Toronto Maple Leafs 2012 draft preview

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke chats with the second of his two first round picks at the 2011 NHL Draft, defenseman Stuart Percy of the newly named Mississauga Steelheads (courtesy of Brace Hemmelgarn/Icon SMI)

After four years at the helm as the Toronto Maple Leafs GM, a fifth overall draft choice at the 2012 NHL Draft isn't likely the spot Brian Burke had planned on making a selection at this point in his stewardship. But, due to a mid-season collapse, the Maple Leafs have the opportunity to add another key building block to an ongoing system rebuild as the team continues it's quest to return to the NHL playoffs.

Top 10 Prospects:

1. Nazem Kadri, C
2. Joe Colborne, C
3. Jesse Blacker, D
4. Matt Frattin, RW
5. Carter Ashton, RW
6. Greg McKegg, C
7. Tyler Biggs, RW
8. Stuart Percy, D
9. Brad Ross, RW
10. Korbinian Holzer, D

Team Needs:

The Leafs remain largely the same since last summer. Ideally, they can land a top-line center to play with goal-scoring winger Phil Kessel, but there are few true, top-line centers likely to be available in free agency and the price to trade for one can be quite substantial. Rick Nash has had his name linked to the Maple Leafs, but the cost to acquire the Toronto native will likely be too high and his cap hit isn't quite attractive to a team that already finished sixth in league scoring.

The Maple Leafs went with James Reimer last summer as their starting netminder, but a concussion early in the season set the stage for a tough second NHL season for the 24-year-old. With Jonas Gustavsson a pending UFA this summer, the Maple Leafs will likely look to bolster the goaltending situation. 25-year-old Ben Scrivens has performed extremely well at the NHL level, but going with yet another inexperienced goalie tandem doesn't seem like a gamble Burke's willing to make.

Beyond that, the club can most certainly use minor tweaks to both the forward and defensive corps. While Burke has traditionally brought in younger players to the Maple Leafs, the past season collapse may direct him to bring more seasoned veteran depth to help cope with the pressures of a long NHL season.

It's expected that many of the Maple Leafs moves will come in the form of trades, rather than spending more cap dollars on a weak free-agent market.

Organizational Strengths

There continues to be solid depth in all positions within the Maple Leafs system. Over the past year, the Maple Leafs have added Carter Ashton, Nicholas Deschamps, and free agent Hobey Baker finalist Spencer Abbott. While none of these prospects are expected to walk into top-six scoring roles with the Maple Leafs, they do add a lot of depth and flexibility to the system.

Other forward depth making the push for full-time NHL positions includes familiar names Nazem Kadri, Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne, and Jerry D'Amigo. At the moment, Frattin appears to have the inside track at a permanent spot on the Maple Leafs after dominating in a late-season finish with the Marlies. Nazem Kadri, entering his third pro season, is also likely to get more of a leash under Coach Randy Carlyle. Joe Colborne, who was one of the more dominant AHL forwards at the start of the year, spent much of the season battling a wrist injury that required off-season surgery. The 22-year-old is expected to spend another year of seasoning with the Marlies where he'll have the opportunity to take the reins as the clubs top-line center. D'Amigo is a name many may be surprised to see listed with the likes of Kadri, Frattin and Colborne, but he was one of the Mariles most reliable players all season long. He turned his game up a level in the playoffs for the Marlies, providing them with his usual tenacious work ethic, but also finding the score sheet on a more consistent basis.

On the defensive side, only Korbinian Holzer is considered to be NHL-ready among the current defensemen in the system. Jesse Blacker and Stuart Percy have both shown signs of top-four potential, but remain longer-term options for the club going forward. Swedish defenseman Petter Granberg had a very strong season in the SEL, then signed an entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs a few weeks ago. He is expected to play one more season in Sweden before making the jump across the pond. 

Scrivens, as mentioned earlier, had a sensational season in the AHL and showed flashes of solid play in a minor NHL stint. At 25 (turning 26 in September), expect Scrivens to start paving an NHL career sooner rather than later (it just may not be with the Maple Leafs). Mark Owuya has also displayed some top-tier goaltending in his first season in North America and may be a future bright spot for the Maple Leafs. He's expected to push for a full-time spot with the Marlies next season.

Organizational Weaknesses

While the depth is strong, the lack of elite talent at both defense and forward has the Maple Leafs looking towards the trade market to complement the current roster. Much of this has to do with the graduation of Jake Gardiner and the trade that brought in Phil Kessel. So, while the Maple Leafs may be without top-tier talent within the system, they do have two strong building blocks in Gardiner/Kessel on the parent club.

The club is poised to add a potential top-tier talent in this coming draft, but unless they plan on moving up to select elite scoring forward Nail Yakupov, it's unlikely that immediate help comes from the fifth overall selection.

Draft Tendencies

The common stereotypes when one thinks of 'Burke' and anything hockey related are size, North American, and character. If you're one to buy into the stereotype, then it should make for an interesting first round on Friday where names such as Nail Yakupov, Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, and Mikhail Grigorenko populate the consensus top five selections. It's hard to imagine Burke passing on any of these players just because of their passport, but it's also not likely to come as a huge shock if Burke does opt not to select a Russian-born forward.

While Burke has seemingly stayed away from drafting Russian players – he hasn't selected one in the draft post lockout – he also hasn't been in a position many times to select one of the 'top' Russians in the entire draft, which he is this season.

Burke has tended to select larger forwards from North America, but also likes to dip into Sweden when making selections out of Europe. Burke does not traditionally draft players who measure in at less than 5'11, but made an exception last season, drafting diminutive-but-skilled forward Tony Cameranesi in the fifth round.

The Maple Leafs hold the 5th, 35th, 126th, 156th, 157th, and 209th selections in the draft. While it's a far cry from the bevy of selections they entered the 2011 draft with (11), they do hold a most coveted top five selection. So, while they quantity of picks may not be there, they do have two quality selections in the first two rounds. The last time the Maple Leafs selected fifth overall was in 2008 when they traded up two spots to select Luke Schenn.

Hockey's Future Staff Mock Draft Results:

No. 5: Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Some would consider landing Galchenyuk at fifth overall one of the potential 'steals' on the first day of the draft. If the Maple Leafs do manage to steal one of the Sarnia Sting's superstars at fifth overall they should consider themselves very lucky. Missing the entire season with an ACL injury makes selecting such a player in the top five a risky proposition – especially when that team is in a market that will over-analyze any top selection made, but Galchenyuk comes with a solid resume. He has top line skill and good size in the center position. He can dictate the pace of the game due to his puck control skills, and has high-end creativity in the offensive zone. Always commended for his hard work and high hockey IQ, Galchenyuk is a very coachable player which bodes well for future success. His return from injury late in the season showed no ill-effects to his skating, and he had a good showing at the NHL combine. For a club who's looking for a potential top-line center, Galchenyuk may be the best available option.