One day after the Maple Leafs drafted centre Auston Matthews with their first round, first-overall pick at the 2016 NHL entry draft, the team stockpiled a slew of young talent – 10 picks on Saturday and 11 in total – on the second and final day of the selection process. The average hockey fan may not recognize the names of some of the individuals Toronto brought into the fold, but Leafs management believes it significantly improved its prospect depth over the course of the weekend at First Niagara Center.
“We added some size…and (players with) good skills,” Leafs director of player personnel Mark Hunter said after the draft’s conclusion. “They’ll need some time, of course, but we’ll put them away (in the system) and hopefully they develop as hockey players.”
The Leafs didn’t shock anyone by picking Matthews on Friday, but their first pick of the second round – Russian Yegor Korshkov, selected 31st overall – caught some observers by surprise. However, the 19-year-old right winger was ranked seventh among European skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, and scored six goals and 12 points for Lokomotiv of the Kontinental League last season. At 6-foot-4, he’s got an NHL frame, but like most youngsters, he’ll require time to fill out.
Toronto used its second pick of the second round (57th overall) to select Swedish right winger Carl Grundstrom, an 18-year-old who amassed seven goals and 16 points in 49 games with Modo of the Swedish Elite League in 2015-16. And in the third round, Toronto had two picks – 62nd overall and 72nd overall – and used them to select American goaltender Joseph Woll and big-bodied, 18-year-old U.S. defenceman James Greenway. Both third-round picks are products of the U.S. National Development Team, and Woll, along with his family and friends, was in attendance in Buffalo to see his dream realized.
“I’m obviously very excited,” Woll said. “I couldn’t think of a better place to come to than Toronto. I can’t really describe the feeling right now.”
A St. Louis native, Woll counts himself a fan of NHL star netminders Carey Price and Braden Holtby, and the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder describes himself as a mixture of an athletic and positional goalie. The 17-year-old was thrilled to see Leafs head coach Mike Babcock walk down the draft floor and into the stands to introduce himself to Woll’s family.
“It’s really special, especially for my family, to be able to meet a great coach like Mike Babcock,” said Woll, nicknamed ‘The Brick Woll’. “I know they’re enjoying it as much as I am.”
In the fourth round, the Leafs had two picks, and used both to select Canadian players: with the first, they drafted 20-year-old centre Adam Brooks 92nd overall; and with the second, they selected 18-year-old blueliner Keaton Middleton with the 101st pick. Brooks had 38 goals and 120 points for the Western League’s Regina Pats last season, while Middleton – a 6-foot-6 D-man who played with Saginaw of the Ontario League in 2015-16, immediately becomes one of the tallest players in the organization.
Toronto had the first selection (122nd overall) of the fifth round, and took Russian winger Vladimir Bobylev with the pick. The 19-year-old spent the past two seasons playing in North America in the WHL, and had 28 goals and 67 points in 72 games with Victoria last season. And in the sixth round, the Leafs used their two picks (152nd overall and 179th overall) to select American defenceman Jack Walker and Canadian blueliner Nicolas Mattinen. Walker is a 19-year-old American who had 36 goals and 84 points with Victoria in 2015-16, while Mattinen – a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder – had four goals and 10 points in 39 games in his rookie OHL season with London.
Finally, in the seventh round, the Buds used their last pick of the draft (182nd overall) to take Russian winger Nikolai Chebykin, an 18-year-old who posted 13 goals and 35 points in 39 games with Balashikha of the Russian junior league last season.
In sum, Toronto addressed all their playing positions, added size and skill, and came away from the draft feeling expecting more competition for jobs within the organization than ever before. And team management recognizes that this marks only the beginning of their journey as men and team assets.
“Every NHL team (will) talk about how good they’ve drafted, but we feel good about it,” Hunter said. “We all know we have to develop these young men and give them time to spread their wings.”