THAT JUST HAPPENED. The Toronto Maple Leafs have won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. Repeat: the Toronto Maple Leafs have won the 2016 NHL Draft Lottery. Arguably, the league’s most loyal and passionate fans have been thrown a bone, and that bone is jurassic in size.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) May 1, 2016
General Manager Lou Lamoriello, President Brendan Shanahan and Assistant General Manager Kyle Dubas have a huge off season ahead and here is a preview as to what to expect over the next few months.
1. Auston Mattews
The consensus projected number one pick has had an outstanding season in the Swiss Elite League (Professional League) posting 46 points in 36 games good enough for 2nd in the league in points/game and 10th overall. Matthews has speed, skill and a two way game that looks very similar to Jonathan Toews. What separates Matthews from the rest of his draft class is his ability to take away the puck, exit his own zone, fly through the neutral zone, and then create scoring chances for his team all by himself similar to Connor Mcdavid.
Matthews would immediately enter the Leafs top 6 next year, probably being the other center along with Nazem Kadri. Do not get too caught up in the talk about Patrik Laine. Unless Laine completely dominates the IIHF World Championships, expect the Leafs to go with Matthews. Laine is going to be a phenomenal scorer in this league. But at the end of the day, you draft the best player you can and that player is Auston Matthews.
2. Plethora of Draft Picks
Although the Leafs winning of the lottery will be dominating the headlines, they will not be done after the first pick at the draft. The Leafs have racked up twelve draft picks and will look to steal the show in more ways than one. Out of those twelve picks, they have two in the 1st and two in the 2nd round. In the past two years (thanks to smart management) the Leafs have made a change in their drafting strategy. Drafting for skill instead of size and role play is a recipe for success and is useful in the later rounds. Draft picks like Frederik Gauthier and Tyler Biggs were drafted based on their size,”truculence” and it did not turn out too well (especially Biggs).
Since management changed, small skillful players have been taken by the Leafs like Mitch Marner, Jeremy Bracco, Dmytro Timashov and Rinat Valliev. It is not that Leafs management are “looking” for small players, but these are the players often overlooked by other GM’s due to their lack of size e.g. Tyler Johnson (undrafted), Johnny Gaudreau (104th pick), Dylan Larkin (15th overall), Martin St. Louis (undrafted)… The list goes on and on. Expect this to continue at the 2016 draft.
3. Steven Stamkos
In the past 48 hours, Leaf fans might have even forgotten about this guy thanks to Matthews, but Stamkos is still in play when unrestricted free agency opens on July 1st. Second to the winner of the lottery, the team an unrestricted free agent is going to sign for is the most difficult thing to predict.
With that being said, Stamkos is the best player to hit unrestricted free agency since the cap strengthened in 2005. Teams that can afford a 8.5+ long term contract will most likely put in a pitch for the former 60 goal scorer. The Leafs definitely won’t be afraid of having “too many” good centers (no such thing) but they could be afraid of investing in a big long term contract with a nice core currently coming into place thanks to the rebuild.
Prediction: I see Leafs management trying to go for a hometown discount here telling Stamkos 9-10 mill take it or leave it. Leafs will definitely get out bid (American-Canadian exchange doesn’t help) from teams that can both afford it and that has the core of their players closer to their prime. Therefore, I say Stamkos signs a 10.5+ long term deal (would be highest in the NHL) to a team not named the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unrestricted free agency… Gotta love it.
4. Nakita Zaitsev
Nakita Zaitsev could be the player the Leafs are looking for. The Russian defensemen is a strong skater, has great offensive skill, and a killer shot from the point. Imagine him on the Leafs number one powerplay with Marner, Matthews, Nylander and JVR in front of the net….. Wow. What will be interesting is how much Zaitsev is signed for and the term. If the Leafs can get the 24 year old, the Leafs blue line will get a solid number 3 defensemen with the ability to put up points.
5. Potential Players that Could/Should be Traded
Despite what the rest of this article might imply, the Leafs still are not out of their rebuild. They still have players that need to be traded in order to free up cap space.
Tyler Bozak is currently signed for 4.2M until 2018-2019 which is high considering he will be our third line center this upcoming year (behind Kadri and Matthews). The Leafs center situation will only get better and there is little to no chance Bozak will get more ice time than Matthews and Kadri going forward. Bozak posts underwhelming possession numbers but still will gather interest around the league thanks to his point production (0.67 points/game over last 3 seasons).
Joffrey Lupul is still on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Numerous injuries and a lack of production in the past two years (0.35 points/game over last two seasons) makes it very easy to prove why he is not worth a 5.25M contract until 2018-2019. Lupul will not be good enough for the Leafs top six and with players like Connor Brown, Nakita Soshnikov, and Brenden Leipsic looking good, Lupul is not really needed at all going forward. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to trade him without having to ingest another bad contract onto our cap and that is, if a team even wants to take a chance on a player who has played only 186 games over the past four seasons.
With Colin Greening, Brooks Laich and Milan Michalek combining to take up 11.15M of the cap until the end of 2016-2017, do not expect the Leafs to make big splashes this summer. This upcoming year will give Marner, Matthews, and Nylander along with other young players a full year of playing in the NHL so the timing is perfect. Things are looking bright for the Buds and if you stopped being a fan because of the rebuild, you might want to jump back on the wagon to enjoy this ride.
What else do you think the Leafs will do this off season? Will the Leafs draft Matthews? Will they land Stamkos? Will Lupul or Bozak be traded? What do you disagree on? Comment Below!
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Sources: generalfanager.com, ownthepuck.blogspot.com, nhl.com
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