2014 NHL Draft: Toronto Maple Leafs draft review

By Ed Dermit
William Nylander - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: William Nylander was one of five forwards the Toronto Maple Leafs selected in the 2014 NHL Draft. Toronto drafted Nylander eighth overall. (courtesy of Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)


The Toronto Maple Leafs‘ director of amateur scouting, Dave Morrison, used the 2014 NHL Draft to select players with a strong competitive demeanor and good offensive upside.

Overall, the Leafs selected six players in the seven round draft, including five forwards and one defenseman. Unlike the previous two drafts which favored players from the CHL, this year’s selections were much more international in origin. They included three players from US hockey programs, two from Swedish hockey leagues, and a Russian who happened to play in the WHL last season. The Leafs did not have a second round pick, which they gave up in the Peter Holland trade with Anaheim.

William Nylander, C/RW, MODO (SHL)
1st round, 8th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 169 lbs

In an organization where high end offensive skill and potential top three forwards are in short supply, the selection of William Nylander provides the Leafs with the type of impact forward they have long sought. Ranked as the top European skater heading into the draft, Nylander dominated at the U18 World Championships and put up the type of offensive numbers expected of a high end talent.

“He could potentially be the most skilled player in the draft,” said Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis. “One issue may be his size, but he’s grown a lot in the last 12 months. He’s taller. He’s thicker. There’s a lot of work for him to do but in terms of foot speed, puck skills and his ability to shoot the puck, he’s got all those right now.”

Nylander’s overall hockey sense is special, as he shows a feeling and understanding for the game that few players possess. He played the majority of the 2013-14 season in Sweden’s Second Division, including a stint with his father, former NHL forward Michael Nylander, and finished the season with MODO of the SHL.

“He’s not a kid that’s been playing junior,” said Nonis. “He played in the Elite league against some pretty highly skilled and strong players which bodes well for us and his transition to North America.”

Heading into 2014-15, Nylander and the Leafs will have many options for his development. While he will be given the opportunity to compete for a spot on the NHL roster in training camp, he can also be sent to the Toronto Marlies, or return to Sweden for another season. A third option would be to play for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL who selected him in the CHL Import Draft, but that is a highly unlikely scenario.

HF featured a video from the 2014 NHL Combine of Nylander’s media scrum, a video that can be viewed at this link.

Rinat Valiev, D, Kootenay Ice (WHL)
3rd round, 68th overall
Height: 6-1 Weight: 205 lbs

The selection of Valiev in the third round represents good value for the Leafs in the form of a big, mobile, two-way defenseman with a strong desire to succeed. Valiev was ranked as a middle to late round draft pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, but was bypassed after coming over to North America and sustaining an injury while playing in the USHL. However, Valiev’s size, skating, puck handling ability, and grittiness, coupled with a dominating performance in the WHL playoffs, put him back on the prospect radar as a 19-year-old. He receives high marks for his character, self motivation, and ability to play a multi-dimensional game, be it offensive, defensive, or tough and physical.

Valiev recorded a respectable 28 points in 55 regular season games last season, and was a plus-27 rating for a team that finished fourth place in the WHL Central Division standings. He is expected to return to Kootenay next season and play a prominent role as a top two pairing defenseman.

Following his selection by the Leafs, Valiev met with the media to talk about his new team, with some of his comments being captured in this HF video.

John Piccinich, RW, Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)
4th round, 103rd overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 190 lbs

Piccinich is another offensive minded player with good puck poise around the net and a goal scorer’s instinct. At 5’11, Piccinich is not tall, but weighing in at 190 pounds, he has a solid build and is not easily knocked off the puck. Playing for Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL last season, the New Jersey native was second on the team in scoring, with 13 of his 27 goals coming on the powerplay.

Piccinich will take his strong offensive game to a rebuilding Boston University team next season, where he will be given every opportunity to play meaningful minutes as a freshman.

Dakota Joshua, C, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
5th round, 128th overall
Height: 6-2 Weight: 182 lbs

Joshua represents the type of patient, long-term investment the Leafs are willing to make in a player who has the upside potential of a top nine forward. Joshua is tall but thin, and his game is still very raw. Yet he showed flashes of offense last year, despite playing a secondary role on a veteran laden team. He registered 38 points in 55 games.

Joshua will return to the Stampede for the 2014-15 season before joining Ohio State University in 2015-16.

Nolan Vesey, LW, South Shore Kings (USPHL)
6th round, 158th overall
Height: 5-11 Weight: 198 lbs

Like Valiev, Vesey went undrafted in his 2013 eligible draft year. Vesey is a native of Massachusetts whose father and brother were also drafted by NHL teams. Vesey led South Shore in scoring with 26 goals and 66 points in 48 games as team captain. He is considered an offensive oriented forward with soft hands, but who is also willing to play with some grit.

He is expected to attend the University of Maine for the 2014-15 season.

Pierre Engvall, LW, Frolunda Jr. (SuperElit)
7th round, 188th overall
Height: 6-4 Weight: 191 lbs

Engvall represents another high potential, swing for the fences pick by the Leafs.

Like the other forwards selected by the Leafs in this draft, Engvall already possesses good hands, skates well, and although has been extremely inconsistent, has a real offensive upside to his game. Over the course of the 2013-14 season, Engvall scored 28 goals and 71 points in 55 games, and a plus-41 while playing in Sweden’s junior leagues. With the Leafs retaining his rights for the next four years, they can afford to be patient in waiting for him to develop before making any signing decisions.

Engvall is expected to return to play in Sweden next season.

Maple Leafs’ Senior Vice President and General Manager Dave Nonis and Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison talked about the players the team selected at the 2014 NHL Draft, with some of their comments included in this HF video.