Defenceman Debate Continues

When Brian Burke speaks, Leafs fans listen. Then we debate what we believe he actually said for at least 48 hours.

It was no different when the Leafs’ GM spoke with Paul Hendrick at the Marlies’ final game this past week. Burke talked about the fact that he typically doesn’t draft based on positional needs, opting to take the best player available. It’s a common-sense approach, and I’m sure the majority of general managers follow the same guideline, especially near the top of the draft. Burke did say, however, that this year could be different, and pointed out that the skill levels of guys near the number five spot doesn’t drop off much from player to player.

This had a lot of people breathing a sigh of relief; the Leafs would draft a highly skilled forward. Hold up. Will they?

What Burke said didn’t let us in on his plans for the number five pick at all, really. The Leafs are viewed as having decent depth on defence, but they could benefit in taking a potentially elite blueliner – especially considering he won’t really factor in to the team’s success much for a couple of years at least. The other side of the debate is that the team doesn’t have a skilled forward prospect outside of Kadri and Colborne, so things look pretty bleak there. I’d like to see them land a forward, personally, but it’s more important that the best player available is taken.

Let’s say Toronto wants a defenceman. It shouldn’t be too difficult. One of Ryan Murray, Mathew Dumba or Morgan Rielly will be there at five. No problem.

Forwards are different, though. In order to land one of Alex Galchenyuk, Filip Forsberg, or Mikhail Grigorenko (though many believe his stock to be falling) the Leafs will likely need a bit of luck – someone in the top four will need to draft a blueliner.

Yes, trades are possible, perhaps even probable. But it’s tough to base a draft article on something like that.

I think perhaps a good candidate to take a defenceman like Murray (bumping Forsberg, Grigorenko or Galchenyuk down to five) is the New York Islanders.

The Islanders don’t have a lot of skill on their blueline right now, and Mark Streit is turning 35. They have some prospects like Calvin de Haan, Scott Mayfield and Matt Donovan, with de Haan being the only 1st round pick of the three. If they have confidence they can turn 1 or 2 of these players into a top pairing guy, they might decide to stay away from Murray. But I’m thinking it’ll be tough.

Montreal will go ahead and take a forward, if I had to guess. Even with Andrei Markov starting to unwind his career, I doubt they’re thinking they’ll need to use a top three pick trying to add skill on the backend. They need to take a shot at developing an elite scorer up front.

The top two picks will be forwards, or at least it’s what everyone believes. Yakupov-Galchenyuk or Yakupov-Forsberg seems to be the way many are thinking.

Let me repeat that I think the Islanders are a candidate for a defenceman, not that I think they absolutely need one or I’m trying to bag on them. I’m just trying to gauge how likely it is that one of the top three forwards after Yakupov is there for Toronto, without factoring in trades.

So what are your thoughts? Do you believe it’s likely that a defenceman (presumably Murray) goes in the top four?