After trading down from selection #23 to grab picks #31 and #58  from Anaheim, the Maple Leafs have selected 6’1, 200-pound right-shot defenseman Ben Danford of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

For the first time since 2018, when they selected Rasmus Sandin in the first round and Sean Durzi in the second round, the Maple Leafs have drafted a defenseman in the first two rounds of the NHL draft.

Similar to last year, this is another selection on which you will find differing views. Some scouting services view Danford as a second-round pick with offensive limitations. Others view him as a well-rounded defenseman who is a big-minute eater defensively and has some untapped offensive potential.

In this season’s annual OHL coach’s poll, Danford was voted the best defensive defenseman, the second best shot-blocker, and finished third in hardest worker in the Eastern Conference. A few years ago, Arber Xhekaj won the same defensive defenseman distinction in the OHL poll, and the year before, Kevin Bahl won it.

At the same time, right-shot defensemen (really, defensemen in general) are a clear organizational need. The Leafs have largely struggled to develop defensemen over the past 20 years, and that’s why now, more than ever, there is so much conversation about the team spending massive dollars on the open market in free agency to improve the blue line. This Danford selection doesn’t change that, but all they can do at this point is add talent to their prospect pool in these areas and then get to work on developing it.

On Wednesday, the Leafs‘ Director of Amateur Scouting Wes Clark again re-emphasized the two player traits the Leafs‘ draft team values most: intelligence and competitiveness. Those were the first two words Brad Treliving chose when describing the motivations for the Danford pick:

“We think he is a real intelligent player and a real competitive guy. He is a right-shot defenseman. He is a guy who our staff was really focused in on. That is why we traded down. We took a chance and felt we could slide down with hopefully the availability to get him later as we did. 

Lots of intanigbles. High-character kid. Moves really well. We think he is just scratching the surface of what he can do. High hockey intelligence and a really competitive kid. Right-shot defensemen are hard to find.”

– Brad Treliving on the Ben Danford pick

In a similar theme to the Easton Cowan pick of 2023, Danford grew into his second OHL season/draft season, put together a strong second half and postseason, and will play a central role in a team expected to challenge for an OHL championship in 2024-25.

Ben Danford pre-draft rankings:

  • Ranked #63 by HOCKEYPROSPECT.COM
  • Ranked #30 by ELITEPROSPECTS.COM
  • Ranked #54 by TSN/BOB McKENZIE
  • Ranked #78 by TSN/CRAIG BUTTON
  • Ranked #43 by MCKEEN’S HOCKEY
  • Ranked #35 by NHL CENTRAL SCOUTING (NA Skaters)
  • Ranked #69 by SPORTSNET/BUKALA

Ben Danford Scouting Report

courtesy of the 2024 Blackbook (BUY NOW)

A smooth-skating, right-shot presence on Oshawa’s blue line, Ben Danford provides high-level leadership and competes while patrolling the blue line. Putting up 33 points in 64 games this season for the Generals, Danford was relied upon for his defensive game and excellence on the penalty kill while being a sturdy second-year leader on a young Generals team.

Danford’s ability to kill penalties is one of the best among draft-eligible defenders in this class. His awareness, ability to get the puck out of the zone, and consistent shot-blocking make him a must-have on the ice when down a man. He positions his body well and uses his stick to cut off passing lanes from his side of the ice, jumping onto loose pucks behind his net and deep along the wall. He is constantly aware of where everyone is on the ice and can cover off either side of the ice as a right-shot defender. He can play aggressively and take away space from puck carriers to rush passes, or he can play patiently and clog lanes to keep the puck to the outside. The biggest plus for Danford on the penalty kill is his willingness to get in front of the puck and block shots. Teams have avoided his side of the ice while he is killing penalties, and watching him take away space on his side of the ice, you can see why. His penalty-killing skills are translatable to the NHL, and we could see him becoming a strong defense-first penalty-killing specialist.

On the defensive side of the puck, Danford closes gaps well and can defend against fast opponents. As a rush defender, he is better against speed players than he is against physical players driving to the middle through him. He does defend both well, but as he progresses and plays against stronger and faster players, we are more confident in his abilities against speedier players as opposed to physically dominant forwards because of his backpedaling ability skating backward and his body positioning to box them out. Off the puck in coverage, Danford can close gaps quickly, and for a defender who is not large or one who possesses great strength, he plays well physically along the boards. He has the ability to rub players off the puck and transition it up the ice well, and with the puck on his stick in his own end, he can create space for himself and give himself more time to make decisions because of his backward cuts and smooth backward strides.

In transition with the puck, there are some big mental lapses at times for Danford that really hold him back from taking his projectability from a bottom-pair defender to a second-pair guy. His noted ability to kill penalties might get him a job at the pro level, but it is hard to project him higher because of his inability to see forecheckers on some breakouts and bad turnover habits. There is nothing to hate about his hockey sense, but there is a lot left on the table as well. He is not strong with the puck when rushed, and he turns the puck over or ices the puck at times because of an aggressive forecheck from the opposing team. His first read coming out of his own zone is not the greatest, but when he does connect on his breakout passes, they do lead his teammates into good rush or offensive zone entries. His mental lapses also occur in coverage where he will leave his man or lose his man and have to hustle to get back into position. This happens at the blue line offensively as well, where he hesitates to pinch at times and can get caught at the blue line. Luckily, his skating and hustle are there for him to work hard to get back to help defensively, but it is still something he needs to work on as you cannot get away with that at the pro level.

Offensively, he gets off a strong shot from the point, which finds its way through traffic in front of the net but at the same time is kept at a good height for tips from his men in front. He collects bad passes well and can get off his shot with a good release and power. For a more defensive defenseman, Danford likes to be aggressive and join the rush but is not much of a shooting option. He accelerates quickly with the puck, but it is too quick for his hands to keep up, and he can bobble the puck before he gets the opportunity to make a play. When patient with the puck — whether at the blue line looking for a shot, on breakout passes, or taking shots from the point — Danford is at his best. He does need to put more on his passes at this point in his development, but as he gets stronger, this should not be a concern.

Ben Danford on the strengths/weaknesses of his game

200-foot guy. I am a strong skater with a good hockey IQ. I compete hard. That is the main thing that headlines my strengths: I compete. I block shots. I’ll do anything for the team to win.

Offensively, I have some more steps to unlock there. That is something I have to work on. I feel like, with my hockey ability, hockey sense, and skating, it is definitely there.

Ben Danford Video

Ben Danford Statistics