The Toronto Maple Leafs had yet another disappointing finish to their NHL season. Despite all that, there’s still something to look forward to in the 2021 NHL Draft. What prospects fit the mold of a future Maple Leaf best? Any Leafs draft prototypes?
Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: CHL Forwards
In order to determine what makes a prospect a Leafs prototype, you must enter a time machine of sorts. Reid Mitchell, the Director of Hockey and Scouting Operations, was promoted to this position back in 2015. From the 2015 draft through to the 2020 draft, the Leafs have selected 28 total forwards. Of those forwards, seven came from the Russian leagues (MHL, VHL, and KHL). An additional 11 forwards came via the CHL leagues, including five from the OHL, four from the WHL and two from the QMJHL. Three more came through the USHL and two each from Finland (Liiga and SM-Liiga) and Sweden (SuperElit and SHL). An additional three players came from the NLA (Switzerland), USHS (high school), and OJHL (Ontario Juniors).
Our look at Russian Forward prototypes is here.
How To Determine Prototypes
Each forward selected will be separated into their respective leagues, keeping a comparable playing field for every prospect. Then, for every league, there are 15 different categories; height, weight, nationality, junior team, total games played in their respective leagues, goals, assists, points, goals per game, assists per game, points per game, and finally their U18 World Juniors performances. Every former Leaf draft pick was organized into their own leagues in order to give a maximum and minimum, along with an average, for each category, which gives the draft-eligible prospects thresholds to hit. For this piece, we will be focusing on the three CHL leagues. Here are the former CHL forward selections made by the Leafs since 2015.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: Who Fits From the CHL?
The Leafs, with 11 selections of forwards coming from the CHL, do a lot of digging in arguably the most talented pool of U18/U20 players in the world. To kick us off, let’s start with the league they’ve gone to the most in recent years, the OHL. With the OHL not having a season, these prospects were limited to their DY-1 or earlier seasons. I did not look at what they did on their loaned teams, if they played elsewhere, as in most cases, teams generally have little to no draft history in those European leagues.
Due to the sheer difficulty of meeting already high expectations the Leafs have of OHL prospects even with full seasons played, never mind without one, there was only one positive OHL fit. Chase Stillman checked the boxes for the Leafs for an exact fit score of 0. He hits the Leafs thresholds due to his size being above-average, but not over the max. Stillman stands at 6’1” and 183 pounds. His strong performance in the U18 World Juniors also gave him a bonus, as the Leafs have never selected an OHL player that had played any U18 World Juniors in their draft years before.
Stillman is one of the hardest-working players on the ice in the entire draft class. He is the epitome of a team-first player, willing to battle in the corners or in front of the net when the time calls for it. He would wrestle with Zdeno Chara in the corners or net-front if it meant his team would get an advantage. On top of that, he has shown a nose for the net and strong finishing abilities when given the opportunities. When watching him play, it’s hard to catch him not in the right spots offensively. His defensive game does need a bit of work, but the offensive upside is certainly there. Stillman is my 101st ranked prospect, but he has been ranked anywhere from 41st (Elite Prospects) and 99th (Smaht Scouting).
Although not a positive draft fit, sitting at a -0.5 fit score, Wyatt Johnston is at least close. Like Stillman, he meets the height and weight threshold, standing at 6’1” and 176 pounds. He also had a decent performance at the U18’s. Plus, while Stillman is a winger, Johnston is a centre. He’ll get the nod as a fit due to the fact he plays a more important position.
Johnston is a very well-rounded player overall. His defensive game is decent, predicated on timing and strong positioning, but he doesn’t make a massive impact through that. On offense, again his game is simply based on knowing where he needs to be and when he needs to get there. It’s all about timing and anticipation. His skating is average, so he needs to work on that. He plays a bit slower, pace-wise, and needs to push himself a bit more when the puck is in his possession. However, he is good at what he does in terms of timing all of his plays really well. There’s no need to fix what isn’t broken. His upside is limited because of it, but that shouldn’t be a concern. Johnston is my 183rd ranked prospect, but he has been ranked anywhere from 48th (Recruit Scouting) and 102nd (Smaht Scouting).
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: WHL
The second CHL league that the Leafs draft from a fair amount is the WHL. Here’s the list of WHL draft eligibles matched up to what the Leafs expect from them, based on their draft history.
Logan Stankoven and Dylan Guenther
Dylan Guenther is the pretty clear fit, with a 4.5 fit score. Meanwhile, the second-best fit is Logan Stankoven and one other player at a score of 0. Guenther is a supremely talented forward, with strong defensive abilities. I did a deep dive on him, as did Ben Kerr. If you want to check mine out, click HERE, and for Ben’s, click on Guenther’s name above. As for Stankoven, he is another extremely talented prospect. Stankoven, similar to Guenther, possesses a dangerous shot. However, both players are almost exclusively locked in as first-round selections, so it’ll have to be a very large trade up for the Leafs to have a shot at one of these two prospects.
The player tied with Stankoven as the second-best fit is Conner Roulette. Roulette is ranked 58th on my list, and has been ranked between 39th (Bob McKenzie) and 95th (FC Hockey). He’s below-average from what the Leafs look for in height, standing at 5’11”. Additionally, if the Leafs do draft him, he’d be the lightest WHL player ever selected by the Leafs since 2015. What makes him a strong fit is his per game metrics. He would end up having the best goal per game metric of any Leafs draft pick in the WHL prior to being selected, along with meeting the exact average of Leafs WHL picks for assists per game. Additionally, his U18 performance gave him a boost, as the Leafs have also never drafted a WHL player with U18 experience in their draft years.
Roulette is fairly small, especially when paired up with Leafs expectations. Despite that, he is not the best skater, which leads to him not being a first-round prospect. However, he has offensive potential that, if he bulks up and becomes a better skater, could lead to him being a potential steal. Possessing strong stickhandling and vision, Roulette has under-rated playmaking instincts. His shot can also end up being a weapon, as he has a quick release. Working on strengthening his shot, along with becoming faster and shiftier as a skater, Roulette could wind up being a top-six forward.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: QMJHL
The final CHL league we will look at is the QMJHL. For some odd reason, the Leafs have only gone with two forwards from the Q since 2015, mostly going to Russia or the USHL for forward selections. Despite that, here’s where the 2021 class stacks up.
Zachary L’Heureux and Xavier Bourgault
Similar to Stankoven and Guenther, Zachary L’Heureux and Xavier Bourgault are not likely to be available when the Leafs are on the clock. L’Heureux is a very skilled forward, who can be creative with his high-end stickhandling, and dazzling with his passing skills. His high-end hockey awareness on both ends of the ice also stands out. However, his transitional game needs a lot of work, and his discipline has been a major concern on the ice.
As for Bourgault, he is so immensely talented and pays incredible attention to detail. He is exceptional in transition, and his high IQ and quick decision-making are massive assets. Bourgault possesses a strong shot, solid passing abilities, and an incredible sense of where to go, when to get there, and where his teammates are. Unless the Leafs trade up to the early second, they won’t get L’Heureux. Meanwhile, if they don’t trade up to around 15th overall, they likely won’t get Bourgault either.
Cole Huckins and Theo Rochette
Cole Huckins, my 110th ranked prospect, is a very large man, with a fit score of 0.5. He stands at 6’3” and 201 pounds, and would be the largest Leafs selection from the QMJHL since 2015. He’s been ranked between 48th (Bob McKenzie) and 113th (Smaht Scouting), putting him firmly in Toronto’s reach. Huckins is a physical presence that throws his body around a decent bit. His defensive game needs work, but with his size and skating, NHL teams should like the idea of having Huckins on their side. He has some underlying playmaking abilities, and if they can be unlocked, he could be a solid middle-six presence. Odds are he ends up as a bottom-six plug-and-play option with some grit to his game.
Theo Rochette, my 90th ranked prospect, is on the smaller end of the spectrum, with a fit score of 1. Going undrafted in 2020, the 5’10” and 165 pound Rochette improved his QMJHL production. In a weaker 2021 draft class, Rochette has been ranked between 91st (Elite Prospects) and 203rd (McKeen’s). Rochette is a decent skater, with strong offensive instincts and a willingness to stay responsible defensively. He projects as a future third-line centre or winger with some offensive upside.
Joshua Roy and Olivier Nadeau
Joshua Roy, my 28th ranked prospect, had a fit score of 1.5. He has been ranked anywhere from 44th (Recruit Scouting) and 87th (Bob McKenzie). Roy meets the size threshold, standing at 6’0” and 190 pounds. If the Leafs draft him, he would wind up as the heaviest Leafs pick via the QMJHL. Roy is an excellent skater with raw offensive skills. Defensively, he isn’t very strong. His transitional game is high-end, as his skating allows him to fly through the neutral zone and attack offensively. If a coach can reel him in and organize his very chaotic and unorganized playing style, he could be a top-six forward in the future.
Olivier Nadeau, meanwhile, ranks 103rd on my list, and has been ranked anywhere from 74th (FC Hockey) and 99th (McKeen’s). Nadeau would end up being the tallest and heaviest Leafs pick out of the QMJHL if he were to be selected by them. He’s also surpassed the threshold the Leafs look for in terms of experience at the QMJHL level, as well as goal scoring. That’s where the positives, in terms of fit, end. Nadeau uses his size effectively and isn’t a bad skater by any means. Using that combination of size and skating ability is solid, but combining that with the way he sees the ice makes him intriguing. If given time to truly develop, he could be a strong bottom-six scoring option, with some physicality to his game.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: Best Overall Fit Among CHLers
Looking at the CHL and the players among all three leagues, the QMJHL has the most fits. Add in the fact that they played the most games of all CHL leagues, and it looks as though they may take just their third QMJHL prospect since 2015. While that isn’t far-fetched, let’s stick with the fact that they usually go for WHL and OHL players first. That said, arguably the best fit is Conner Roulette.
As seen above, Roulette’s transitional game is not game-breaking. However, he is efficient at getting the puck out of the defensive zone. Plus, considering these stats are matched up against the likes of Fabian Lysell, Guenther, Stankoven and Fyodor Svechkov, among others, it becomes even more impressive.
When it comes to his offensive abilities, Roulette didn’t play much and kept his passes simple, focusing on possession. That’s why his offensive zone passing accuracy score is amongst the best from what I have tracked. His shooting looks horrendous on this graph, but that is due to not firing a single shot in the games tracked, leading to a 0% shot accuracy rating.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: What’s Next?
Having reviewed the draft-eligible Russians, and now CHLers, what’s next? The USHL and Sweden will be under the microscope in the next Toronto Maple Leafs draft prototypes series, so click here for more!