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Plenty of options for Leafs in 2015 Draft

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Admit it. You’re thinking about the NHL Draft.

Yes, it’s two months away — June 26 to be exact.

So what would you rather be doing than considering the Leafs options? Watching the Canadiens?

I didn’t think so.

There are two months worth of juicy speculation over what promises to be one of the most memorable drafts, well, ever.

That’s saying something since the first two picks, Connor McDavid to Edmonton and Jack Eichel to Buffalo are virtually locked in.

No, the draft begins at three and the Arizona Coyotes. The Leafs, you may have heard, pick fourth.

For the first time since Mats Sundin left Toronto seven seasons ago, the Leafs have a legitimate chance at finding a big, talented centre with Dylan Strome available.

Strome is no Sundin. He has slipped slightly as faster players in the Erie Otters’ playoff matchup with the Soo Greyhounds have exposed the weakest part of his skill package: footspeed. Still, Strome, the OHL’s reigning scoring leader would have another year to pack more meat on his six-foot-three frame as well as develop his skating. His other talents, a high hockey IQ and great puck possession skills can only get better as well.

The uber-talented Mitchell Marner of the London Knights is a forward drawing comparisons to Doug Gilmour and Patrick Kane.

Two can’t-miss defencemen, Boston College’s Noah Hanifin and Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings, are also tantalizing prospects.

So what do we know?

Well, we know the Arizona Coyotes will be the real protagonists of the draft. Who they take at three will dictate what happens in the first round. They unloaded Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette, a defenceman and a centre, so there is something of a hole up front and on the blue line.

Thanks to the draft pick acquired from Nashville in the deal that sent Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli to the Predators, the Leafs own a late first-rounder.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, will enjoy a gravy train with six picks in the first three rounds. This will be a franchise-defining draft for the Coyotes.

We know Arizona GM Don Maloney has a player in mind while adding the candidate’s performance in interviews and at the draft combine would need to be disastrous to move the club off its guy.

Who is that guy?

We’ll get to that.

First, let’s establish a few things.

While teams will land first-round draft choices through trades, usually at the deadline, deals to move up are rare. In all, seven teams — the Oilers, Sabres, Coyotes, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Jets and Lightning — will spend first round picks acquired via trade.

Maloney has also indicated a willingness to trade down, assuming he still gets his player.

There is such an avalanche of talent in the top half dozen players that you can’t really go too far wrong so trading up or back seems unlikely.

GMs forever say they don’t draft for position but clearly the Coyotes need to restock their blueline. After franchise rearguard Oliver-Ekman Larson, there is a pressing need for top-tier talent.

Based on organizational need, the pick would probably be Noah Hanifin, the Boston College freshman whose smooth skating, defensive acumen and hockey sense prompts hockey people to envision a Jay Bouwmeester who skates suspiciously like Paul Coffey. That’s not bad.

The Coyotes have Christian Dvorak, who has the trappings of a number one centre, Laurent Dauphin, who fits into the three hole, and Martin Hanzal, a towering 6-foot-6 Czech pivot whose first-line potential has so far been undermined by back woes. Hanzal has told reporters he expects to be pain-free at training camp but he is 27 and Arizona may be tired of waiting for him.

If the Coyotes draft a centre they have a nice mix of talented young players to stack around their new acquisition including Max Domi, Brendan Perlini and Henrik Samuelsson, Ulf's son, a bruising a 6-foot-3 winger who is a little slow of foot.

So, here’s the guess. The Coyotes will be tantalized by Marner’s skill and Strome’s overall game but the temptation to match Ekman-Larson who will be 24 when the season starts with a comparable defenceman will prove irresistible, especially since the club already has Dvorak.

That defenceman could be Provorov who netted a point a game in his rookie season but Hanifin’s tremendous upside, he was Boston College’s best defenceman at 17, means he will go at three.

The Leafs pick then becomes a tantalizing one. As one talent evaluator said, the biggest mistake made every year at the draft is overvaluing big slow players and undervaluing smaller faster ones. Marner or Strome. That seems to be the question.

Marner would dazzle with William Nylander, of course, but Strome could eventually evolve into a towering first or second line pivot whose size could complement Nylander’s speed. Add the prospect of Andreas Johnson, a 20-year-old coming off another excellent season in the Swedish Elite League joining the Leafs and the team’s long-term prospects look rosier.

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