hunt for his services.
Sami Vatanen of the Anaheim Ducks is also worth considering for the Leafs to look to trade for. The 25-year-old defenseman finished the prior season with 3 goals, 21 assists, and 24 points along with a 48.9 Corsi-for percentage. While these numbers aren't special (he had a down year compared to the rest of his career), he still has potential to be an important defender for any team for years to come.
Unlike the Wild and Kings, the Ducks problem is that they simply have way too many defenders on their roster and need to move some out. This scenario could work in the Leafs favour as they had previously made a deal with the Ducks almost a year ago to acquire Frederick Andersen when Anaheim had a goalie dilemma to solve. Vatanen finds himself in a similar situation this time around so if he does become available, the Leafs should look to make a deal.
This isn't an extensive list as there are numerous other targets the Leafs could pursue through either a trade or free agency. Regardless, if the Leafs want to drastically improve their back end in a big way right away, they should look to trade their first round pick.
All things considered, the Leafs face an interesting dilemma over the off-season in terms of what to do with their first round pick. There are some significant cases to keeping the pick and trading it, both of which are in an effort to help the team improve their defense.
Until the expansion draft occurs, the team should remain cautious by holding onto their first round pick for the time being. Once the dust settles from the expansion draft and Draft Day approaches in late June, the Leafs can then determine what they will do with their pick.
This recent playoff run has given the Leafs Faithful hope for a brighter future that appears to be on the horizon. Management appears to be sticking to their plan of rebuilding the franchise from the ground up. What the Leafs do with their 2017 first round pick will determine which direction the team will take heading into the 2017-18 season.
You can follow Michael Mazzei on Twitter @MichaelMazzei3.