Corey Pronman was on TSN 1050 talking Toronto Maple Leafs Prospects, the Kessel return, and much more.
How surprised were you that the Leafs went with Mitch Marner and not Noah Hanifin?
I wasn’t incredibly surprised. I don’t think that you can look at that organization and say they had one particular need. This is a team that entered the draft with a mediocre farm system, they were one of the worst teams in the league the previous season. You’re in a position where you have to take the best player available on your board.
Now post-draft, you’re looking at their system with Marner and all the guys they took on Day 2 and the guys they got in the Phil Kessel trade, and now this is a very strong farm system. Maybe now, looking to next year or the year after, you can talk about filling in those gaps. But I have no problem with the Mitch Marner pick.
A lot of fans were underwhelmed (with the Kessel trade); a lot of fans wanted to see Derrick Pouliot come back in that type of deal — didn’t happen, but I want to get your sense of the players that they did bring in. They seem like guys who have not a superstar ceiling, but could be solid contributors.
I’d agree that the return wasn’t completely equitable. I mean, on these trades it’s very rare that you’re going to get a guy that’s the exact same calibre, but given that Kessel had 6/7 years left on his contract, I think you’d hope for a little more. But I really do like Kapanen, I don’t think he’s exactly the same level as Pouliot, but I don’t think he’s too far off. I think his underwhelming World Juniors maybe was the thing that we remember right now, but I thought he was very good, and when I went to see him in the AHL I thought he was extremely impressive for a teenager playing against men at that level. Very dynamic guy, great speed and skill. He’s going to need some time, maybe not in the NHL next year or maybe even the year after, although that one’s probably a little more realistic (than this year), but I do think he’s a true top-flight prospect. Scott Harrington is very interesting; he hasn’t made the NHL yet, that was was going to be his 3rd year pro, but people remember him out of Jr. in terms of being a very strong player in the OHL, played on two WJC teams, looked very good in both of those tournaments. The offensive numbers are a little underwhelming but he’s always been a very high end defensive guy. He’s not a real legitimate high end prospect like a Pouliot or Kapanen, but I think he’s a pretty good one. I don’t think, in combination, those two equal Phil Kessel, but I definitely think it was a strong return that moved the needle in terms of the Leafs‘ farm system.
We know it’s early, but Maple Leafs fans are already looking ahead towards the 2016 Draft. Again, I know it’s early, but based on what we know about the potential players, what kind of talent pool does the 2016 draft promise us as we speak in mid July?
Very, very early, so this answer is going to vary over the next couple months. By October or February I might have different answers for you, but I think right now it’s an average draft class. I think there is definitely a top-three tier. Going into this year there was a top two. This upcoming season I see a clear top three between Auston Matthews, a clear one, and two other guys, Jesse Puljujärvi, a Finnish forward, and Jakub Chychrun, who plays for Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League. But of course, these answers can develop as the year goes along. I also like a couple of other guys in terms of the next two or three best players, but for now that would kind of be my assessment very, very early on for the 2016 class.
You talk to people around the League, parents or agents, and there is a fear – not necessarily a five-alarm fire fear, but just kind of nagging fear that we’re asking a lot of these kids year in, year out in terms of expectations on them. Not just during the hockey season itself, but in the offseason. Do you get that sense that there is – not necessarily a burn out – but we’re not giving these kids enough chance to decompress in the offseason, that we’re not giving them enough chance to get away from the game? Or do you think that, because we’re breeding them as these hockey machines from such a young age, they’re equipped to deal with the nonstop, physical and mental stress of being an elite young player?
From the time they basically become junior players, major junior players at 16 or 17 years old, they are not actually professional hockey players, but they live that kind of lifestyle. If you’re a top prospect, your camp starts in July or August because obviously they start their season a little earlier than NHLers do. But then there’s the end of the year workouts, and as far as the workouts go, they’re psycho. The balancing question will be, if you don’t do it then someone else will do it, and then they get ahead of you. Nobody is forcing them to go to the Canadian development camp or the U18 camp — always intense workout programs — but then they have to look at themselves and say, “how much do I really want to progress as a player, do I want to improve my draft stock or my NHL chances?” Nobody tells them to do this stuff, but if you want to be a hockey player, it’s a requirement right now.
A couple of weeks ago, Canada announced their summer development camp roster of 40 players for the 2016 World Junior evaluation camp. Five players who were on the Gold Medal team a year ago are back. Your early assessment of the Canadian team that will play in December in Helsinki?
If you look at just the names at the end of August, it looks as usual like a very strong roster. I’ve talked to a number of NHL people about this, or scouts, who are trying to project the roster and the strength of the roster. The huge variable is: well, who is coming back? Will Dylan Strome be back, will Mitch Marner be back? Will a guy like Brendan Perlini be back? Lawson Crouse of Florida. You have to really think about this stuff when trying to project the roster, because right now it’s incredible. If all of those guys come back, they’re the clear favourites and should roll over everybody like they did last year. If not, then it’s a little [different]. The forward group looks incredibly strong, the defense group look very, very strong currently. The goalies are probably about average. We’ll see.
I would describe Dermott as a two-way defenceman who is more gifted offensively. When he was with Erie of the OHL, he was a very valuable part of the powerplay; a quarterback. A very good skater, very skilled puck mover. While he’s not the biggest guy, and not elite defensively, he was definitely able to make plays in his own zone. He was just a complete, point-producing type of player. He’s got that good hockey sense that helps him in both ends of the rink. I would say he still needs some improvement there, although he’s still a teenager. He needs to get stronger, better physically, tidy it up a little bit on his read and reactions. Overall, he’s a pretty quality prospect and I’ll be curious to see how he does at the World Junior camp given this will be his first experience there. We’ll see how he does in a few weeks.