Maple Leafs chat with top prospects McDavid, Eichel
The Maple Leafs had both Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel in the house this week, if only for a few minutes of scouting combine interviews.
The time was not spent wallowing about what might have been had the Leafs been even worse than 27th in the NHL. Nothing can alter that the next time the 2015 draft wunderkinds are in the ACC will be to torment them, likely as members of the Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres. That didn’t stop the Leaf contingent at the combine from an intelligence mission with the consensus No. 1 and 2 picks among an estimated 100 interviews they’ve conducted in a private box at First Niagara Center.
“We talked to both guys,” said co-interim general manager Kyle Dubas on Friday. “Just to get to know them and congratulate them on what they accomplished this year. This has been good information gathering for us. High-end players are very interesting to talk to.”
In the case of McDavid, he can enlighten the Leafs on Erie Otters teammate Dylan Strome, a centre who would likely be Toronto’s pick at fourth overall later this month if it were sure the Arizona Coyotes won’t get him. Eichel can talk about the NCAA talent, particularly Noah Hanifin, a defenceman who could be in line after Strome. McDavid and Strome can weigh in on offensive defenceman Travis Dermott of the Otters, who might also be on the radar as a later Leaf pick.
Strome, partly schooled by older brother Ryan of the Islanders for this moment, said he has spoken with 17 teams so far. He was careful not to be flippant in his remarks to any clubs that had no chance at drafting him.
“Teams talk to each other so all (interviews) are important,” Strome said. “They have friends among all scouting staffs. If you say something in one interview that isn’t true, it will get back to the team that maybe was going to take you and that changes their thought process. You have to be smart.”
McDavid didn’t elaborate much on who else besides the Oilers wanted to pick his brain, other than five teams took the opportunity to meet him.
Late show for Leafs?
The Leafs have not mined much gold from the NHL draft once the digging gets below the 200 overall level.
After back-to-back successes with defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Danny Markov in the late ’90s (when scouting Europeans on club teams was still tricky), the Leafs found just a handful of post-200s with staying power. The best, since Kaberle went 204th in ’96, was Anton Stralman at 216, 10 years ago. He’s now a Ranger.
No one is saying Swedish winger Andreas Johnson and defenceman Viktor Loov are going to break into the lineup soon, but Loov has come over as a hard-rock defenceman on this year’s Marlies and now Johnson has an entry level deal with the team. Chosen 202nd and 209th respectively, they could be the late bloomers that have eluded the Leafs.
“We’re not really in a position to be picky in our situation,” said Dubas, in reference to a sparse number of higher Leaf selections they’ve retained in recent years. “You have to give the credit to (amateur scouting director) Dave Morrison and his staff. You look at Johnson, Loov and Connor Brown (a sixth rounder who became an OHL all-star and AHL rookie sniper). They’ve taken some heat over the years but got us some good players late in the draft.”
Johnson was rookie of the year in the Swedish Hockey League in 2013-14 and like 2014 top pick William Nylander, was a teen who played against men in Europe. He had 22 goals in 55 games, one of the best marksmen in the SHL.
“I wasn’t here when Andreas was drafted, but to have seen him and hear back from (new director of player development) Scott Pellerin, it’s clear he’s made strides,” Dubas said. “We wanted to get him locked in with a contract.”
But the Leafs aren’t about to fast-track Johnson to the NHL, as they’ve proceeded cautiously with Brown and Nylander. Under international agreement, Johnson can only play in the NHL in 2015-16 or go back to Frolunda of the SHL. Which is exactly what Dubas intends after Johnson stops by the club’s prospect camp in July.
Pellerin moves up
On Friday, the club promoted Pellerin to director of player development from his post as assistant.
He replaces Steve Staios, who is taking a job as hometown president of the new Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League.
Pellerin becomes the third man in that role in less than a year after club president Brendan Shanahan initiated changes that replaced Jim Hughes with Staios and brought in Darryl Belfry as skills development advisor. When Randy Carlyle was fired as head coach, Staios was pulled off the road to become Peter Horachek’s assistant coach, but had no NHL ambitions behind the bench.
Still to be determined is a full-time GM, if Shanahan decides not to keep Dubas and Mark Hunter in their interim roles. Those two will likely be running the draft in Florida. Head coach Mike Babcock’s assistant coaches have not officially been named, though his former Red Wing associates, Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer, have been mentioned.
Gord Dineen’s successor as head coach of the Marlies is also up in the air as Dineen considers an offer to return as an assistant.
A veteran of 536 NHL games, the 45-year-old Pellerin served as an assistant coach of the AHL Manchester Monarchs from 2006-2012 and helped many of them become part of a Cup-winning team in 2012.
Brennan is back
Defenceman T.J. Brennan will return with the organization for another year after reaching a one-year deal on Thursday.
He played six games with the Leafs as a late-season injury fill-in as Roman Polak and Stephane Robidas went down, but his true value was 23 points in 24 games with the Marlies, helping the farm team reach the playoffs after being re-acquired from the Blackhawks.