The Leafs had Noah Hanifin in for a physical this morning (the day of the draft) and met with his parents, suggesting the Leafs are high on the 6’3, 205 pound American defenceman.

James Mirtle’s reported Leafs draft list, if reliable, makes it pretty clear that the Leafs are grabbing Mitch Marner if Noah Hanifin is gone at third overall. Where it gets murky is if both Hanifin and Marner are on the board when the Leafs go to pick (also factoring in is the possibility of a trade, as the Coyotes pick has been shopped and may move on the draft floor). There appears to be some internal debate in the Leaf front office as to the right choice between Marner and Hanifin, according to Mirtle.

The Numbers

You know the Leafs are bringing analytics into the draft decision process in a meaningful way for the first time in their history, so what do the statistics look like?

Scott Cullen devised a tier-system for draft pick valuations that attempts to assign a probability, based on draft position, of a player reaching a certain value grade (10 is generational player, 9 is elite player, 8 is first line player/top pair D, 7 is top 6 forward/top 4 D, 6 is top 9 forward/top 6 D, 5 is NHL regular, 4 is fringe NHLer).

The brass tax – you are 74% likely to be getting a top 6 forward (or better) among forwards drafted in the top five. You are 65% likely to get a top four defenceman (or better) in the top five. The reason is obvious: It’s harder to project defencemen at 18 than it is forwards.

courtesy of Scott Cullen, TSN
courtesy of Scott Cullen, TSN

That gap narrows once you include the first round in its entirety, with 31% of defenceman drafted in the top 30 turning into top four D, and 34.5% of forwards turning into top 6 forwards.

courtesy Scott Cullen, TSN
courtesy of Scott Cullen, TSN

Identifying a high-end offensive talent in the top five especially is generally easier than it is defencemen. It is always more difficult to pick out high-end defencemen than it is forwards, but the odds start to even out more later in the first round.

But then there’s the risk-reward factor: Let’s say both Hanifin and Marner pan out something close to their full potential. If Hanifin ends up being the high-end 1D some think he can be, and Marner winds up a high-end NHL winger, the Leafs are going to want the stud defenceman, every time, no questions asked.

London head coach Dale Hunter may attempt to use Mitch Marner as a full-time center next season, but he’s spent most of his time on the wing, projects more safely there, and while his development into a C at the NHL level isn’t implausible, it’s also not something that can be banked on at this stage.

There’s zero doubt Mitch Marner’s numbers are elite, though, and there are better odds betting on elite offensive production at the top of the draft than there are on the less-quantifiable attributes of a promising 18-year-old defenceman.

Mitch Marner falls 12th on this list.

Marner looks like the right selection in this light.

Pick #24

There is also the consideration for pick #24 in terms of the Leafs‘ overall draft strategy.

The 2015 draft seems particularly rich with defencemen in the bottom half of the first round. Hanifin, Provorov, and Werenski are all safe bets for the top 15, but it may well be that trio and 12 forwards drafted in the first half of the first round.

There could be six or so that go in the back half, with candidates like Jakob Zboril, Noah Juulsen, Thomas Chabot, Jeremy Roy, Oliver Kylington, Travis Dermott, Jonas Siegenthaler, and Vince Dunn all factoring in as options in those final 15 picks. There is definitely a sleeper or two among them, and maybe the Leafs are really sold on one in particular.

If the Leafs’ draft team feels there are some late-first-area sleepers on defence this year, it may favour a strategy that tries to nab a blueline gem there rather than mine for a late-first-round offensive steal.

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at