How the Maple Leafs re-stocked the cupboards at the NHL Draft
A general view of the Toronto Maple Leafs "war room" prior to the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty)
The Toronto Maple Leafs cast a wide net in the 2020 NHL draft, and the hope is that this will be the cure for a somewhat sterile prospectus system.
Toronto entered the draft with 11 picks in the seven rounds. After moving up and down at various points on day 2 and being surprised with a late trade to return to round seven, they eventually made 12 selections.
The strategy was clarified by the Leafs, who almost exclusively selected players whose season was not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That meant diving into the Russian and Finnish pools of prospects before they were opened up a bit in the later rounds.
The expectation should be that at least some of these newly minted prospects will have an impact on the NHL level, but the focus will largely be on the Leafs' 15th overall selection, Rodion Amirov.
The undersized Russian winger is the final piece of the puzzle in the return of Kasperi Kapanen, whom the Leafs traded for the Pittsburgh Penguins for a variety of reasons, including a desire to reclaim a selection for the first round.
Here's what the Leafs achieved in the war room set up in the Maple Leafs' locker room at Scotiabank Arena.
First round, No. 15 Overall: F, Rodion Amirov
This couldn't be more brand-related. While many were shouting for the Maple Leafs to add either a top blue line talent or another dimension to their group of strikers, the Leafs stayed true to their identity by making Amirov their top pick since Auston Matthews. Amirov doesn't have the extraordinary individual attributes or the flashy numbers we've seen many times when selecting tall drafts, but he continues to be considered one of the most versatile strikers in draft and a sure bet to make a contribution. For Kyle Dubas, the thought process compares well with the selection of Nick Robertson, a prospect who proved another level of development ahead and confirmed his investment in the second round by leading the Ontario Hockey League in goals last season . The expectation is that Amirov will take a similar step forward and have far more opportunities to contribute with Ufa in the KHL and on the international stage for Russia this season. The most logical criticism of the selection is that the Leafs did not use this precious commodity to help them in the short term. It is clear, however, that a trade opportunity they were eager to trigger was simply not available to them, and the ability to swap the fourth-placed European skater altogether and still take over was apparently not an option either, despite having been on one for so long had waited call.
Second round, No. 59 Overall: F, Roni Hirvonen
It was another typical round two selection for Kyle Dubas jumping in Finland's Hirvonen for a small high skill center. The talent base isn't that complete compared to Amirov, but Hirvonen is another quality striker who doesn't rely heavily on a single asset and instead has multiple dimensions to his game. It has helped him to be successful in every situation he finds himself in, be it against his colleagues or men in the Finnish top division. Draft experts love what he can do with possession of the puck, but he'll have to work hard with Leaf's skating coach Barb Underhill to improve on his most obvious weakness: his skating.
Third round, No. 64 Overall: D, Topi Niemela
Niemela is another Finnish prospect with experience at the highest level in his home country. He also does more with less in terms of his stature. Design experts praise its ability to think the game. They say Niemela makes wise decisions and routinely enables his team to attack with his mobility and proper care of the puck. He fits in with an obvious organizational need as a legal defense project, and his play seems to compare exactly to Rasmus Sandin's.
Fourth Round, No. 106 Overall: G, Artur Akhtyamov
He may not be Yaroslav Askarov, but the Maple Leafs have added a Russian goalkeeping perspective with really strong numbers at the highest levels of his homeland. Choosing Akhtyamov, another client of Gold Star Hockey and Dan Milstein, only strengthens the Leafs' deep connection with the Russia-based prospectus system. Size is seen as an issue for the ninth off-board netminder in the design, even at 6-foot-2.
Fourth Round, No. 122 Overall: D, William Villeneuve
Villeneuve was the leading scorer for the Saint John Sea Dogs last season, something you don't see often from a defender in the Canadian Major Junior. He arrives as another project for Underhill as Scouts say this is another player who needs to improve his skating to make an impact on the next level.
Fifth round, No. 137 overall: F, Dmitry Ovchinnikov
The Leafs exchanged a deal with the Florida Panthers to bring in Ovchinnikov, who is small and highly skilled and has a high score in Russia's junior ranks. He would be Maple Leafs' draft selection in 2020, if there was ever one - that is, if he were represented by Dan Milstein. This is the first of several Leafs lottery tickets.
Sixth round, No. 168 Overall: F, Veeti Miettinen
Miettinen is the third Finnish-born skater selected by the Leafs. It looks like the speed and skill of a dominant goalscorer in the Finnish junior rankings last season.
Sixth round, No. 177 Overall: D, Axel Rindell
Make it four fins. Rindell is 20 years old, two years further in his development curve than most of the others, but has had a really productive season in the Finnish top division with 22 points in 47 games with Jukurit.
Sixth round, 180th total round: F, Joe Miller
Miller is one of several members of the Chicago Steel inducted into the 2020 draft, but he has yet to make his debut for the USHL club. Miller, a significantly undersized center at 5-foot-8 and 147 pounds, filled the net at Minnesota High School last season.
Seventh round, 189th overall round: D, John Fusco
Fusco is waiting to begin his first season at Harvard after having had a solid season in terms of production in the U.S. high school prep level. He found out that he was drafted into a zoom class.
Seventh round, 195th overall round: F, Wyatt Schingoethe
Schingoethe is a rare pick for strikers with very little offensive uptrend and is sent to the University of Denver after two seasons with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL.
Seventh round, 213rd overall: F, Ryan Tverberg
Tverberg, another Harvard engagement, had only decent numbers last season with the Toronto Jr. Canadiens of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. However, the Leafs clearly picked up enough of his skill to return to the draft late to prevent him from slipping into the uncovered free hand.
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