It's fitting that we're doing Toronto's pick the day after the Maple Leafs hired Mike Babcock as head coach. A new era has started in Toronto, and Babcock's 8-year contract will ensure he'll be a fixture in Toronto.
That said, Babcock may not even be the biggest offseason acquisition by Toronto this season. This, as we've been told for a long time now, is the deepest draft the NHL has seen in some time now. Über-prospects Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel are stealing the headlines this season, but the next tier of prospects would be fighting for Top-2 or 3 consideration during most years. Toronto didn't win the McDavid sweepstakes like everyone had hoped for, but with the fourth pick in this draft, the Maple Leafs are in prime position to get a fixture in their lineup for years to come.
Toronto Maple Leafs Overiew
The good news: They don't need to draft a coach.
The bad news: It's not really a great outlook for Toronto otherwise, as they're firmly in rebuilding territory. On the NHL squad, they've got a handful of good players. Up front, they've got scorers in Phil Kessel, James van Reimsdyk, and Nazem Kadri. Problem is, it's not entirely certain that (at least Kessel and Kadri) are going to be around long enough to be part of the next good Leafs team. On the blueline, it's a bit more optimistic as Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly look to be around for the long haul.
On the prospect side? There are some solid players in the Leafs system, but the only blue-chipper appears to be their first-round pick from last season, William Nylander.
That's all to say the Leafs pretty much could use an upgrade at any position, which made me give consideration to both London Knights (OHL) forward Mitch Marner and Boston College (NCAA) defenseman Noah Hanifin. As the title of this article indicates, I went with Marner for the pick.
About Mitch Marner
If Toronto loves their hometown players as much as Wild fans do, they'll be thrilled to know that Marner hails from Thornhill, a suburb of Toronto.
That's just icing on the cake, though. The substance to Marner is that he's an offensive wizard, torching the Ontario League to the tune of 126 points in 123 games. The only player who racked up more points last season was Dylan Strome (though, in fairness, McDavid scored 120 in 16 fewer games). But don't take my word for it.
If you want to be entertained at a hockey game, go watch Marner play, because he puts on a show. His puck skills and pure creativity are elite, and when you combine that with his impressive skating and vision, he can create chances most players can't.
[Marner's offense is] elite, the works.
- Shot- Amazing release, amazing wide variety of slappers and wristers, amazing decoys from any location.
- Passing- Becoming more of a shooter but still makes his teammates look pretty...
- Stickhandling- The deke, the dangle, the defense is left with only their imagination.
- Vision- His cerebral game is as good or better than his physical [skills].
- Creativity- If you haven't guessed it by now, Mitch will try just abut anything and usually succeeds. He is at the very top end of the 2015 draft class for creativity with only Connor McDavid probably being slightly superior.
The knock on Marner? Size. 5'11" isn't terrible size by any stretch of the imagination, but combine that with only ~165 pounds on his frame, and you have a player that will need to get stronger in order to reach his full potential. I'm by no means a scout, but this feels a bit nit-picky to me, particularly since he's been said to be a crafty, if not physical, defender. There are a ton of great players in this draft, and you have to differentiate somehow.
My guess is that in a different draft class, Marner's size wouldn't put him at (slight) risk of knocking him out of the Top-5. Tyler Johnson of the Lightning is the toast of the league right now, and he's two inches shorter than Marner. If you can play like this, being 5'11" probably isn't going to hurt you too much.
How Would He Fit on the Wild?
We've spent the last three Mays talking about how the Wild don't have a Patrick Kane. Here's as good of a shot at Patrick Kane as anyone (though it's not yet certain whether he'll be a Right Winger like Kane, or stick at center in the NHL).
Sure, it's a bit unlikely, but with Chuck Fletcher's craftiness, some luck, and a copy of NHL 16, he could be locked in the Wild's Top-6- if not Top Line- for years to come.