With the 15th overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected Russian winger Rodion Amirov from Ufa of the KHL. He was the best player available on my draft board — by a fairly significant margin.

Heading into the draft, I would’ve been hoping for either Seth Jarvis (who went to Carolina) or Amirov if I were the Leafs, and I would’ve been thrilled with this result. Amirov is also who I thought the Leafs would take:

This is a good pick. A lot of people were looking for a partner for Morgan Rielly, but this is the draft and these are 18- and 19-year-olds. Free agency starts on Friday, and if you were looking for Rielly’s next partner, you were three days too early. The Leafs need a top-four defenseman now, and even if you want to acquire one via trade, you trade the 2021 first well before you trade the 15th overall pick in 2020.

This was also forward-heavy draft, and I 100% believe in the logic of taking a forward. You don’t pull a 2015 Edmonton Oilers here and say, “We don’t need Barzal, we have centers! Let’s trade the pick for Griffin Reinhart.”

As mentioned above, Seth Jarvis was one of my two targets with the 15th pick. Jarvis is an undersized forward with plenty of skill, and the concerns with him are his size, strength, and ability to win battles. I like Jarvis, and I would have considered taking him based on how much I think he’s going to score. A lot of people seem to think that the Leafs took a player with a Jarvis-like profile, but Amirov is nothing like that.

Amirov is not short. He’s listed at 6’0″, which I don’t think that’s embellished. He looks about 6’1″ to me. He’s not some sort of undersized, offense-first, scoring winger who can’t play defense. He doesn’t have to play on your top power-play unit to make an impact. He’s a complete player who hunts pucks, generates takeaways, and creates extra possession time for his team. One of the best two-way forwards in the draft, he’ll help this team defensively once he reaches his prime. He fits Toronto’s team needs quite well.

He’s also a standout player in transition. One of the best skaters from this draft class, his game should transition rather seamlessly to the NHL level. There are no size concerns here. There are no speed concerns here. He’s going to beat NHL defenders out wide, while his speed will also make him an asset on the forecheck. I expect him to develop into a good penalty killer who can be used on either wing.

This is a player with a high floor and a good ceiling. He’s a complete player who plays winning hockey. Salavat Yuleav is a good KHL team, and Amirov earned his way onto the team this year at the age of 19. He started out in a depth role, but he is now playing over 20 minutes per game on a line with Nikita Soshnikov.

Amirov can play on the power play if needed, but he’s not a power-play specialist and he was a fit for the Leafs because of his ability to impact the game at 5-on-5. He’s currently playing in the middle of the 1-3-1 power play for his KHL team, but you could use him just about anywhere. I think he was one of the more underrated players on public draft boards, something I’ve thought for months:

I had Amirov ahead of Jake Sanderson (who went fifth overall to the Senators) and Jack Quinn (who went eighth overall to Buffalo). The reason he wasn’t in everyone’s top 15 is because he’s not an elite shooter and he’s not an elite playmaker. His play-driving ability — not his scoring — is the main selling point of his game. I expect him to score at a solid rate — I think his shot will improve — but I have no idea how on earth he got described as an undersized offense-only scoring winger who is three-plus years away from the NHL. He’s on the older end for this draft class (only a few weeks younger than Nick Robertson) and is already playing 20+ minutes per night on a good KHL team!

Amirov made a name for himself at last year’s U18 tournament, where he led Russia in scoring with nine points in seven games. Playing right-wing on a line with Canucks prospect Vasili Podkolzin, the speed and takeaway ability of the duo overwhelmed their opposition. He went on to dominate Russia’s junior league last season on a line with 2020 draft prospect Alexander Pashin in addition to a strong appearance at the Canada-Russia series.

Having watched Amirov play a few of his past KHL games, he sure looks like a player who is about to breakout. He’s getting big minutes on that team for a reason.

Final Thoughts

The Leafs picked one of my favourite players in this class who, contrary to popular belief, fits their team needs quite well. Toronto needs to get better defensively, and while everyone is focused on the blue-line, they also need to add good two-way forwards. Amirov is a safe bet to be an NHL contributor — even if he doesn’t end up scoring as much as expected — and he can help his team in all situations.

I expect Amirov to be reunited with Podkolzin at the World Juniors. If they perform anywhere close to how they did at the U18 tournament, the hype train will take off in a hurry. He’s a good play driver due to his transition and takeaway skill, and I have no idea how on earth he got labeled as small on draft day. Sure, he’s not overly physical, but this is a player who hunts pucks and impacts the game in many different ways.

What the Leafs need, more than anything else, is to develop good players who can contribute on their entry-level contracts. They need to offset their big deals somehow, and the best way to do that is by making good draft picks. After a home run with Nick Robertson last year, I think they’ve made a very good pick yet again here. Amirov will be a good NHL player, and when you have a good forward on an entry-level contract, you can go out and spend less on your forwards and more on your defensemen.

As I’ve said for months, Amirov was bound to be one of my favourite picks on draft day. This is exactly who I had in mind when the Leafs acquired this pick in the Kasperi Kapanen trade.