Kyle Dubas has often been viewed as an “outside the box” GM. This has changed how the Toronto Maple Leafs have adjusted their draft strategies.
In an interview following the 2019 NHL draft, John Lilley, the director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs divulged some information that’s pretty interesting, in regard to the Leafs draft focus. Lilley stated that the focus heading into the draft was on identifying two key traits in players, skill and intelligence. This is a shift far from what was the focus of the Leafs for many years. Right up to the 2016 and 2017 NHL drafts the Leafs prioritized size and physical acumen over intelligence. There seemed to be a focus on drafting the biggest and strongest athlete and developing the decision making later. This was most evident in players like Nicholas Mattinen, Keaton Middleton and even Yegor Korshkov. Whilst many of the picks certainly weren’t fantastic skaters there was a priority on strength, size and physical prowess.
The New Philosophy
Following the 2018 NHL Draft, the Leafs made a few picks that gave a glimpse of a new focus. Even the selection of Rasmus Sandin, whilst a player with the physical tools of Joe Veleno was available was a surprise to many. Joe Veleno boasted incredible speed and was considered by many a top 10 talent. However, the Leafs traded down and still selected Rasmus Sandin at number 29. Thus far, it looks a brilliant pick. Furthermore, to this we saw players like Sean Durzi, Mac Hollowell and Filip Kral selected in the later rounds. These, like Sandin, were prospects who were undersized and lacked a stand out attribute, yet were very intelligent hockey players according to most scouting reports.
Kyle Dubas and John Lilley both mentioned the focus on a player’s skill and intelligence as being the prime target for the scouts leading into this draft. The NHL has long leaned on drafting the best athlete or the best physical specimen and relying on their coaches to mould an NHL brain around the body. Dubas and Lilley look to be challenging this idea and instead focus on finding young players with an NHL head and letting their team develop the body. Considering the Leafs have people like Barb Underhill, Hayley Wickenheiser and Darryl Belfry it would be a waste not to use them.
Perhaps the most intriguing comment following the draft was what Dubas had to say about the focus following the draft. He specifically mentioned certain names, including Rich Rotenburg and Trevor St Agathe. These are names that many Leaf fans are likely unfamiliar with. However, if you watch the 2017-18 Calder Cup final win you will see Trevor St Agathe out on the ice lifting the cup with Dubas. Trevor has had a long career in the strength and conditioning field and spent time in the NBA and NHL in his field. Dubas climbing through the ranks has gifted him with the opportunity to truly see how player development works from its core. That has given him the insight into the value individuals such as Trevor, Rich, Barb and Darryl can bring to a young players developmental curve. Targeting the strength, nutrition and physical health side with Rich and Trevor, the skating with Barb and the skills work with Darryl offers a very complete player development system.
I personally am a huge fan of people like Mike Boyle and Matt Nichol, who are the premier S&C coaches when it comes to hockey. In a podcast a few years back Matt Nichol, who formerly worked with the Leafs as the first fulltime S&C coach in NHL history, brought up a number of concerns surrounding the game. He spoke on how he felt that NHL teams and those in power around them lacked consideration and understanding for the role of sports science. He spoke about studies he completed whilst working with the team and how even with evidence some coaches seemed resistant to make changes to training styles or focuses that were proven less optimal by science.
These latest comments by Dubas show a clear recognition of those in the sports science field he has on his team. His time with the Marlies and the Greyhounds has afforded him the opportunity to see first hand of the effect that his player development staff can have on his prospects. This should give great confidence to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that their GM is forward thinking and ready to place trust in his team to develop intelligent players into more complete athletes.
Featured Image Credit: Nikos Michal