Feeling the 2011 Draft


Not only our present, but our future will be shaped over the next two weeks. Both free agency and the NHL Entry Draft are quickly approaching, and the Leafs figure to be highly active at both.

The Maple Leafs, under General Manager, Brian Burke, have built a deep system of prospects which boasts the likes of Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne and Jesse Blacker, to highlight a few. Most experts who have been consulted on the issue believe it to stack up anywhere between tenth and thirteenth in the National Hockey League as far as prospect stables go, and it should continue to grow this Friday.

It wasn’t long ago that draft junkies and scouts alike were heralding the 2011 Draft Class as ‘weak’ and spouting off much doom and gloom. Not anymore. Considered a fairly deep class now by some, though probably without any NHL Ready Stars (ala Crosby, Ovechkin, etc.), many have considered the top 50 players to be all fairly similar players in talent projection and upside. So we’ll refer to it as a “50 Deep” Draft.

With three picks stationed in the top 40, Burke has a chance to improve the long term outlook of the Buds, and his position looks fairly good going into Minnesota. At 25th, 30th and 39th Overall, we could see any number of deals go down or the organization stand pat and pull away with three more higher end prospects to add to the organization. Either way, it’s hard to deny that Burke has done an admirable job for fans of the Blue ‘n White when it comes to building a developmental system. And that’s without praising Toronto Marlies head coach, Dallas Eakins, for his work with the organization’s future.

The talk out of draft circles is that we can expect a lot of parity after the Top 10, which includes the likes of Nugent-Hopkins, Larsson, Hamilton and Strome. From there on, general sentiment is that very little separates the players, so we can expect a lot of surprises on the tube Friday as it comes down to organizational preference.

The needs are pretty evident for Leafs faithful; size and skill are still a necessity amongst the top six forwards. When asked about what they target at the Draft, Burke stated in recent interviews that his number one priority was character, and that number two on the checklist was foot speed. There’s plenty of options available for Brian Burke come Friday, and here are a few I believe he should be looking at.

Brandon Saad
I won’t go into huge detail on this mammoth winger, as Alex Tran had a great piece on him which can be found here, but suffice to say, this power forward once topped most scouts’ lists. The tools are all there, from a long fluid stride with solid mobility to his 6’2 frame. He owns an NHL-calibre release for his heavy shot, and the ability to pick spots with it. He’s a dominating force and if Bob McKenzie’s Top 60 List is as accurate as usual, Saad may be within Burke’s reach. Having watched the likes of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and the Bruins’ big, powerful team take home the Cup, it’s hard to not want to emulate their winning formula.

Boone Jenner
Rated at 26 on Bob McKenzie’s list from last night, Jenner is the type of kid that NHL Coaches drool over. He’s not the kid to wow you with some high end offensive play, but will go through a brick wall for his team, and get fans cheering. I’m sure most Leaf fans remember “The Shift”, courtesy of Tim Brent? Boone Jenner is that same type of two-way hard working forward who will have fans on their feet for that sort of play, and complements that with an ability to contribute in an offensive way. You’d have a heck of a dominant player if you could put Jenner’s motor into some of the top 20 players’ skill sets. His feet never stop moving, and he’ll go to the dirty areas to put up points. At 6’2 and 200 lbs, he has the size Burke covets, shows great faceoff acumen and is a contributor in all three zones. Outside of the obvious skating issues, there isn’t a whole lot to dislike about Jenner’s game, and it’s not hard to envision him as a fan favourite in Toronto. Did I mention he’s been called “clutch” in his offensive production?

Rickard Rakell
It’s been suggested that the Leafs, amongst a few other teams, came away from the Combine extremely impressed and interested in the Swedish forward. The newest work-out buddy of Gabriel Landeskog, Rakell suggested to anyone who would listen that he will be as good as the guys taken at the top of the draft. At 6’0, he doesn’t have the largest frame, but plays bigger than his body, and really tries to get under the opposition’s skin. The Stockholm native is a quick skater who gets in on the forecheck well and draws turnovers out of defenders. He shows a good head for the game on the ice, and some decent hands, though to this point has not shown serious offensive potential. Some questions surround his offensive upside, but most are positive he’ll end up an NHL’er in a secondary role. He’ll go to the dirty areas to score, and is a coach’s dream. With hard work and his “be the best” attitude, maybe he exceeds expectations. One team can only wish come Friday.

At this point, without a real target to discuss and so much parity from ten on down, trading up would seem a bit fruitless for Burke unless  it’s into the mid-to-early-teens. As unlikely as that is, don’t be entirely shocked come Friday when Brian Burke does target a guy he likes, and we can only hope it’s a center with some size. After Joe Colborne, things seem a bit bleak down the middle, considering Greg McKegg is likely a winger at the NHL Level and Sondre Olden is a project prospect, leaving the recently signed but undrafted Andrew Crescenzi as the next best thing. The winning trend in the NHL has shown the best teams to build along the blue line and down the middle, and that talent is usually home grown. You can bet Burke has noticed the trend, and will try to address it this Friday.

Brian Huddle