On May 11th, 2018, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that Kyle Dubas would be replacing Lou Lamoriello as general manager of the team. This was announced to be the plan from day one of hiring Lamoriello. Since then, the Leafs have remained a top regular-season team in the NHL. Dubas has made a number of big splashes since being put in charge of the Leafs. Today, we will review his drafting philosophy.
Reviewing Kyle Dubas’ Time With the Toronto Maple Leafs So Far
Note: I chose to review the drafting philosophy of Kyle Dubas rather than his draft results for a few reasons. The first reason is that I feel like I cannot properly evaluate each and every draft pick. I have not taken the time to evaluate each and every pick’s talent and skills. There are people who have, and if you would like to read a detailed report on the Leaf’s prospect pool, there are other articles to do so. Second, I also believe that it is too early on in Dubas’ tenure to truly evaluate how these picks have panned out. Finally, I believe it is the scouting staff that should be credited with the draft results. While GM has the final say, they hire and listen to their scouts on who to draft. So, I will be evaluating Kyle Dubas’ philosophy for drafting that he sets for the organization.
Drafting to Hit a Homerun
Kyle Dubas has taken to drafting players with a high ceiling. While that may seem like an obvious statement, it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think. All of his picks have high upside. While they may not pan out often, very few later-round picks do. Swinging for the fences on these high-skill guys that, if they develop correctly could make a real mark in the NHL.
You can acquire depth for cheap consistently in the NHL. Just see many of Dubas’ UFA signings. Drafting the “safe players” rarely makes an impact that couldn’t be made at free agency. Typically, the only way to get stars, and especially stars during their peak years, is through the draft. That’s why this drafting philosophy is so key.
He has also moved away from focusing on size if they have the skill to make up for it. For example, Nick Robertson and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. These are players that were able to succeed at the OHL level despite their size. This drafting philosophy drastically changed from 2017 to 2018 when Dubas took over. When Mark Hunter was in charge, it seems like the Leafs drafted for size and position rather than taking the best player available. Outside of the first rounds of the 2016 and 2017 drafts, it seems like those were wildly unsuccessful, while the 2018 draft indicated a turning point.
This is something Dubas has done a number of times. NHL draft pick value isn’t linear. The difference between the first and fifth overall draft picks has a much greater gap than the 41st and 45th picks. And value in the late first-round doesn’t have as much difference in value than the third round that traditional thinking would have you think. That’s when trading down provides value. Unless you’re picking in a lottery spot, it’s better to give yourself multiple opportunities to hit with a draft pick than one higher pick.
Trading down at the draft is usually the best bet to extract surplus value when swapping picks, but the degree to which that's accurate may have been overstated.
— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) June 12, 2020
This is what I’ve liked about Kyle Dubas at draft day. Look at the Rasmus Sandin pick. It’s a pick Kyle Dubas traded down for. He traded the pick that St. Louis used on Dominik Bokk for the picks that ended up being Sandin and Semyon Der-Arguchintsev. They did so with the 44th overall pick in 2020 for the 59th and 64th picks with the Ottawa Senators. Dubas was even cited as being the one to do so in 2015. While it may not hit every single time, and there are certainly situational factors that indicate whether you should or not depending on who’s available, generally, it’s a very strong guiding principle to follow, and helps give a team more opportunities to hit with their draft picks.
I’ve really liked how the Leafs have drafted since Dubas has taken over. They have taken the best players available and going for stars with their draft picks, while also trading down when it makes sense to increase their chances of selecting a difference-maker in the NHL. They no longer draft for size or position and rather take who they believe to be the best player available. This was seen in the 2020 draft when many believed they should have selected Braden Schneider but they took Rodion Amirov. The issue with selecting for a position in the Leafs’ situation is that a defenceman would never be ready to play for them at their peak. By selecting Amirov, who looks to be likely the best player that was available at the draft, they got a good player that could develop into something great. Dubas’ drafting philosophy has been great since taking over the Leafs. Especially given the later picks they’ve had.
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