For part one of the draft review, click here.
4th round, 95th overall – Jesper Lindgren, 6’0 D from Modo Jrs. (Sweden)
The Maple Leafs turned to renowned Swedish scout Thommie Bergman for their next selection – grabbing Lindgren, a talented puckmoving defenseman out of Modo. The Leafs would have likely gotten a few glimpses at Jesper, while tracking Nylander’s progress with the same club. Lindgren is described as a smooth skating blueliner with impressive offensive instincts, well above average puck carrying and passing ability. For a player his age, he is surprisingly bold and confident with the puck, displaying a penchant for jumping into the rush. There is a plenty of projectable upside and he is another player with an excellent chance at making a big jump up the Leafs’ prospect rankings in the near future.
5th round, 125th overall – Dmytro Timashov, 5’10 W from the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Don’t let the name fool you – this is likely another selection heavily influenced by Bergman. While Timashov was born in Ukraine, he actually grew up playing hockey in Sweden, including some time with Modo alongside Nylander and Lindgren. He made the jump to North American ice this past season; following a so-so first half, he really hit his stride to finish out the season. This is a player with a boatload of offensive upside, displaying the ability to make highly skilled plays at top end speed. He is crafty, agile and is described by Red Line chief scout as the most dangerous offensive player in the entire QMJHL. Timashov is yet another example of the clear organizational philosophy for this draft – upside, upside and more upside.
6th round, 155th overall – Stephen Desrocher, 6’4 D from the Oshawa Generals (OHL)
Desrocher is an overager after going undrafted last season but broke out in a big way for the Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals. The Maple Leafs have made an effort to surround themselves with the cream of the crop in terms of hockey people, and this is another selection with a clear tie to a recent hire. New Leafs assistant coach, D.J. Smith, was actually Desrocher’s head coach in Oshawa and showed a great deal of confidence in the young defenseman during the Memorial Cup run. He is described as a positionally sound blueliner with good hockey sense, a solid physical game with an above average point shot.
7th round, 185th overall – Nikita Korostelev, 6’2 W from the Sarnia Sting (OHL)
To finish off a very productive weekend, the Leafs went for more… you guessed it – offensive upside. In Korostelev, they landed another crafty winger with impressive hands, offensive instincts and well above average skill. He is primarily a goal scorer with an excellent wrist shots and a killer instinct from underneath the faceoff circle. He was projected as a mid-round selection, but slid down due to concerns regarding his poor defensive game.
While the Kessel story will likely serve as the headline of the Leafs’ offseason heading into the fall, it will very likely be an afterthought in the years to come. Lost amidst all the trade talk has been the subtle but firm change in the organizational philosophy on player development – and nothing highlights that better than this year’s draft class.
Over the years, followers of draft analytics have come to realize two key fallacies when it comes to the traditional approach to the draft:
- Trading up to get “your guy”
- Drafting for size rather than skill
There is undoubtedly a heavy influence here from assistant GM Kyle Dubas. Keep in mind he originally grew up as a huge baseball fan, the sport for which analytics have been far and away the most aggressively researched and adopted. He is tremendously well read on the research done across the major sports, and there are some interesting themes here borrowed from baseball and football.
Theme #1 – Trade down not up
This is a very interesting one – the traditional mantra among scouts is that it’s always better to pay a bit of a premium in order to get “your guy”. We know that the draft is a bit of a crapshoot but even still, the humanistic nature of scouting means there is a predication to fall in love with and overvalue a particular player. As a result, the value required to trade up often outweighs the upside in selecting a few spots higher in the draft, which has been demonstrated time and time again in the cumulative draft research.
It’s far better to simply accrue as many picks as possible, because you’re more likely to find a hidden gem out of sheer quantity than you are to outsmart 29 other management teams. This is a strategy now commonly linked to the perennially competitive New England Patriots, who year in and year out are amongst the league leaders in NFL starters selected despite always picking toward the bottom of each round. We know, for example, that based on the historical value probability of a selecting an NHL player (found here), the 24th overall selection is barely more valuable than the 29th overall – with the net difference being less than a 7th round selection. And yet, the Leafs parlayed that into 2nd round selection (61st overall). The difference between 29th and 34th? You guessed – effectively negligible, and once again the Leafs managed to gain another 68th overall selection for their troubles.
Theme #2 – Skill over size
This represents another stark change in organizational philosophy and one that is much appreciated following a string of disastrous draft classes under Brian Burke’s regime. It’s not that size doesn’t matter, because it certainly does – but the problem is that it gets greatly overvalued relative to the rest of a player’s skillset. In fact, there’s been some interesting work done to suggest that the correlation to size and eventual NHL success is largely negligible (found here and here), particularly as it relates to scoring potential for forwards. Well did the Leafs do? They used their selections to grab a mix of undervalued, smaller forwards along with large, physical defensemen. Love it.
While this draft class won’t grab headlines the way the Kessel trade did, make no mistake about it – this June weekend in Sunrise, Florida was one of the boldest in recent Leafs’ history. The organization shook itself free of the shackles of the old school draft mentality and instead took a logical, calculated approach to player selection. The Leafs’ focus when it comes to the draft and development game in the coming years has become crystal clear: Skill and upside.
In one of his Fan 590 interviews following the Kessel trade, one of the hosts pointed out to Kyle Dubas the potential logjam of small, skilled forwards within the system compared to the lack of strength and size. In brief, Dubas replied that the team’s focus moving forward would be to acquire as much skill as possible because of the relative difficulty in finding such players via trade or free agency. If they find themselves in a position where they need to address other needs (such as physicality or size), they would then look to deal from their position of strength, that is to say that abundance of skill, in order to make that happen.
That statement, while seemingly a rather political reply, actually provides a very important glimpse at the organizational thought process. The management team feels that it has identified a market inefficiency in player drafting and development (small, skilled forwards), which is what the draft analytics experts have been advocating for years. Rather than competing with 29 other teams for that overvalued and very rare, power forward, they will instead turn to the wealth of underappreciated skill forwards for whom they have fewer competitors. As a result, they will continue to target this type of player, even in organizational abundance, because it provides the best option to extract maximum value so to speak. They would then be able to exchange those currencies, at a more favorable rate, to acquire the resources required to address the rest of their needs.
They have studied the game and are now back at the dealer’s table, hoping to exploit the flaws of an imperfect system and the unfounded biases of the other players.