Monday Mailbag: Justin’s Back in the Driver’s Seat


It’s Mailbag time, and we got a lot of stuff to tackle this week. The 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Steven Stamkos, unrestricted free agency, William Nylander, Mitch Marner… Let’s just skip the formalities, yeah?

Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er. 

Ouch. Losing the lottery is a tough way to kick off the Mailbag. A real kick in the pants, Totally_Offside.

Assuming that ‘the big three’ of Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi are drafted with the first three picks as expected, I currently lean towards Matthew Tkachuk for the Leafs at fourth overall. It’s no secret that the Leafs’ prospect pool lacks a stud blueliner, but I can’t bring myself to use Toronto’s top pick this year on a defenceman because I don’t believe either of the consensus best defenders, Jakob Chychrun and Olli Juolevi, are worthy of the fourth overall pick. Both of them seem like much better value somewhere in the latter half of the top ten. The Leafs should be looking for the defenceman with the second of their two first-round picks. 

If anyone is going to come close to challenging Tkachuk for my pick, it’s one of the Mississauga kids – Alex Nylander or Michael McLeod. I give both of them a lot of credit for putting up strong offensive seasons without guys like Mitch Marner or Christian Dvorak to play alongside. If there’s one knock against Tkachuk, it’s that while there’s no denying his skill, he has some of the best linemates in the OHL. That certainly helps. And let’s just be honest… rolling out the Nylander Bros. for the next decade would be a pretty good time, am I right?

Jamie Benn is an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Just saying.

I believe that William Nylander and Mitch Marner will be Toronto Maple Leafs next season because there’s nowhere else it makes sense for them to play. Nylander is already good enough to be an NHL contributor and I can’t see why Marner would spend another season in London. 

With Nylander, I don’t think 60 points is out of the question if he gets consistent minutes and some adequate linemates (such as James van Riemsdyk). For Marner, I think he’ll likely start off on the wing and might work well flanking Nazem Kadri, but I think he’s got a much larger transition to make than Nylander and is more likely to put up somewhere around 40 points. 

For Kapanen, I honestly don’t see him spending much time next year with the Leafs. Being still so very young, I’d rather see him learn to dominate at the AHL level much like Nylander did this season. I fear that if Kapanen made the jump next season, he’d be used sparingly and on the lower lines, and likely wouldn’t crack 20 points.

There’s definitely going to be a few of those guys available, as this free agent class actually has a bunch of very interesting names throughout. One of the guys that jumps out at me would be Detroit’s Darren Helm. Obviously, Mike Babcock is very familiar with his work and he could be a very steady third-line guy for Toronto. That said, I’m not sure you can get Helm on a one-year deal, and I’m certainly not convinced Babcock would let him go once he got here. 

Another name I might take a look at if the price is right (and that’s a big ‘if’) is Troy Brouwer. He’s not a perfect player and he’s on pace for his lowest goal total (15) since 2008, but he’s the kind of big-bodied winger that teams will clamour for at the trade deadline. The only issue is his contract demands. Again, I don’t see Brouwer being the kind of guy who would be too eager to sign a one-year deal with a team that has only mild playoff aspirations. 

It actually gets me thinking… I wonder if, by this coming offseason, Toronto will be looking to move away from the sign-to-trade scheme? It made sense – a lot of sense – when the cupboards were bare, but that just isn’t the case anymore. Might we be getting to the point when the Leafs look for internal solutions? Is Toronto better off promoting players like Josh Leivo and Connor Brown as opposed to signing veteran free agents? I’m tempted to say they are. Maybe this offseason, Toronto should be looking at free agents who can actually help them longterm.

C’mon, bud.


  • Gary Empey

    @Justin Fisher, While I love your choice of Matthew Tkachuk, I also wonder how long the window of opportunity will stay open to get one more top defenceman.

      • Gary Empey

        You are not concerned that you could end up in the same scenario as Edmonton? I know one can often pick up a top 4 defenceman through trade. What you rarely see is a top number one defenceman moving. Like Reilly they are usually untouchable. I suppose the big question here is will Chychrun/Juolevi turn into elite players? I believe if you are planning to go deep in the playoffs some day you must have at least one elite defenceman.

        As for BPA…… Last year we did not go that way and almost no one here complained. Hanifin was rated higher than Marner by most.

        Still it is only mid-season and often there are some draft prospects changing position. If the draft were held today, there is certainly nothing wrong anyone drafting Matthew Tkachuk at number four.

        • There were a number of ratings that had Hanifin neck-and-neck or ahead of Marner, but there were so, so many more people who agreed that Marner was the way to go.

          You keep going to that well, but I don’t think it’s true. Toronto didn’t reach for Marner. I think the vast majority of people felt he was BPA at #4.

          • Benjamin

            I was definitely rooting for Marner at #4. Actually I would’ve taken him at #3 over Strome. Love his game…very skilled but still interested in back checking. It always seems so hard to differentiate between the top defensemen…to me hanifin, provorov or werenski could all have been taken first. It’ll be a while before we know which one turns out to be the best. Likewise this year with chychrun and juolevi and to a lesser extent sergachev. I’m from Sarnia though and have seen a lot of Chychrun…he looked average at the start of the year but he’s growing on me a lot since the calendar flipped. Personally though, at number 4, I’d take Nylander right now and I’d point to the World Juniors for making his case over Tkachuk.

        • magesticRAGE

          The Pens 1st could be moved up, or be used on a Jake Bean. I have to agree, if a possibility is there to draft a talented centre, you do it. The Leafs aren’t in a position to be picky and draft for needs. Sure, Edmonton loaded up on forwards, but left nobody to mentor them as they went straight to the NHL. That’s not happening here. I’d try to use Percy to trade up to get Chychrun.

          I’m high on Rinat Valiev being a stud two-way defenseman, and Loov a serviceable 3rd pair.

          Hey Justin, you think Timashov makes the team?

        • Benjamin

          I don’t think you can throw top picks at a defensive depth problem like you can with forwards.

          Drafting forwards is relatively easy, points = good. Drafting goalies is a complete crapshoot. And drafting defencemen lies somewhere in the middle. For every Doughty taken in the top 5 there’s a Hickey/Schenn/Bogosian.

          Also, call me crazy but Gardiner-Rielly has been fantastic in limited viewings. I don’t think the Leafs are necessarily in trouble if that’s your top pairing for the next ~5 years.

  • I think that whole narrative of the Leafs not being able to sign big name free agents flew out the window the day Mike Babcock was hired as Head Coach. People need to start understanding that.

    It’s really easy to say “the Laffs think they’re getting everyone.. haha!” (I would have said it too!)… but the times, they are a changin’

    I’m not saying Stamkos or JT are coming, but it’s certainly not unreasonable anymore.

    • I think you’re absolutely correct. Toronto isn’t winning a Cup next year, but I’d say the entire league is aware that this front office is smart and savvy and looking to do big things on one of the biggest stages in hockey. I think Toronto is going to be a very desirable destination for a lot of players very soon.

  • Puck_Stops_Here

    I got a few questions and hopefully someone could help me.

    Who is the better player Laine or Puljujarvi? Also what are their scouting reports, and what type of players are they (such as playmaker, goal scorer, 2 way players, etc)?

    • Gary Empey

      “Both [Laine and Puljujarvi] are great players,” a scout said. “Both can skate and shoot and score and there isn’t a lot to choose there, but Laine maybe is more of a pure goal scorer, a game-breaker with a little higher offensive ceiling.”

      “Laine is flashier; Puljujarvi is more complete,” the scout said. “They’re both great players; they’re both going to get their goals, though they may go about it a little differently.”

      Laine was designated as perhaps the only prospect with a legitimate chance to challenge Matthews for No. 1.

  • silentbob

    The lack a young stud blue liner? What happened to Morgan Rielly?

    I really hope you’re wrong and they don’t throw a 19 year old Marner into the NHL because there is some weird belief that he can’t/won’t learn anything in the OHL just because he would be a great player int hat league. Thats kind of like saying Crosby hasn’t improved since joining the NHL because he was the best player in that league. Nylander……I don’t think he should earn a spot out of camp (no one should), but when he gets a chance to be a call up, if he plays well……..

  • Puck_Stops_Here

    Your love of Nylander and slagging of Marner is getting ridiculous. Based on NHLe Marner is WAY ahead of Nylander and always has been. And lately NHLe has undervalued ohl players like McDavid and Domi. We see how good Domi is doing in the NHL this year, and last year Marner destroyed Domi in ppg. They were on the same team so that’s a direct comparable. Plus Domi was 2 years older. Why would you think Marner would do worse than Domi?

    As fir Nylander the fact is the Ahl is a league that good players rarely ever play in. And on a points per game basis rantenen is just as good as Nylander on a worse team and he’s a year younger. Nylander is a B prospect 2nd liner. Compared to rantenen he’s a bust.

    As a Canadian I would take a Canadian Jake Chychurn before either a Tkachuk or another Nylander.

  • Puck_Stops_Here

    IF somehow we are punished because we’re Toronto (NHL has already done so with our 100th Anniversary snubs) and draft 4th, I could actually see the Leafs trading down (within top 7) to acquire more picks.

    You would still land Tkachuk, Chychurn, Nylander, Juolevi, or even McLeod as some suggest.

    I think this group is mixed bags and would work out best for the Leafs IF we drafted 4th. Plus it helps offset the two 3rd rounders for Babcock and Lou.

    • silentbob

      One or two of those players would still be available, what they are giving up is the ability to choose. Instead of taking the player they believe to be the best, they are letting 3-4 other GM’s pick the players of that group that they believe are the best, and then taking who’s left (or taking a player from the next group). I’d rather they have/keep agency and pick the prospect they believe is the best.

      Nylander could be problematic. IF Alex is really the BPA when the Leafs pick, then they should take him. But the fact that he is Williams brother and the potential to “roll out the Nylander brothers” shouldn’t even be a factor.