NHL Draft 2018: How Leafs' GM Kyle Dubas Fared at the Helm of Operations

Gordon Brown
BarnBurner Sports Writer


Saturday, June 23, 2018

Leafs Selected Nine (9) Prospects in Annual Draft

Back to Business

Following an uplifting celebration of hockey camaraderie and personal achievements at the NHL awards in Las Vegas earlier this week, the focus league-wide adjusted to a more serious note as the 2018 NHL Draft took place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

June 22nd-to-23rd sustained a steady flow of trades, speculation, and even more rumours, all of which kept fans moderately entertained throughout the lengthy process. 

As the annual draft took shape, it became undoubtedly clear that some teams were more privileged than others in terms of quantity and quality of their draft picks. On one hand, the Montreal Canadiens led the pack with five combined picks throughout Rounds 1 and 2, whereas some of the less-fortunate teams, such as Nashville and Winnipeg, were left with zero after excessive use of their high-end picks as bait at the trade-deadline. 

Having minimal opportunity to stockpile young talent is not a reality contemporary General Managers should be willing to live with. Some just so happen to be more intelligent than others in this sense.

The importance of drafting effectively has increased astronomically in recent years due to the influx of high-quality talent emerging from junior hockey, accompanied by the ever-changing landscape and style of the game itself. Speed and skill are at an all-time premium, this is slowly but surely becoming the league’s overall complexion. Gone are the days of drafting a less skilled, yet hulking 6’5” and 220-pound Frederik Gauthier in the first-round.  

Without a doubt, the greatest impact of these young draft picks is underlined by the fact that entry-level contracts are much cheaper than that of their veteran counterparts, prompting many teams to rely on young talent in order to supplement their salary cap flexibility. The Chicago Blackhawks can be seen as a pioneer in this respect, winning two Stanley Cups while several of their core players remained on entry-level deals. Historically, the Detroit Red Wings have utilized a similar drafting strategy for decades under Ken Holland, pinpointing overlooked talent in late rounds of the draft, and it appears the Toronto Maple Leafs are dawning on a similar reputation under its current management. 

Not only is this highlighted by the many players from their recent Calder Cup-winning roster, one that featured a pair of former seventh-round picks in Andreas Johnsson and Garret Sparks steering the ship, but it is a sign of stability with their newly anointed 32-year-old General Manager, Kyle Dubas, at the helm of an NHL Draft for the first time in his early tenure.

So, how did the Maple Leafs fare at the draft this time around?

Heading into Friday, the Maple Leafs were privileged enough to possess a total of seven selections in this year’s NHL Draft—but like many other things, draft order scenarios are subject to change in a moment’s notice.

Round-by-Round Breakdown:

Round 1 — 1 (25th)

Round 2 — 1 (52nd)

Round 3 — 1 (83rd)

Round 4 — 1 (118th)

Round 5 — 1 (149th)

Round 6 — 0

Round 7 — 2 (209th, 211th) 

Prior to the spectacle, Kyle Dubas stressed that he has no intentions of drafting strictly based on the positional needs of his franchise, “We want to find the best players and draft them and bring them in. We can sort that out through trades and waivers after. But the more good players we can get in the better.”

Based on that fact alone, the Maple Leafs executive brass was very much inclined to select whomever they viewed as the best available player on the board come time for their first selection at 25th overall. Simple, right?

Not exactly so. While on the draft clock, Kyle Dubas saw his first transaction come in the form of a trade with St. Louis, who traded-down to receive the 25th overall pick in exchange for the 29th and 76th overall picks. A similar move was made in 2015 for Toronto, trading-up in order to draft both Travis Dermott (34th) and Jeremy Bracco (61st). Something he must have picked up from his former mentor, Lou Lamoriello.

Round 1, 29th Overall (from STL) — Rasmus Sandin (LHD)

Toronto’s passionately debated first-round selection hails from Sweden and projects to be a mainstay top-4 pairing defenceman, who’s game is reminiscent of the L.A. Kings’ Jake Muzzin. Although there was a plethora of high-profile names yet to hear their name called at the podium, Dubas was clearly fixated on acquiring the 5’11” and 186-pound rearguard and had no issue passing on the likes of Joseph Veleno, Jared McIsaac, and Alexander Alexeyev, among others.

Sandin is regarded as a smooth skating, efficient puck-moving defender, with strong break-out capabilities at the ripe age of 18-years-old, and was projected as the 21st best skater according to Mark Seidel at NA Central Scouting’s final 2018 draft prospect rankings. He amassed a total of 12 goals and 33 assists for 45 points in 51 games this season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL). 

It appears the Soo connection is beginning to make its impact on Toronto as a direct result of Kyle Dubas and his former affiliation with the club. Although, it has led many to question whether or not he should have passed on other notable players in this fashion. Undeniably, some high-profile talent was still on the board when Dubas announced his opening selection, however, time will only tell if he made the correct choice. 

Round 2, 52nd Overall — Sean Durzi (RHD)

The second-round saw the Maple Leafs draft a 19-year-old hometown product from the Owen Sound Attack (OHL), who recorded 15 goals and 34 assists for 49 points in 40 games. His style of play is modelled after Erik Karlsson, and although not on his level, should prove to be a very valuable asset for Toronto moving forward. Kyle Dubas truly did his homework and zeroed in on a pair of high-ceiling, puck-moving defencemen with his first two picks. His size should also be noted, as he stands at 6'0' and 188-pounds.

Durzi was draft eligible in 2017 but was passed over by all 31 teams. He grew up as a life-long Maple Leafs fan to boot and, when asked, was more than enthusiastic about where he landed, 

“(I am) one of the biggest Leafs fans I’d say. It’s been a thing in my family for generations. I’ve been a Leaf fan my whole life and this is a dream come true.” said the Mississauga, Ontario native.

Round 3, 76th Overall (from STL) — Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (C)

Yes, you read that correctly. No, I do not have a clue how it is pronounced.

With the pick received from St. Louis on the draft floor on Day 1, Toronto took its first non-defence pick in the form of a 5’10” and 159-pound Russian centre from the Peterborough Petes (OHL). The diminutive face-off man managed to produce 12 goals and recorded 39 assists for a total of 51 points in 68 games played, and while he projects to be a skilled top-9 forward, could prove most effective in Toronto’s power play structure. A very savvy addition to Toronto’s already deep prospect pool, with the not-so-distant future clearly in mind. Boom or bust.

For clarification purposes, the 17-year-old is commonly referred to as “SDA” to make life easier around the hockey world.

It just so happens that Der-Arguchintsev entered the day as the youngest draft-eligible player on the board and should be expected to develop in junior or the minors before making the professional-level jump. It remains to be seen just how high the ceiling is for a player of his composition, but it could be considerable. 

Additionally, it was reported by Terry Koshan that Der-Arguchintsev had previously played with Nikita Zaitsev’s brother in Russia and would often attend home games in Toronto with his tickets. Familiarity with the city should not be a pressing issue here.

Round 3, 83rd Overall — Riley Stotts (C)

Toronto used its original third-round pick to select another centre, as 18-year-old Riley Stotts of the Calgary Hitmen (WHL) became the newest member of the blue and white. He split his time between Calgary and previously the Swift Current Broncos (WHL), with a scoring line of 17 goals and 24 assists—good enough for 41 points in 47 games.

The 6’0” and 172-pound Canadian playmaker models his game after Mark Scheifele but is described as a “middleweight” player according to his profile on http://thehockeywriters.com. Not big or small, nor slow or speedy—but a well-rounded forward that takes pride in their work ethic. 

For Dubas, this pick should fixture well into the Toronto Marlies culture in the near future. Especially considering the departure of Miro Aaltonen to the KHL, along with Frederik Gauthier’s unknown status as an RFA.

Round 4, 118th Overall — Mac Hollowell (RHD)

A 19-year-old Canadian with a prowess for setting-up goals. As demonstrated by his 2017-18 regular season stats, 12 goals and 44 assists for 56 points in 63 games, Hollowell can straight-up dish the puck. Although he stands at just 5’9” and 170-pounds, the Leafs could have themselves a steal if he continues to flourish at the next level. He also happens to be a product of the Soo and was a major contributor in the J. Ross Robertson Cup finalist’s lineup.

Size could be an issue for his position, but as the trend continues, so too do the game’s parameters. 

Round 5, 149th Overall — Filip Kral (LHD)

Kyle Dubas stuck with the trend on defence, selecting 18-year-old Czech native Filip Kral with his fifth-round selection. Standing at 6’1” and 171-pounds, Kral led all WHL rookie defencemen while skating for the Spokane Chiefs, recording 9 goals and 26 assists for 35 points in 54 games. 

His game is modelled after Dmitry Orlov but could certainly use more seasoning in the minors and will have an upward climb if he hopes to stick with the organization, as can be expected with many fifth-rounders.

Round 6, 156th Overall (from BUF) — Pontus Holmberg (RW)

Originally, the Maple Leafs did not own a sixth-round selection in this year’s draft, however, that was only until Kyle Dubas pulled the trigger on an unexpected deal with the Buffalo Sabres. In exchange for the 156th overall pick, Toronto compensated the Sabres with their own 2019 sixth-round pick before electing 19-year-old Pontus Holmberg of VIK Vasteras HK (SWE-3). 

In 36 games played, the 5’10” Swedish winger put up 7 goals and 13 assists for 20 total points in Sweden’s Third Division. In retrospect, a pick like this is not likely to see the NHL for quite some time but should be a welcomed addition to Toronto’s cupboard of talented prospects. Considering the league’s trend, an addition of Holmberg could be an abrupt surprise several years down the road. For his height, he has a solid build at 174-pounds.

Holmberg plays centre in Sweden but projects as a shifty winger in North America, where his arrival time is currently unknown. He remains under contract with the Växjö Lakers HC (SHL) for at least one season.

Round 7, 209th Overall — Zachary Bouthillier (G)

Finally, a goaltender. Thrown into the mix of an extremely potent group of netminders is 18-year-old Zachary Bouthillier, taken from the Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL). Standing at 6’2” and 185-pounds, Bouthillier has the typical size components of a modern goaltender but will need to work on his 0.894 SV% and 3.42 GAA, although it should be noted he did not have a superb team in front of him either.

The Canadian is Toronto’s first pick out of the QMJHL since Dmytro Timashov (125th overall) back in 2015. Bouthillier happened to be the 27th goalie selected in the draft. 

Round 7, 211th Overall — Semyon Kizimov (RW)

Towards the end of the day, Toronto had one final selection in the seventh-round and tested the waters on 18-year-old Russian winger, Semyon Kizimov. Although he may very well be a long-shot to ever see time in the NHL at the present moment, there is no denying the fact that Toronto’s AHL affiliate was just led to a Calder Cup Championship on the back of two seventh-round “write-offs”—Andreas Johnsson and Garret Sparks, among others, will (personally) let you know. 

Plus, having a 6’0” and a 176-pound frame is just about as standard as it gets for an NHL skater. He posted 6 goals and 2 assists playing for Togliatti (RUSS-JR.), good enough for 18 points in 30 games of action. 

Filling the Gaps

Despite scrutiny and some doubt, Kyle Dubas appears to have come out with a successful draft but will have to stand the test of time until that is truly determined. There were several opportunities to bite on high-profile prospects in the early rounds and will have to face the music if any happen to pan-out as productive NHLers.

Overall, Leafs Nation should be quite pleased with their haul throughout two days of rigorous stat-checking and pencil-pushing for the hockey community. That’s a wrap in Dallas!

Additionally, free agency is set to open on July 1st but teams are able to re-sign their own players beginning on Sunday, June 24th. Teams may also start the negotiating process with free agents. John Tavares is reported to be meeting with five (5) respective teams, not including the Islanders, and Toronto is most definitely in the mix. Among other parties seriously involved with Tavares, are San Jose and three other unknowns.

More information to come, stay tuned!

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca 

On Twitter - @GordBrown_  

Photo Credit: NHL.com