Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello joined TSN Overdrive to discuss the momentous lottery win by the Maple Leafs on Saturday and the signing of Nikita Zaitsev earlier today. Transcript below.

How would you describe your feelings when the lottery was taking place? Take us into your mind when you were watching everything play out the way that it did. 

Lou Lamoriello: I think I was like every other Leaf fan, with the anticipation. Once Bill Daly walked out with the cards and started flipping them over, you had palpitations wondering what was going to transpire. You felt good as the cards were being flipped. They went in the reverse order of the way the percentages were. As you got closer, you get a little more anxious, and then when you get to the last three, you felt good. Then, when you got to the last two, you got greedy, and you were hoping for one. That’s basically what it was.

Brendan Shanahan came out right afterwards and said you guys would not be announcing who you are going to take at number one. What kind of benefits come with that, the decision to not make that announcement?

Lamoriello: Well, there’s plenty of time between now and the draft. There are a lot of variables that go into everything, but to what good can come out of making any announcement or giving any feeling of where your thought process is? I don’t think there’s any good that comes out of it because there are so many extenuating circumstances that could take place over a month or so period of time.

That’s what makes it interesting, is the time limit here. When you’re talking about prospective trades with a player that you might have under contract, you don’t have to do it between now and the end of June. You could way until July or August, or wait a year or two. That’s what makes the draft so awesome, really, in many ways. You guys are going to be up on the podium and you’re going to have to make your announcement about six-seven weeks down the road. So how does that time limit maybe change the way you do business?

Lamoriello: It will not change anything that has been in place. Remember, we are going through a process, and certainly there were several words that have been maybe overused – the plan, the process we’re taking – but it’s all real. The only way you can answer these type of questions is to be redundant time and time again. We’re going to stick to what Brendan has put in place. Mike, Brendan and myself – everyone in our organization – are on board with what has to be done. What this weekend has done is just given us two more pieces in place to the process that we’re taking. The end result takes care of itself. It’s the process that you have to continue to be focused on, and then don’t get too excited; don’t get ahead of yourself, don’t think that now there is a shorter way of doing it. It doesn’t work that way.

For longest time, it’s been believed that this is a top three draft. What more do you need to know as an organization about these prospective top picks? What’s the next step here as far as evaluating these players?

Lamoriello: No different than what it would be with the rest of the draft. It’s a constant evaluation of where you are picking and trying to get as much information as you possibly can. You certainly always have in the back of your mind what your process is, and you really confirm it by the things that you’re doing. You feel more comfortable with the more information you have.

Whoever it ends up being — and it’s presumed it will be Matthews, but it could be any of those three – but if you stick at one, and you take that first overall pick for the first time since 1985… you can imagine how the city and the media is going to respond here… how will you go about helping that player who goes first overall survive in this market?

Lamoriello: I think that’s part of our job and part of our responsibility for everyone of us here, to support him with the right surroundings. I think that we’re going to need the cooperation of the media with that; I think we’re going to need the cooperation of the fans with that, of what their expectations are. If they really want us to do what we feel is necessary to sustain a franchise that has a chance to be competitive and to compete for a long period of time, they have to trust us with how we handle this individual or how we handle all our young players. It’s extremely important.

Do you think you can approach the upcoming season the same way you did last season?

Lamoriello: I don’t think you ever approach any season the same way you did the last season because of what your pieces are, who you have as players, what changes you’ve made. It was very important this year to develop a culture; to set a foundation for what’s going to be expected from each and every player, whether it be a veteran, or whether it be a younger player, and also to see how many would be on board and how many would be accountable, and where things would go. That was the pleasant surprise – not surprise, but pleasant feeling – how quickly Mike was able to get all the veterans committed to the work ethic, committed to the way he wanted them to play. By doing that, it allowed us a little earlier to get a lot of the younger players in here because they would be coming into an environment that we felt was what it should be to have success, where the people in the locker room – the veterans – were going to be the right example. There was no one taking shifts off. There was no one cheating. There was no one doing anything that takes away from having success. That, right now, is in place. It has to be sustained, without question. Then you go to the next step now: We need players. We need people who can make us better. That’s our responsibility.

Every Leafs fan is putting together mock lineups right now and a lot of them feature these young players. Whoever the first overall pick will be, Nylander, potentially Marner, Soshnikov, Hyman, Brown – that’s six right there that would all be deemed rookies and labeled rookies. How many young players would you be comfortable with having on the team?

Lamoriello: I think we’re comfortable with as many as can handle the situation and that will help the team and also help their development and help their growth. They will determine that. They all can go to the minors, except for Marner at this point, so in other words those decisions will have to be made. But they’ll make those decisions for us. You’re talking about a lot of quality individuals. I think all of you had the opportunity to interact with them and watch them play. We know that they’re solid. How will there expectations be? How will the second year be after their first year? We don’t know any of this. We don’t know how their confidence is as far as how good they think they are, whether they think they’ve made it or not. The second year is always the toughest. We have to find out a lot, but we’re not going to apologize if we have several young players in there who can handle it. And we’re not going to apologize if there are less than what people might think because they can’t handle it.

How big of a homerun was it to get Nikita Zaitsev to choose the Toronto Maple Leafs to come to?

Lamoriello: I think that was a tremendous job by the staff. This began two years ago. I was not here. In particular, Mark Hunter and Jim Paliafito worked on this two years ago. I think that the player possibly would’ve come but he was under contract. He was really free for a period of time where any team could’ve been involved with him, and for him to make that decision to come here I think is a tremendous compliment to these individuals but also the organization and where he sees the future [of the organization].

Can you describe his game a little bit for the fans have an idea of what you signed this morning?

Lamoriello: He’s played in the KHL for the last few years. He was on a championship team a year ago; he got beat on the seventh game of the finals this year. He’s been an All Star and alternate captain and played in World Championships. He’s experienced in playing high competition in the KHL, he’s experienced in the playoffs. He’s an all-around defenceman. He’s a puck-moving defenceman. He quarterbacked the powerplay out there. How quickly his adjustment will be to the smaller rinks, how quickly his adjustment will be to the National Hockey League – all of these things we’ll find out. But he has the word that I hate to use – “potential,” because it’s a word that a lot of people have. But I’ve seen him myself, I’ve had opportunity to spend time with he and his family. He speaks fluent English. He’s very educated. He’s married, he has a young child, he has a solid family background. We’re pleased that he chose Toronto.

From this evening’s Mark Masters interview:

Would you ever consider trading the first overall pick if the right deal came about? 

Lou Lamoriello: I don’t think there’s any thought in our mind right now of anything like that. I think we have the number one pick. We have the opportunity to get the best player in the draft. Fortunately, there are players this year that are exceptional, so our focus will certainly be on who that number one player is.

How valuable is getting a number one center in place when you talk about the rebuilding process?

Lou Lamoriello: First of all, I think it’s valuable to get the best player available when you’ve got the top pick. That’s what we will do. We will take the best player that our organization feels is there. We’ll go from there.

The team announced today the signing of Nikita Zaitsev. What are your expectations for what he can provide next season?

Lou Lamoriello: We all feel in the organization that Nikita can be in the top four next year. He’s had tremendous experience in the KHL. We’ve all seen him. We’ve all spent some time with him. He speaks fluent English. He’s very well adjusted; he’s very mature. He’s been the top defenceman on the team he’s been playing with the last couple of years, winning the championship last year and going to the finals this year, being a first All Star, going to World Championships several times. We’re excited about having him. He’s a right shot. Those type of shooters are not at a premium these days. Or feeling is that we’re very fortunate that he’s decided to come to Toronto. Our scouting staff, including Jim Paliafito, has done a great job the last couple of years recruiting him.

The Leafs have 12 picks in the draft; three in the top 31. What’s your sense of how deep is this draft?

Lou Lamoriello: From every indication from our scouts, and every observation, it’s a deep draft. But as I’ve said on many occasions over the last couple of days, every draft — if you go back — there are gems throughout the selections. It’s just up to us to find that gem and those gems.

Is Mitch Marner proving anything with this playoff run or is this more what you’ve com to expect from him? 

Lamoriello: I don’t think we’re looking for Mitch to prove anything. We’re looking for Mitch to continue to grow, continue to develop, continue to get stronger, and be humble within the success that he’s having and help his team win a championship, or work towards that, and just grow as a player and a person. His natural abilities will take over if all of those things are addressed.


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