Draft Day Recap: Leafs get deeper at center

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The old saying in hockey is that defense wins championships, and defense was the theme of the day for the Leafs yesterday even though they didn’t acquire a single defenseman.

For Toronto, the day started off by selecting 6’4 Frederik Gauthier with their 21st overall pick. Gauthier started off the season hot with 10 goals and 20 points in his first 20 games, but he suffered a broken jaw that required surgery and struggled after that offensively, potting only 12 goals in his remaining 50 games.

However, his effort was routinely noticeable defensively, as Gauthier worked hard to cut off passing lanes, backchecked, sacrificed his body to make the right play and simply put forth an honest effort. Last June, the Leafs used their first rounder to draft Morgan Rielly in part because of how hard he worked to get back after suffering a devastating knee injury, and this year they drafted a guy in the first round who suffered a broken jaw but came back strong and continued to work despite poor goal totals.

Gauthier was fourth overall in points for a rookie in the QMJHL this year, but he played fewer games than each of the three players ahead of him. It’s also interesting that Gauthier is getting drafted as a rookie, because that means he never had a year to adjust to the league; instead, he was thrown into the Q and expected to produce immediately. There are more than a few examples of players being drafted after their rookie year lower than they should have been –Wayne Simmonds and Brandon Saad are two — because they had good but not great rookie seasons.

Some will criticize this move as the Leafs playing it safe again in the first round, but if you’re telling me Toronto will get a legitimate NHL player out of this I’d take it. Here are the selections at 21 since 2000:

2000 – Anton Volchenkov

2001 – Colby Armstrong

2002 – Anton Babchuk

2003 – Mark Stuart

2004 – Wojtek Wolski

2005 – Tuuka Rask

2006 – Bobby Sanguinetti

2007 – Riley Nash

2008 – Anton Gustafsson

2009 – John Moore

2010 – Riley Sheahan

2011 – Stefan Noesen

Nonis said Gauthier projects as a second but more likely a third line center. If Gauthier pans out, the question will really boil down to – will he be more like a Brian Boyle or Dave Steckel, or a Martin Hanzal or Jordan Staal brand of checking, two-way center?

Dave Bolland Acquisition

After drafting their two-way center of the future, the Leafs moved quickly to bring in their two-way checking center of the present in Dave Bolland.

What the Bolland acquisition does more than anything else is place the Leafs’ centers in their proper roles. Last season the Leafs had Bozak in a prime scoring role, which he isn’t suited for, and Grabovski in a checking role, which he isn’t suited for either. Kadri was in a sheltered scoring role but once he began to emerge the limited roster forced Carlyle to even start pitting Kadri head-to-head against the opposition’s best players.

The Leafs are a little small at center now, but Kadri is physical, Bolland plays with an edge, Grabovski is fearless and McClement actually has decent size at 6’1 and over 200 pounds. They aren’t a big group on paper, but pound for pound they are as tough as anyone.

Yesterday, Nonis gave quite a few mixed signals on Bolland, saying he doesn’t want to pigeonhole him as a third line center but that he’d be fine using the current center group of Kadri-Grabovski-Bolland-McClement for next season, and that this doesn’t affect Bozak’s status because they’d still like to retain him. Unless the Leafs plan on getting rid of Grabovski and resigning Bozak as a checking center, those comments don’t really add up, so I’m not going to take them at face value. At the end of the day, Bolland is best suited as a checking center and in fairness to Nonis he did say Bolland’s “got enough skill that he can play (against) really good players and he’s got enough grit that he can play against really good players.”

In a lot of ways, the Leafs current group of centers is the same formula the Bruins deploy as Kadri is an offensive center (Krejci), Grabovski is a two-way center (Bergeron), and Bolland plus McClement are checking centers (Kelly, Campbell) . This isn’t to say they are as good of a center group, but it’s the same formula.

Bolland’s only 27 and has a lot of hockey left in him, but he’s only played over 80 games once in his five year career. That’s concern. Moreover, he’s a UFA after next season so the Leafs do take on some risk here. They only gave up a second and two fourths, which isn’t a lot for a solid NHL center considering those are hard to find, but it’s going to look bad if Bolland walks for nothing a year from now.

After the playoffs, Leafs management mentioned that certain players didn’t want to be on the ice during the game 7 collapse, essentially shrinking in the moment, and Bolland is a guy who is known for his big-game performances. His Stanley Cup winning goal aside, he also has a Memorial Cup to his name, returned from injury in the playoffs with Chicago down 3-0 against Vancouver and was a major factor in the Hawks pushing the series to 7, and was tied for fifth with 16 points in 22 games when Chicago won the Cup in 2010. He’s a gamer.

Boiled down, the aggregate of the whole deal is that Grabovski is a better scoring center than Bozak and Bolland is more comfortable in a prime shutdown role than Grabovski. The Leafs are coming out ahead here if everything goes according to plan.

The rest of the 2013 draftees

Following the Bolland deal, the Leafs still had a draft to finish off. Next up they selected Carter Verhaeghe in the third round. At 6’1 and roughly 180 pounds, he isn’t a huge guy and he doesn’t play like it. In some ways, this pick reminds me a bit of the Connor Brown selection from last year as Verhaeghe is a player known for hockey sense and skill and he’s going to get a great opportunity to produce in his draft +1. With Ryan Strome graduating this year for Niagara, Verhaeghe should see a spike in offensive opportunities and hopefully that will translate to more points. Stuck behind Strome last season, Carter was forced into checking duties. Now, he’s going to get an opportunity on a team in a transition. He’s also one of the younger players in the draft with an August birthday, so the Leafs are banking on him having a lot more room to grow. Verhaeghe played with Gauthier on the gold medal winning U18 Canadian team and some believe he boosted his stock in the tournament with 4 points in 7 games. It was only a few years ago the Leafs drafted Jerry D’Amigo, albeit much later in the draft, in large part due to a huge U18 tournament.

Toronto went into the draft with few legitimate center prospects other than Greg McKegg and maybe Dominic Toninato. Their other center prospects are two legitimate players in Tony Cameranesi and Ryan Rupert, who are both well under 6 foot so you have to think they are probably wingers at the pro level, and two grinders who have a long road ahead of them if they are to see NHL action ever in Sam Carrick and Andrew Crescenzi.

The Leafs next pick was Fabrice Herzog, who is a player I admittedly know nothing about, so I won’t pretend to. The positives are that he’s coming over from Europe next year according to Morrison, and playing in North America will help his development. Plus, Switzerland has had an emerging program in recent years and hopefully Herzog is apart of that. This seems like another swing for the fences type pick ala Sondre Olden.

In the sixth round, the Leafs selected 6’2 goalie Antoine Bibeau who won the net over this year, played in 46 games and had a .911sv% with five shutouts. Bibeau had a particularly strong second half of the season, going 16-4-2, which brings up memories of when the Leafs selected Josh Leivo after a breakout second half in his draft year.

Finally, the Leafs turned over their last pick to their Swedish scout Thommie Bergman and he selected Andreas Johnson. He’s rolled the dice with late picks almost every draft, and considering the late nature of the picks the results haven’t been half bad (Anton Stralman, Carl Gunnarsson, Daniel Brodin, and Viktor Loov). Johnson had 54 points in 42 games in the Swedish U20 league but is only listed at 5’10.

There’s plenty of offseason left and many more moves to come. The Leafs still have five to six fairly noteworthy RFAs to deal with. So far up to this point, Frattin, Komarov and Scrivens are out; Bernier, Bolland and five draft picks are in.

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Anthony Petrielli has been at MLHS since 2011. He is known for his weekly "Leafs Notebook" feature, and also writes specific analysis pieces. You can contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @APetrielli.
  • TheColborneUltimatum

    I hope we dont get rid of Colborne. Hopefully he starts the year off with the Leafs. Maybe even gets a few games in with Phil. He’s got some great size.

  • http://mapleleafshotstove.com/ FreddyG

    Excellent breakdown of the day’s events. Thanks Anthony.
    Everyone here would know my name if I posted by my usual, but I needed to switch it up as a shout out to the newest young Leaf.
    I don’t think the center position is settled at Kadri – Grabovski – Bolland – McClement.. I think Nonis has more in store.

    • TheColborneUltimatum

      @FreddyG Same, I’m hoping for Lecavalier. If not maybe Stastny.

  • ProfessorRance

    Thanks Anthony for the Recap of today’s events. 
    We improved in a position we were defintely lacking depth in which is the center position. We still need to sign a winger and find a 1c and 2d. But today we’ve gotten better and tougher to play against. Love the Bolland trade, he’s been one of my favourite non Leaf players to watch so I hope he comes ready to play.
    I still think Nonis is still looking to shake up the roster. Vinny could potentially sign here or Stastny could be an option. I’d wonder if we were to grab one of them if Nashville would look to grab Grabo. He’d be an excellent edition to their team and Trotz would utilize his strengths there nicely. 
    Plus it was interesting to hear how Nonis may have some potential deals in place or at least in the fire about moving out salary. Can’t help but see that as Grabo or Liles being potentially on the move.

    • charlieb83

      I doubt Nashville brings in Grabo to a team that has a Kostitsyn.

  • Glove Dropper

    The more I hear about Gauthier, the more intrigued I am about what unseen potential might be there.  Between a broken jaw and it being his first season in the Q (where he started the year hot offensively and cooled off), curious to see what he’ll do in his +1 year.

  • LeafsForLife

    Great job Anthony! Thank you for the re-cap.
    Looking forward to seeing Bolland in the blue and white this year. He drove the Sedins crazy so should be quite enjoyable to see who he can do this to as a Leaf.

  • Burtonboy

    Gauthier is a really interesting pick to say the least . Heavily recruited by some big name Rimouski alumni namely one Sidney Crosby he decided to play in the Q  last season . One interesting fact I heard last night . If he had of come out in his draft eligible yr he would have gone in the top 3 or 4 players drafted to the Q that year. Right up there with McKinnon and Drouin. Now we all know he’s no Mckinnon or Drouin but he was a player that was highly ranked coming out of AAA.
    I became really interested in this guy when Drouin during one of his combine interviews said Gauthier was the hardest player he played against in the Q. We know he projects to be a 2nd 3rd line 2 way center but there are always hidden gems that turn up from time to time and wind up being excellent players . Who knows what we really have in Gauthier but we will see soon enough. I like the potential of this pick.

    • WendelGilmour

      Burtonboy I heard the same, Bboy. I also heard some comparisons to Jordan Staal, and if that’s what we end up with I’m ecstatic. I really like the kid.

      • Burtonboy

        WendelGilmour Burtonboy What do you think of the Bolland trade ? Iguess the Knights fans on the board are really happy at this point lol

      • Burtonboy

        WendelGilmour Burtonboy What do you think of the Bolland trade ? Iguess the Knights fans on the board are really happy at this point lol

        • WendelGilmour

          Burtonboy WendelGilmour I love the trade. It does two things, imo. It replaces Leo’s role, and allows some flexibility at C. Bolland is a gamer and a very good playoff performer. I think he’s a good fit.
          What are your thoughts?

        • Burtonboy

          WendelGilmour Burtonboy I was interested in Gordon in FA but Bolland is a huge up grade on that. What’s going to be fascinating is what in hell happens with Bozie and Grabo. Just a guess and it probably won’t happen but if they get Bozie to sign for around 4 mil per I can see them cutting ties with Grabo. Either a trade or a buyout . For certain both won’t return. What are the implications for big Joe I wonder?

        • WendelGilmour

          Burtonboy WendelGilmour Interesting that the C position continues to be polarizing. Many are touting Grabs as the 1C, with Bozak leaving. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out and who slots where.
          We had some discussion in here last night about the potential to have Joe play the wing for next year, many teams do that with young C’s. Regardless I would add Joe for next year. I liked what I saw in limited ice in the playoffs, and you know I wasn’t very optimistic about him a year ago. He’s come a long way.

        • Burtonboy

          WendelGilmour Burtonboy I remember Big Joe saying he played a lot of wing in college

      • Great Dane

        WendelGilmour Burtonboy If Gauthier comes out as something between Bergeron and J Staal, if have hit jack pot

  • WendelGilmour

    Sure seems like Nonis is willing to be creative in taking on other teams buyouts, at least that’s my impression;
    “We think there are some more things we hope to do. Whether we accomplish those between and now and September remains to be seen, but we’re going to try to remain active and see if there are more changes we can make. There are a couple of other possible moves that may happen as we get into free agency. Some teams are looking to address certain needs. If they are unable to do that, I think we are in a position to help those teams out.”

    • Burtonboy

      WendelGilmour So NO NO has now become GO GO ?

      • WendelGilmour

        Burtonboy WendelGilmour Haha, maybe he has taken lesson learned from past experience and is applying them? I like the approach. Incremental improvement without losing any core pieces, and keeping our youth.

        • Burtonboy

          WendelGilmour Burtonboy Very impressed with him so far.

  • Savo43

    Yo guys…what about this lineup. (very realistic possibility)

    Lupul-Kadri-Kessel
    JVR-Grabovski-Clarkson
    McClement-Bolland-Kulemin
    D’amigo-Gordon-Orr

    Phaneuf-Gunnarsson
    Gardiner-Franson
    Ference-Blacker

    Bernier/Reimer

    That team has every element necessary to become a contender.

    • WendelGilmour

      Savo43 I like it for the most part, but still would like an upgrade to play with Dion. Although I’m not advocating it, I believe there is a chance Dion does get moved. There’s an awful lot of chatter and it just won’t go away.

    • Burtonboy

      Savo43 Nonis did say he has a couple of Marlies he wants to give a chance to replace Komarov . I’m guessing D’Amigo and Ashton are the ones he’s referring to. I no longer see Gordon as a likely option but I can see Joe Colborne fitting in somewhere

      • Savo43

        Burtonboy Savo43 What do you think of that third line? Personally thats my favourite part of that lineup. So much grit and underrated skill, i love it.

        • Burtonboy

          Savo43 Burtonboy Deadly and a real pain in the ass to play against

        • Savo43

          Burtonboy Savo43 The thing that gets lost in all of this is how offensively effective McClement was last year. No he’s not gonna put up 20, or 15 even, but his drive, determination and speed gets alot of pucks to the net, alot of the times he looked like a Kulemin clone but a little more persistent on the forecheck.

        • WendelGilmour

          Savo43 Burtonboy McC’s contributions are underrated. I think he was a big add. Very smart player, and by all accounts great example with his work ethic.

        • Burtonboy

          Savo43 Burtonboy So dammed versatile. Interesting that Randy had a hardon for McClement and seems to be to have a bigger one for Bolland . We know how Jay worked out so I’m hoping for the same with Bolland

        • Savo43

          BurtonboySavo43http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so2wTJqydW8

        • Savo43

          BurtonboySavo43http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so2wTJqydW8

    • Jordan29

      I would rather keep Liles then waste money on ference if we had to buy Liles out. But ya I agree with your lineup

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/IgorEronko
    https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Dynamo&src=hash announces return of Leo Komarov, 2-year contract https://twitter.com/search?q=%23KHL&src=hash https://twitter.com/search?q=%23MapleLeafs&src=hash

    • WendelGilmour

      Burtonboy It seems by his tweets he had personal reasons for going back. Maybe there’s more to it than money?

      • Burtonboy

        WendelGilmour Burtonboy It all about money for the most part I think . He’s getting big bucks over there and we don’t really know what his financial situation is . He may need the cash for some reason

        • Bobsyouruncle

          Burtonboy WendelGilmour Not hard to understand the desire for an extra million in your pocket.  : )

        • Burtonboy

          Bobsyouruncle Burtonboy WendelGilmour Ask yourself what you would do in that situation . No brainer lol

  • Savo43

    Would Colborne go to waste on the 4th line?

    • Burtonboy

      Savo43 Forget line numbers and think Minutes. I’ld like to see Joe worked in with sheltered minutes like he did with Kadri last yr

      • Savo43

        Burtonboy Savo43 Agreed. In certain situations, what exactly would stop Carlyle from double shifting one of Kessel, JVR, Lupul, or Kulemin with D’amigo-Colborne as well, to give them some offensive minutes? I mean, Orr is only expected 5-8 minutes a night.

        • Burtonboy

          Savo43 Burtonboy Carlyle did alot of that with the Ducks . Ryan and Perry would take extra shifts on the 4th line

        • Savo43

          Burtonboy Savo43 Shit…this team is legit just one forward and 1 D piece away from being a serious contender..One of them apparently wants to come here (Clarkson), and the other can be addressed in free agency this year (imo anyway), with Ference. I’m of the opinion that Gunnar is still getting better, and being healthy won’t hurt him next year in that regard. Is he the perfect D partner for Phaneuf? Maybe, maybe not, but I certainly think he can do the job well.

        • Burtonboy

          Savo43 Burtonboy Maybe one of Blacker or Granberg solve the d problem for us

      • Savo43

        Lupul-Kadri-Kessel
        JVR-Grabovski-Clarkson
        McClement-Bolland-Kulemin
        D’amigo-Colborne-Orr/ or x2 shift- Kessel/Lupul/Clarkson/Kulemin

        • Great Dane

          Savo43 That could work very well. An upgrade on Grabo and this the Leafs is a team that you would have to consider going very far into the play-offs

    • WendelGilmour

      Savo43 Interesting question. Depending on any other incoming players, maybe he plays on the 3rd? I’m normally a believer in slotting players to their strengths, but playing 4th line for a year or two certainly didn’t hurt Gilmour.;)