In an interview with the NHL Network from the Maple Leafs’ draft war room, Kyle Dubas discussed the selection of Matthew Knies at 57th overall, the team’s lack of picks in the draft, goals for the rest of the offseason, and the flurry of trade activity across the league this week.
What did you like about Matthew Knies at 57th overall?
Dubas: Our scouting staff, led by John Lilley, has been very high on Matthew for some time. We especially like the way he finished his year in Tri-City in the USHL and the way that he played in the playoffs against Fargo for them. They have done a lot of work on him over the last several years. We will continue to watch him develop with the staff at the University of Minnesota.
With so few picks in this entry draft, have you thought about adding some more as you go through here?
Dubas: We talked about moving down to collect more assets in the second round, but when Matthew was still on the board, we just decided to go ahead and make the pick based on the reviews of our scouting staff. Obviously, we have our trust in John, Tim Speltz, and our staff there and we added Matthew to our group.
For us, last year, we had a lot of picks. Knowing that this year would be a little bit of a different season — not knowing in October how it was going to play out, with some leagues not even playing at all — as we went through the season and the team was where we were at the trade deadline, we made the decision to move some of our draft capital to give ourselves the best chance we could.
Obviously, it did not end the way we wanted it to. We are right back at it here today trying to make the most of the picks that we do have and to just enjoy the day together.
What has your mindset been for this team with how you are going to navigate the tricky waters this offseason with the flat cap, the expansion draft, and a quiet draft?
Dubas: For the expansion draft, our entire goal was to try to get through with losing the least amount of talent that we could to Ronnie in Seattle. We made the trade with Pittsburgh to sort of hedge ourselves against losing a forward without having the protection and then having to go into free agency and the trade market to address it.
With free agency coming up, our goal is to try to add players in the cap space that we have to continue to improve our team, try to push our way through here, and finally break through in the playoffs. That has been our focus.
Our focus today in the draft is to simply take the three picks that we have, and take the player have at the top of our list or try to improve the draft capital we have this year and next year by moving back or moving back in years.
That has been the way we have looked at it. It is nothing too exciting from our standpoint. We have a lot of work to do. This is a key time for us to do that.
Where do you think you need to make adds to the group based on the cap space that you have? You are limited in a flat-cap world. Your high-end players are earning a lot of money. Where are the areas you would like to work on?
Dubas: I think everywhere. We are pretty happy with the way that our defense played this year throughout the season and in the playoffs in the first round against Montreal. I think we are going to need at to our depth up front and maybe add a different element to our group up front, particularly in the bottom half of our lineup. We will get to that either through our own internal development or through free agency.
The area right now that is a huge focus for us is going to be in goal. We have Jack Campbell returning, and Jack had a great season. I think next year, especially moving to 82 games, we would like to continue to see Jack continue to progress and carry the ball, but I think everybody knows we are going to have to add another complement to Jack to make sure we are covered off there. That is our major focus as we head into this week and into Wednesday with free agency opening.
You made a point earlier this week to say you believe in this group moving forward. What have your conversations with guys like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner been like since that first-round exit? What have you liked in your conversations with those guys that gives you confidence for next season?
Dubas: It has been very interesting. Everybody is going to roll their eyes when they hear this, but it has been different this year in terms of our players’ reaction to this. After the season, there was tremendous disappointment and a lot of introspection. There was no real blame of anybody else or pointing fingers elsewhere.
I thought it was a good part of growth on the part of especially our younger core of players with our team. They know where we are at. They know they are not 21 or 22 anymore. They are suddenly 23, 24, or 25. The window, when you start your career in the league, you think is going to be unlimited, and you suddenly go through six or seven seasons and realize you have to start to take advantage of the opportunity that their talent allows them to have.
I am really excited to get through the next month and a half here, get the group back together, and get rolling again. As I said the other day, I do have a very strong belief in this group and I am excited to see us get rolling again next season.
We have seen a lot of player movement this week. The flat cap, the expansion draft — is that part of why we have seen all of this kind of movement over the last couple of days and probably more moving forward?
Dubas: Certainly, the flat cap plays into it. I think teams are also being more aggressive to expedite rebuilds, and then you add Seattle into the mix, with the uncertainty that brought in terms of how they were going to attack the expansion draft.
The scenario surrounding the expansion draft was much different for Seattle than it was for Vegas, in my opinion, just in terms of the flat cap, the different types of players exposed versus protected, and such. That has kind of added a bit of an unknown to it.
You get into the offseason, and for the high-end players, teams are always willing to pay for high-end elite talent both in terms of trades and contracts. I don’t think that will ever change. It is now just trying to read what is going to happen to the rest of the group here as we head into free agency.