Trading Down in the 2014 NHL Draft

Alexandre Picard (center) was the eighth overall pick at the 2004 NHL Entry Draft where Columbus traded down from 4th (Andrew Ladd, 2x Stanley Cup Champion) with Carolina. Picard played 67 games. The 57th pick (Kyle Wharton)—also acquired in the trade—never played in the NHL.

One of the things we try to do in our analysis at MLHS is discuss possibilities for upcoming decisions facing the Maple Leafs in their pursuit of improving the organization. There is no perfect formula for building a winning team, so all avenues have to be explored from a multitude of angles.

A few weeks ago, I discussed the possibility of the Leafs moving up in the 2014 NHL draft and why it might make sense to do so. Trading for the top pick is extremely rare; although the first overall selection appears to be more in play than usual this June, it can’t be taken for granted what the magnitude of that move would be and the cost of pulling it off.

While there will be good players available with the #8 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, one of the surface issues with the pick in this draft specifically could be that there will mostly be wingers available. The Maple Leafs aren’t in a position to be turning their back on good players, but good teams are built down the middle and the Leafs still lack quality centerman in the system, by and large.

Dave Nonis has confirmed before that good centers and defencemen are the hardest assets to acquire. On defense, Leafs management have done their part to fill the system: They have young D on the roster in Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly, and a few young promising guys on the Marlies in Petter Granberg, Andrew MacWilliam and Stuart Percy. The next wave for the Marlies is coming soon in Matt Finn, Tom Nilsson, and Eric Knodel. They won’t all become NHLers, but there are layers of depth at the D position and plenty of diverse potential.

Conversely, the center position does not boast that kind of depth. You have Nazem Kadri and Peter Holland in the NHL, Greg McKegg on the Marlies and maybe Sam Carrick (he played quite a bit of wing), followed by wildcards at center in the minor systems such as Frederick Gauthier, Dominic Toninato, and Carter Verhaeghe. The Leafs are still very much in the process of building their center group at all levels.

Let’s assume another quality center prospect is what the Leafs desire (and they’ve made an effort to bring in young centers lately, drafting Gauthier and even Varheaghe, and trading for Holland), and the only center that could fall to 8, William Nylander, gets drafted before their pick. One option Nonis and company could explore is trading down. The next few centers after the initial run of top Cs appear to be Jared McCann and Robby Fabbri. Rankings on these players have been all over the map, but the betting is that they could be had in the early to mid teens. Meaning, the Leafs could trade down, snag their center, and add additional picks.

Here are a few examples of teams trading down:

  • 2007: Blues traded down from #9 (Logan Couture) to draft #13 (Lars Eller) and #44 (Aaron Palushaj)
  • 2008: Islanders move down from #7 (Colin Wilson) to #9 (Josh Bailey) and #40 (Aaron Ness)
  • 2008: LA moved down from #12 (Tyler Myers) for #13 (Colton Teubert) and #74 (Andrew Campbell)
  • 2009: Minnesota moves down from #12 (Calvin De Haan) for the Islanders’ #16 (Nick Leddy) #77 (Matt Hackett) and #182 (Eric Haula)
  • 2010: Florida traded down from 15 (Derek Forbert) to LA for 19 (Nick Bjugstad) and 59 (Jason Zucker) but Florida then flipped #59 in exchanged for #69 (Joe Basaraba) and #99 (Joonas Donskoi)
  • 2012: Calgary trades down from #14 (Zemgus Girgensons) for #21 (Mark Jankowski) and #42 (Pat Sieloff)

Based on recent history, the upside of trading down for the Leafs is that they should be able to add at least a 2nd round pick, and maybe even more. What the Leafs have to factor into the equation is that they don’t have a 2nd round pick this draft, they didn’t have one in 2013, and they don’t have one again in 2015.

As we discussed in the latest hangout, Brian Burke was starting nearly from scratch when he first arrived in Toronto. This was a complete rebuild of what was pretty well an expansion team. To this point, management has really just laid down a foundation to their system, one which is only now beginning to regularly produce NHLers. The Marlies have been a good team for three seasons now, and while they have been carried by various veterans (Zigomanis, Brennan, Smith, MacIntyre, etc), they have been developing depth NHLers and potential bottom six contributors. Names like Carter Ashton, Jerry D’Amigo and David Broll come to mind.

What they lack is high end talent, which is not surprising.  The less high picks a team has, the harder that is to develop. A study of draft picks by Flames Nation found that between 2003 and 2013:
[quote_box_center]“Over 65% of first round picks go on to play at least 50 games in the show. The numbers drop off a cliff after that as only 29% of 2nd rounders play 50 games; 18% of 3rd rounders; 14.5% of 4th rounders; 9% of 5th rounders…”[/quote_box_center]
Without a 2nd round pick –and a 2nd round pick is no guarantee to be an NHLer in and of itself anyway—the Leafs are putting a lot of pressure on their scouts to find NHLers in low-percentage rounds, meaning drafts where they produce only one NHLer are a strong possibility.

Like every team, the Leafs will have a cut-off mark in terms of players they would like to draft at #8. If none of those players make it to #8, trading down and adding at least a 2nd round pick does make some sense on the surface for an organization that is trying to fill out their cupboards with uniquely skilled potential contributors.

Trading down only makes sense if Leafs brass has their eye on someone and think they can nab him later in the draft. They can’t trade down for the sake of adding a 2nd round pick, because the quality of the top 10 can’t be ignored, but if the prospects they really want don’t make it to #8 it might be best to trade down instead of simply taking the next kid on the list. The history on the 8th overall pick has not been inspiring since the turn of the millennium:

8th overall picks

Draft YearPlayerPositionGPGAPTS
2013Rasmus RistolainenD34224
2012Derrick PouliotD0000
2011Sean CouturierC205305181
2010Alex BurmistrovC194233558
2009Scott GlennieC1000
2008Mikkel BoedkerL3385393146
2007Zach HamillR20044
2006Peter MuellerC2976397160
2005Devin SetoguchiR459127122249
2004Alexandre PicardL67022
2003Braydon CoburnD57536121157
2002Pierre-Marc BouchardC593110246356
2001Pascal LeclaireG173044
2000Nikita AlexeevL159201737

Trading down isn’t the big, sexy move everyone wants to see. Drafting quickly becomes a crapshoot the further down the order a team goes, and there may be other ways to acquire more draft picks. However, it has to at least be a consideration. If the team plays their cards right and narrows in on the right guy projected to go between 10 and 20, it could be a good move for the Leafs.