The Maple Leafs improved their stable of young talent Friday night and Saturday at the 2017 NHL entry draft in Chicago, adding skill and depth at every position in selecting seven players over as many rounds.
Toronto's first pick came at No. 17 in the first round, and assistant GM and director of player personnel Mark Hunter stepped to the podium and announced the selection of Swedish defenceman Timothy Liljegren. The 18-year-old Kristianstad, Sweden native stands six-feet tall and scored one goal and four assists in 19 games with Rögle BK of the Swedish league last season. He suffered a bout of mononucleosis that limited his playing time, but had been extremely well-regarded long before that thanks to his ability to move the puck and think creatively on the ice. After being picked by the Buds, Liljegren said he expects to play the 2017-18 campaign back in Sweden, but is aiming to challenge for an NHL job after that.
The Leafs continued making picks Saturday, and their first of the morning came in the second round with the 59th overall pick - Toronto's original second-rounder was dealt to Tampa Bay in the trade that brought Brian Boyle to the Buds last season - which belonged to Ottawa and was acquired in the swap that sent blueliner Dion Phaneuf to the Senators in 2016. The Leafs used it to choose another 18-year-old Nordic defenseman: 6-foot-6 D-man Eemeli Rasanen, who posted six goals and 39 points for the Ontario League's Kingston Frontenacs in 2016-17. Obviously, Rasanen's size is a benefit, but he too will need to hone his game before competing for a job in hockey's best league.
Video: Fedor Gordeev speaks with the media
Toronto was without a third-round selection - a result of compensation awarded to the Detroit Red Wings for the hiring of head coach Mike Babcock in 2015 - but they had a pair of picks in the fourth round: the first was the 110th overall pick, with which the Leafs took Western League goaltender Ian Scott, an 18-year-old who played for the Prince Albert Raiders in the past two seasons; and the second was the 124th overall pick (acquired from Pittsburgh in the deal that sent blueliner Frank Corrado to the Penguins), with which Toronto chose left winger Vladislav Kara, a 19-year-old who split the past season with Bars Kazan and Irbis Kazan in his native Russia, racking up 14 goals and 28 points in 65 games.
The Buds retained their picks in each of the final three rounds Saturday, and used them to add a centre and two D-men: In the fifth round, Toronto took another hulking blueliner - 6-foot-6 Ontario League defenseman and Toronto native Fedor Gordeev - with the 141st overall selection. Gordeev, who was raised in the suburb of Etobicoke, posted 3 goals and 13 points in 62 games with the Flint Firebirds in 2016-17.
In the sixth round, the Leafs chose another Ontario Leaguer in centre Ryan McGregor of the Sarnia Sting with the 172nd overall pick; the Burlington, Ont., native registered 14 goals and 27 points in 65 games of his sophomore OHL season last year. And with their last pick of the draft, Toronto used the 203rd overall selection to take blueliner Ryan O'Connell, who played last season for St. Andrew's College in Ontario's CISAA (Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association).
All in all, Toronto brought in a lot of size, but more importantly, players with elite skill bases who can continue growing their individual games in development leagues and face no pressure to contribute to the NHL team right away. Leafs fans have been more than pleased with the organization's draft results in recent years, and the Buds' class of 2017 looks as if it has a chance to make a notable impact for the franchise down the line.