The 2019 National Hockey League Entry Draft started out quiet for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they had no 1st round pick to use on Day 1 due to the Jake Muzzin trade last season.
Day 2 on the other hand started off with the Maple Leafs trading away Patrick Marleau and his entire $6.25 Million cap hit to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The belief is that Carolina will indeed be buying out Marleau’s contract, which would allow Marleau to then sign a cheap deal with the San Jose Sharks as an Unrestricted Free Agent on July 1st.
When a player over the age of 35 is bought out, the team which buys him out doesn’t receive any cap relief. This was the issue that Maple Leafs General Manager Kyle Dubas had to work with while trying to find a trade partner for Marleau. In order for this deal to happen, Toronto had to sweeten the deal by adding a 2020 conditional 1st round draft pick and a 2020 7th round draft pick.
The condition for the 1st round pick is that if it becomes a top 10 pick then Toronto will keep it and Carolina will get Toronto’s 1st round pick in 2021 instead, regardless if it’s top 10 or not. This trade also involved Carolina’s 2020 6th round pick coming to Toronto. The biggest benefit to Toronto in this trade was freeing up $6.25M in cap space without having to take back any salary or give up any active roster players or prospects.
When the Maple Leafs did eventually get around to drafting they stuck with the same formula that they used in last year’s draft and that is skill, skating ability and hockey IQ before size, strength and toughness. With the way the NHL is progressing, it’s not a bad formula to be using. Some fans are noticeably upset with the lack of size with this year’s Maple Leafs selections, but some of these 5’10” or 5’11” boys could still grow into 6’0″-6’1″ men. The Maple Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting John Lilley gave a brief evaluation on this year’s selections.
#53 – Nick Robertson
“Robertson is a highly skilled type of player that we are looking for moving forward. He’s a highly motivated young man. Very, very serious.”
“We met with him on several occasions and did the background. He’s driven. That’s part of what we like about him, aside from the skill and hockey sense, this kid lives, breathes and eats hockey. That’s all he does.”
#84 – Mikko Kokkonen
“Kokkonen Is very smart and a good defender. He can still improve his foot speed, but like a lot of these kids, they all have work to do.”
#115 – Mikhail Abramov
“Mikhail is skilled. Very skilled. He had a good Ivan Hlinka (tournament) this summer, a good year in Victoriaville. A good play maker who works hard. He had a good year on a young team.”
#124 – Nick Abruzzese
“Abruzzese is under-developed for a ’99. When you look at him, you’d think he is an ’01. He’s an older kid, but he still has room to grow and mature physically.” Lilley said. “He’s an intelligent human being and hockey player.”
#146 – Michael Koster
“Michael had a great Ivan Hlinka in the summer. He went head-to-head with a lot of the top players against Canada and Europe.” Lilley said. “Koster is a very smart player who moves the puck well. Highly skilled. Just the type of player we were looking for. We were very excited to get him where he was.”
#204 – Kalle Loponen
“Ari Vuori, our European scout, really liked him in the late rounds.” Lilley said. Loponen moves the puck well. He can skate. He is just another guy who is just going to get physically stronger. It’s probably his biggest hurdle right now.”
The Biggest Surprise
The biggest surprise for me in this draft was Toronto being able to get Nick Robertson at pick #53. Robertson was predicted to go in the 1st round somewhere between 17th – 20th overall. I hope that him slipping down into the 2nd round turns out to be a steal for the Maple Leafs. Looking forward to watching him develop over the next three to four years.
stats from eliteprospects.com
featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler