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Leafs boost talent depth at 2019 NHL Entry Draft

by Adam Proteau Proteautype /

The 2019 NHL entry draft concluded Saturday after two sessions in which eager players were funnelled through the lottery system and moved one step closer to living their dream of playing in the National Hockey League. And although the Maple Leafs didn't have a first-round pick this summer, GM Kyle Dubas used his time Saturday to add six new talents to Toronto's pool of players - and to also make salary-cap related moves to firm up his franchise's roster in the years ahead

Before the draft's second round began in Vancouver, Dubas had made his first move of draft weekend: he traded forward Patrick Marleau, a conditional first-round draft pick in the 2020 or 2021 drafts, and a seventh-round pick in 2020 to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for Carolina's sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft. In essence, Dubas had to free up valuable salary cap space to re-sign Toronto restricted free agents and moving Marleau's $6.5-million cap hit this coming year will go a good ways in helping Dubas meet that end.

"Obviously, Patty is a good man," Maple Leafs head coach told assembled media on the draft floor in Vancouver. "We acquired him for a reason - to help us. I believe he was a big part in recruiting John Tavares. There are so many things to it. Obviously, this is a situation where he is going to move somewhere else and pursue his career. Ideally, it would be a good situation for him and his family, wherever he gets to go. We just thank him."

Once the second round of the draft commenced at noon, the Leafs stepped to the podium to make their first of six picks with the 53rd-overall selection: Ontario League left winger Nicholas Robertson. The 17-year-old starred for the Peterborough Petes in 2018-19 - averaging over a point-per-game as he posted 27 goals and 55 points to lead the Petes in scoring despite playing in only 54 games. The Northville, Mich., native has turned heads with his on-ice creativity and competitive nature.

The left shot winger represented the USA internationally in last year's Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring four goals and five points in five games. When asked about his size in interviews during today's draft, he named Trevor Moore as a comparable. "I don't think it's a factor at all. Trevor Moore, he's a guy from California, he's not the biggest guy but you see how effective he was in playoffs. He's a skilled player, I think the tenacity makes up for my size as well as my skill."

In the third round, the Leafs used the 84th-overall pick on Finnish defenseman Mikko Kokkonen. The 18-year-old left-shot D-man generated three goals and 19 points in 56 games in Finland's top league last year. Kokkonen has plenty of experience at the top levels of international hockey, as well, winning gold with the Finnish U18 World Junior Championship team in 2017-18.

Toronto had a pair of picks in the fourth round; they used the first one (115th overall) on Quebec Major Junior League centre Mikhail Abramov, who had 38 assists and 54 points in 62 games with Victoriaville. Abramov's strong season earned him QMJHL Rookie All-Star Team honours. Before joining the Tigres this season, Abramov saw success playing within the CSKA Moscow system in Russia.

With another pick shortly after, the Leafs used the second fourth-rounder (Pick No. 124, acquired from St. Louis in the trade that made winger Nikita Soshnikov a Blue) on USHL forward Nick Abruzzese. The 20-year-old Abruzzese amassed 51 assists and 80 points in 62 games with the Chicago Steel last year, finishing atop the entire USHL in scoring for the 2018-19 season. He averaged over a point-per-game in the postseason, as well, scoring seven goals and 14 points in 11 contests. The Slate Hill, NY native is committed to Harvard for 2019-20.

In the fifth round, Toronto took its second defenceman in this draft by selecting USHL blueliner Michael Koster 146th overall. The 18-year-old left-shot blueliner spent much of the year in the Minnesota High School League, where he won the Reed Larson Award as top senior boys' high school hockey defenseman in the state. Koster recorded 19 goals and 29 points in just 24 goals from the point this season before finishing the season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. There, Koster had another four assists and six points in 15 regular-season games. Born in Chaska, MN, Koster is committed to be a Golden Gopher at the University of Minnesota next year.

And with no sixth round pick, the Leafs' final selection Saturday came with the seventh-round pick of Finnish right shot D-man Kalle Loponen at No. 204 overall. As a 17-year-old playing grown men in second-tier Finnish hockey, Loponen posted 12 points (4G, 8a) in 30 games for Hermes, then represented his country at the IIHF Under-18 World Championship.  

That was the sum total of the Leafs' work at this draft: with their picks, they acquired three forwards and three defencemen - all of them smart, determined players who love controlling the puck - and Dubas used the Marleau trade to provide salary-cap flexibility for this off-season and down the line.

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