This 2015 NHL Draft class for the Maple Leafs provided a great deal of intrigue for a variety of reasons.
First and foremost, there was the obvious attraction of holding one of the top selections in the draft with a potential to add a franchise cornerstone. But beyond that, it offered the first glimpse into a clear shift in the way Maple Leafs organization approached drafting and developing. Let’s start by running quickly running through some of the names they added over their two days in Florida.
For part 2 of the 2015 draft review, click here.
1st round, 4th overall – Mitch Marner, 5’11 C from the London Knights (OHL)
This one’s easy – I love this selection and I said before the draft that I had him a notch above Erie’s Dylan Strome. Marner is a brilliant offensive player and will offer the whole array of high end speed, great hands in tight and wonderful creativity. He is a hard-working, pesky player with the kind of flair that should endear him very quickly to the hometown fans. Mark Hunter knows from back during his London days, when the Knights took a gamble on the 5’7 kid 19th overall in the OHL priority draft. They expected him to continue getting bigger and stronger, referencing his brother’s 6’2 frame. At the time, Hunter spoke about wanting to know the pedigree and history of his top picks. London’s scouting director at the time, Lindsay Hofford, had known Mitch nearly all his life and had been his hockey director during his days at Hill Academy private school in Vaughn. The organization knows exactly what it’s getting here – and that’s a local 18 year old kid with character and heart, that they have watched over the years develop into a tremendously gifted young hockey player.
2nd round, 34th overall – Travis Dermott – 6’0 D from the Erie Otters (OHL)
The organization then parlayed its 24th overall selection and continued to trade down, adding multiple 2nd and 3rd round selections along the way. They finally settled on Dermott, an incredibly smart and reliable defenseman from an OHL powerhouse squad. Lost amidst the offensive show that was McDavid and Strome, Dermott provided Erie with a ton of minutes whereby he did what was asked of him each and every night. He is an excellent positional defender, he wins pucks, he blocks shots and he just doesn’t make mistakes. Offensively, he stayed out of the spotlight by deferring to the star power up front, but demonstrated an excellent first pass and moved the puck crisply and confidently on the power play. This is a player whose stock could significantly rise next season when he steps to center stage for an Otters team that will likely lose both McDavid and maybe even Strome.
3rd round, 61st overall – Jeremy Bracco – 5’10 W from the USNDP
Wow, do I ever love this selection. The Maple Leafs are clearly starting to step away from the traditional over-valuation of size and are looking to get to the forefront of this league-wide progression towards higher end skill. Bracco offers a package of high end speed, great vision and excellent passing ability. His 168 career points is the 3rd highest total in the history of the US Development program, behind only Phil Kessel’s 180 and Patrick Kane’s 172. Yes – he’s a couple inches shorter, could stand to add some strength and contribute more on the defensive end, but this is a player I would have been content with at 24th overall. Prospects often don’t work out, it’s the nature of the process – but this is a player with the potential to be significant piece of the offensive core someday.
3rd round, 65th overall – Andrew Nielsen – 6’3 D from the Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
With this next selection, the organization went with a classic Western Canadian defender – big, strong and physical. Nielsen provided Lethbridge with an imposing physical presence on the back end this past season and demonstrated an ability to play sound positional defense, finish checks with authority and sacrifice the body to make plays. Offensively, he demonstrates a powerful point shot but his skating and passing should grade out as average or slightly below. Despite being a rookie, he was the best defender on a terrible Lethbridge team so it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue his impressive progression.
3rd round, 68th overall – Martins Dzierkais – 5’11 W from Latvia
The Maple Leafs then went off the board to select Dzierkais, a skilled forward from the Russian junior hockey league. Playing for his home nation Latvia, he has impressed on the international stage including a standout performance at the WJC-18’s. In his post draft interview, Dzierkais noted that he was followed by up to 8 NHL teams with the Predators and Maple Leafs expressing the most interest in the speedy, creative winger. Maple Leafs scouts had apparently gone to Latvia to see him play on a number of occasions. Hunter views him as “a real sleeper” and after being selected 22nd overall in the CHL Import Draft, he is expected to spend next season with Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL.