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 are Leafs’ draft prototypes?
Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: CHL Defensemen
How To Determine Prototypes
All parts of the Leafs draft prototype pieces for forwards have been published! Go check them out if you have not already done so. In those pieces, the explanation behind what makes a Leafs prototype is explained in detail. In this piece, we’ll be looking at CHL defensemen, and which of them are Leafs fits.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: OHL Eligibles
With the OHL not having a season, there was a short list to choose from. Despite the Leafs taking eight total defensemen via the OHL in the draft since 2015, making up about 36% of their total draft picks used on defence, it looks as though they will not be taking an OHL defender this year. First, let’s look at their OHL draft history.
The only positive fit is Brandt Clarke. Clarke is an uber-talented offensive defenseman. Despite his struggles in the defensive zone, he certainly isn’t a massive liability. The problem with him being as talented as he is, at least for the Leafs, is that he will likely be a top-5 selection. The Leafs have a near-impossible shot at getting Clarke.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: WHL Eligibles
The Leafs went to the WHL for defensemen just twice. However, with the OHL having a cancelled season, along with the WHL being the second-most utilized CHL league by the Leafs in terms of drafting defence, they could look towards the west for some options. First, let’s look at their draft history for defensemen in the WHL.
With that, let’s look at how the 2021 WHL eligibles stack up.
The WHL has two positive Leafs fits in Carson Lambos and Vincent Iorio.
Of all the draft-eligibles that were ranked within the first round at the beginning of the year, Lambos had arguably the toughest season of them all. It started with the WHL not starting their season on time, forcing Lambos to make a tough decision. He went through with it, shipped himself to Europe, and played in the Finnish leagues. Despite his strong point totals in the Finnish U20 league, he showed issues in his game. Consistency was a problem for him in Finland, along with his offensive game lacking the same kind of high-end and fun-to-watch style that he displayed in the WHL the season prior. Then, when the season started back up in the WHL and he made his anticipated return, he played just two games before an injury ended his season.
Despite the difficult season, Lambos is still a projected first-round selection. However, it puts him closer to the back-end of the first, meaning the Leafs have a shot of trading up, if they’d like, to call his name on draft day.
Iorio, my 72nd ranked prospect, has been projected to go anywhere from 32nd to 58th by various sites, via The Hockey Writers. Iorio has improved his offensive numbers in the WHL on a year-to-year basis. He went from posting five points in 50 games to 21 points in 59 games, and then, finally, 13 points in the shortened season, playing 22 games.
Iorio plays strong in the defensive zone. He knows he’s a bigger player, standing at 6’3” and 194 pounds, and he knows how to use it. Iorio does not shy away from getting to the dirty areas on the ice, and he can win battles with regularity against his own age group. What makes Iorio is his offensive improvements, sparking from his immense hockey IQ. What holds him back is his lack of international play, due to Canada having a plethora of skaters to choose from every year, leaving him in the shadows. He could be a steal for the Leafs in the second round.
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: QMJHL
Taking only one defender from the QMJHL since 2015, William Villeneuve, it seems as though the Leafs like to look in other directions when it comes to drafting defenders. But similar to the WHL, the OHL’s lack of a season may force the Leafs to look their way once again. Here’s how the 2021 QMJHL eligibles stack up to Villeneuve’s pre-draft stats.
There are two positive fits and one neutral fit: Charlie Desroches, Isaac Belliveau and Evan Nause.
Desroches may be smaller than Villeneuve, but he has the experience, raw stats and better goals per game rate than him. Being my 137th ranked prospect, Desroches went undrafted in 2020 and is looking to get drafted his second time around. Improving his offensive totals from 33 points in 64 games last year to 26 points in 32 games, his name likely rose on several teams’ draft boards.
Desroches is a very detail-oriented player. He has strong poise with the puck, is able to handle being pressured and still making strong plays with the puck. Being a strong puck-mover, Desroches also has a very strong shot, gets it on net with regularity, and can be a threat at the point on the powerplay in the junior ranks. Despite his 5’10” and 170-pound frame, he plays a physical defensive game. If the Leafs draft him late, they could wind up very happy with the player he could become.
Belliveau, my 52nd ranked prospect, has been projected anywhere from 62nd to 239th. His wide range is due to his strong QMJHL rookie year and his second-year slump. Scoring 53 points in 62 games as a rookie QMJHL defenseman, then following that up with just 17 points in 37 games split between two teams will do that to you.
Being an offensive-minded defenseman, Belliveau has traits that make some salivate, and others that make you put him on the do-not-draft list. His flashiness on the powerplay is a strong trait, as he moves the puck extremely well. He possesses strong puck-handling abilities, great vision, and a high offensive IQ. Meanwhile, his shot isn’t the best. In order to regain the offensive dominance he possessed as a rookie, he needs to work on his shot power. Defensively, Belliveau plays the rush well, but once the opposing team establishes control, he struggles mightily. He shies away from the physicality of the game, gets pushed around often, and loses his positioning because of it.
Belliveau has been compared to Keith Yandle, from a stylistic comparison, and that should say plenty about his game. The upside is there, but it’ll be difficult to translate, as we have seen already in his draft year.
The one neutral fit for the Leafs, Nause is my 66th ranked prospect. He has been ranked anywhere from 25th to 60th by various outlets and experts. Nause is bigger than Villeneuve and produced more offensively on a per-game basis.
Nause is an excellent skater in both directions, which pushes him to play better in all three zones. He possesses a strong wrist shot and good off-the-puck movement in the offensive zone to open up those opportunities. Additionally, he is a strong transitional defender and can get the puck up ice rather quickly. However, with the puck in the offensive zone, he rushes himself. He does not use his strong skating to his advantage when controlling the puck at the point. Thus leading to a limited amount of options and turnovers. Defensively, his lack of strength despite a strong frame (6’2” and 186 pounds) has him losing battles for positioning in front of his goalie and along the boards. If he can get stronger and utilize his size better, he could be a top-four NHL defender someday.