With the NHL draft being just over a month away I am going to take an early look at who I predict the leafs are going to be taking with their top 3 picks. The leafs will have the 1st overall selection, between pick 26-30 (depending on how well Pittsburgh does in the remainder of the playoffs), and the first pick in the second round being the 31st overall pick.
It seems like a this point the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to be selecting Auston Matthews with the first overall selection. The reason being, most people would consider him to be the best player in the draft. It also doesn’t hurt that the leafs have been looking for an elite top line centre for what seems like forever. Matthews is a good sized centre standing at 6 foot 2 inches and 194 lbs. He is known to be a complete two-way player who has great hands, speed, and hockey IQ with the potential to become a franchise centre. I think it is safe to say that if the draft were happening today then Matthews would be a Maple Leaf.
With the leafs second pick of the first round it is very tough to predict who will still be on the board and also what the leafs management is really looking for. So my guess is just about as good as anyone’s, but with the leafs drafting their future top centre in Auston Matthews and already having an abundance of extremely skilled forwards in the leafs organizations, I predict they will be looking to select a defenseman. The top defenseman who may still be available at this point this is Markus Niemeläinen of the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL. Niemeläinen is a monster at 6 foot 6 and 205 pounds. He put up decent numbers in the OHL this season with 27 points in 65 games as a defenseman. I have seen him play live a couple of times this season and have to say he wasn’t all that noticeable which is usually a good thing for defensemen. With Niemeläinen’s size and good skating ability he definitely has the tools to become a good two defensemen in the NHL and why I feel his name will be called with the leafs second first round selection.
With the Leafs also having the 31st pick of the draft there will still be some great talent left on the board. Once again it is extremely hard to know what is going to happen on draft day but assuming the leafs select Matthews and Niemeläinen with their first two selections, I think they will take a goaltender. The leafs have been struggling to find a solid goalie that they can rely on to be consistent night in and night out for multiple years. So this is why I feel that it would be a perfect time to take a potential star goalie. At this point in the draft it is likely that all goalies will still be on the board and the leafs will be able to pick whoever they feel is the top goalie. The top goalie in the draft in my opinion is 6 foot 3 Evan Fitzpatrick who played for Sherbrooke in the QJMHL last season. Fitzpatrick was an absolute stud for Team Canada at the U18 championships held a couple weeks ago. He was also rated the top North American goalie by NHL Central Scouting. Overall he has great size, and is a very steady goalie that has only showed signs of improvement.
Whatever happens at the 2016 NHL draft it will be a very exciting time for all leafs fans and hockey fans. I may be right or completely wrong with these predicts on the upcoming NHL draft, but I fully believe the leafs management is going to make the right decisions and continue to steer the leafs in the right direction.