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: USHL 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. For this piece, we at Last Word will take a look at Leafs’ draft prototypes among defensemen in the USHL!
Maple Leafs Draft Prototypes: USHL Eligibles
The Maple Leafs have taken two USHL defensemen via the draft in the past. Those two players were James Greenway and Mike Koster. Here’s how 2021 draft-eligible defensemen out of the USHL stack up to their pre-draft USHL scouts.
Overall, there were six positive fits and one neutral fit. The six positive fits were Sean Behrens, Luke Hughes, Ryan Ufko, Aidan Hreschuk, David Gucciardi, and Ethan Straky. Jack Bar is the neutral fit. Hughes has little to no chance of becoming a Leaf.
Leafs Draft Prototypes: Sean Behrens
Behrens is my 26th ranked prospect, but he has been ranked between 23rd and 57th by various sites and experts. It’s likely he falls close to the Leafs’ pick, considering the ranking at 57th is Bob McKenzie’s and he has been fairly accurate. That said, he lands as the best Leafs fit due to his raw stats, point per game rates and his U18 World Juniors performance.
Behrens is an offensively gifted defenseman who plays a very aggressive style in the offensive zone. He loves pushing the pace and working the puck into the high-danger areas consistently. He’s also excellent at moving the puck up the ice, which is growing in importance each and every season. Additionally, he’s solid in his own end, and plays with a physical edge to his game, drawing comparisons to Torey Krug. His aggressive offensive style and small stature, standing at 5’10” and 176 pounds, make him a bit difficult to safely project to the pros. However, if he can get developed correctly, he can be an effective top-four defender in the future.
Ufko is my 84th ranked prospect, coming in with a range of 50th to 93rd by other outlets and experts. He lands as the third-best fit for the Leafs due to his raw stats and per-game rates. The Chicago Steel defenseman also helped the team win their Clark Cup title this season, so why not take a shot on him if he’s available?
Ufko is similar to Behrens in his ability to push the pace offensively. He gets the puck low consistently, working the puck into high-danger areas in different ways. His offensive instincts shine through in the transition aspect of the game as well. However, his defensive game needs a bit of work, and he doesn’t get involved physically, which limits him. If he can work on becoming a bit more engaged physically and improve his defensive game, he has second-pairing upside.
Leafs Draft Prototypes: Aidan Hreschuk
Hreschuk is my 56th ranked prospect and has been ranked 53rd and 103rd by other outlets and experts. The reason he lands as the fourth-best fit for the Leafs is due to the same factors that made Behrens a fit.
Hreschuk is a really good skater, and that allows him to play a very sound overall game. His edgework stands out the most, as he is able to change directions and change from forwards to backwards with ease. When on the offensive attack, Hreschuk provides a strong presence with his shot from the point, but he isn’t as aggressive or skilled offensively as the previously mentioned fits. His skating and passing ability, however, make him just as skilled via the transition. Finally, he’s very responsible in his own end, displaying a good active stick and relatively strong defensive awareness. He also gets to the dirty areas and throws his 5’11” and 187-pound frame around fairly often. However, he doesn’t quite have the strength yet to truly project his defensive game well, at this point.
Gucciardi, my 142nd ranked prospect, has a range of 93rd and 111th based on a few outlets, per Elite Prospects. He was unranked by Craig Button and Bob McKenzie. He lands on the Leafs’ fit list simply for his raw stats and per-game rates. He’s undersized based on Leafs’ standards for USHL defensemen, standing at 5’11” and 161 pounds.
Gucciardi is a very interesting prospect for many reasons. He acts as a fourth forward on the ice, and at times can look like a phenomenal offensive presence with an excellent toolkit. However, he’s inconsistent, and when he’s not playing at his best, he can be a liability. His upside is absolutely tantalizing, but he could also be a headache for coaches if he doesn’t figure out his consistency issues. Additionally, his defensive game needs work. Luckily for him, his skating is a strength, and going to the NCAA route for Michigan State will give him an opportunity to fine-tune his game while bulking up.
Leafs Draft Prototypes: Ethan Straky
Straky, my 167th ranked prospect, is projected to go between 162nd and 293rd by other outlets per Elite Prospects. He lands as a Leafs fit due to his playmaking abilities giving him good assists totals and assists per game rates. Additionally, playing in the U18 World Juniors gave him a boost.
Straky plays hard every shift. He’s constantly engaged in the play, especially defensively, and isn’t afraid to play physically. Straky lacks in the skating department, which holds back his offensive capabilities. On top of that, his aggressiveness on the puck in the defensive end won’t project well if he doesn’t improve his skating. He’s a risky pick, but if he can take big strides as a skater, he could be a late-round steal.
Finally, Bar is my 88th ranked prospect, who has a range from 37th to 87th based on other rankings from outlets and experts. He falls into a neutral fit for the Leafs because of his size (6’2” and 194 pounds) and per-game rates. However, he has not played a lot of USHL games thus far, which knocks his fit score down.
Bar is a strong skater for his size. He pairs his skating and decent stickhandling to be an effective transitional defender. It also helps that he can make a strong pass up ice to move the puck into the offensive zone. Once in the offensive zone, however, Bar does not have poise with the puck, and often forces passes without looking over all of his options first. Finally, his defensive game is solid due to his physicality and willingness to battle along the boards and in front of the net. His size and play style gives him a safe floor, but his ceiling is limited at the moment.