It’s always disconcerting to see the prospect your team passed up in the draft getting all the attention shortly afterward. But it’s especially difficult for Toronto Maple Leafs fans, as they have come to believe that the team they have watched struggle mightily for the past decade is entering a new era – an era of optimism, due to the fact that they are drafting, developing and preaching patience with even the most highly-touted of prospects.
Fans have trusted the new management and scouting staff when it comes to the futures department, as they have assembled (with a little help from old management) a prospect pool saturated with star-quality talent – names like William Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen.
But one omission in the 2015 NHL Draft left some highly dissatisfied, perhaps unjustly so.
Travis Konecny was the hot commodity at this year’s Ontario Hockey League trade deadline. The Ottawa 67’s netted ten (two of which are conditional) draft picks from the Sarnia Sting in exchange for the former no. 1 overall pick in the 2013 OHL Draft. The forward is expected to lead Sarnia’s offense in a tight Western Conference as they charge toward the playoffs. Prior to the trade, Konecny had scored 45 points in 29 games; and in six games with Sarnia, he’s scored five goals and five assists. He’s quickly climbing the scoring leaders list, where he currently ranks ninth league-wide.
The Maple Leafs originally owned the 24th overall pick where Konecny was eventually selected, but they traded down, trading away their right to one of the 2015 draft’s biggest names late in the first-round. Despite their overall success at the 2015 draft, many see this as the new management’s first major gaffe.
Instead, it may have been one of the smartest decisions made by a Toronto general manager in quite some time.
In trading down from #24, the Maple Leafs acquired the 34th, 61st and 68th overall picks. With those picks, they selected solid two-way defenseman Travis Dermott, high-risk/high-reward forward Jeremy Bracco and potential steal Martins Dzierkals. The pipeline is deep with forwards, so Toronto addressed their glaring need for defense in taking Dermott, who is a big point-producer from the blue-line for the OHL’s Erie Otters.
And although Konecny would have been nice, they got Jeremy Bracco, the U.S. National U18 Team’s third-highest scorer last year, behind Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk. They have a surplus of right-handed shots as it is, so acquiring a lefty in Dzierkals, a Latvian forward playing for the current QMJHL-leading Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, gave them some balance in the shots of their prospects.
Jeremy Bracco picked up two more points tonight, now has 22 points in 14 games since being left off of Team USA WJC Camp Roster. #Leafs
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) January 17, 2016
Konecny is also a bit of a small forward, so there was a risk in taking him with such a high pick. Instead, they played it safe in turning that one pick into three picks. They used one of the later picks (61st overall) to select a small, point-producing forward in Bracco, while still adding low-risk, quality talent in Dermott and Dzierkals.
Basically, the Leafs added by subtraction. And a lot of teams (Edmonton, most notably) are afraid to do that. Yes, it’s nice to have as many highly-touted prospects who ooze offensive talent as possible, but sometimes the ‘best player available’ approach is not the smartest.
This is not to say it won’t sting Toronto fans if Konecny turns into a star in the NHL some day, but sometimes a rebuild requires spreading the wealth by moving down in a draft to secure several depth players rather than one star. Besides, Bracco was Toronto’s guy and the top brass knew they wanted him, regardless of whether the celebrated Konecny was still on the board.
The point is, if you are a Maple Leafs fan who has started to doubt Lou Lamoriello, Brendan Shanahan and company amid the Konecny hype this season – just be patient.
A few years down the road you will see results, and spectacular ones at that, out of your team. Sure, Konecny may be a top-line forward lighting it up for the Flyers by then, but as the Oilers have shown us time and again, depth wins championships, not a team filled with high-profile stars.