We’ve all heard the narrative, ‘Mark Hunter favors former London Knights’. Many have pointed to this as the reason the Leafs made Mitch Marner the 4th overall draft pick this past summer over Noah Hanifin. The fact is Marner was likely the best player at that spot and it wouldn’t have mattered if he played for Kitchener, Windsor, or any other OHL team. That being said, every hockey executive has their preferences. They rely on familiarity and you will often see new management bring in players they have a history with. Today and tomorrow I will look at some players the Leafs may target before the trade deadline as a result of having a history in the OHL with both Mark hunter and Kyle Dubas.
Before he was the Maple Leafs Director of Player Personnel, Mark Hunter was the owner, vice-president and general manager of the London Knights. As far as talent pools go, the Knights are a pretty good one to be dipping into. London is one of the most successful franchises in the OHL over the past decade and former players are scattered around pro hockey. As we saw with the addition of Scott Harrington in Phil Kessel trade this past summer, the Leafs aren’t afraid to dip into Hunter’s past when acquiring assets.
Now let’s get the obvious ones out of the way, guys like Corey Perry, John Tavares, Max Domi and Olli Maata aren’t under consideration. The high-end guys will be off the market and not realistic targets for the Maple Leafs right now. Each of the guys I’d target are young and while some might be a little expensive, none would likely be viewed as non-starters in trade talks.
Andreas Athanasiou – London Knights 2010-2012
The 21-year old forward was drafted by Mark Hunter in 2010 and played his first two years in the OHL for the Knights before being traded to Barrie and eventually being drafted in the 4th round by the Detroit Red Wings. After one strong year in the AHL, Athanasiou got the call up from Grand Rapids this season and has looked good centering the third line in Detroit for the past 15 games. He can line up at both center and left-wing and plays with a speed that is essential to succeed in the NHL. During his time in junior, he was one of the fastest players in the OHL and has used that skill to play a style of game that allows him to make plays in all three zones. As a finished product, Athanasiou would likely be a bottom-6 forward on a good team that can add depth scoring and fill in on a second powerplay until if needed. The Red Wings would likely be hesitant to move him especially with the likelihood of Darren Helm leaving this offseason, but if they can add a player that is a little further along in their development something could get done.
Potential cost: Peter Holland or Leo Komarov
Seth Griffith – London Knights 2009-2013
The 5th round draft pick of Boston in 2012, Griffith is back in the AHL this season after playing with the Bruins for a large chunk of last year. The undersized winger was a star for the Knights during Hunter’s last two seasons as general manager and could be a guy that could be had for a rental. Just before last year’s deadline, the Leafs acquired Brendan Leipsic so and Griffith plays a style of game that is very similar. He brings energy every shift and what he lacks in size he more than makes up for with tenacity and hockey sense. He’s an incredibly smart player that knows how to play off his linemates and will not need large amounts of ice time to contribute to the team. Sitting second in the division, the Bruins are likely set to be buyers at the deadline and there’s a good chance Griffith could be had for a veteran to help in the playoffs. The added benefit of adding Griffith is that he can instantly be assigned to the Marlies making them even better for their Calder Cup run.
Potential cost: Matt Hunwick, Michael Grabner
Nikita Zadorov – London Knights 2012-2014
A former teammate of Griffith’s in London, Nikita Zadorov was a key piece in the trade that saw Ryan O’Reilly moved from Colorado to Buffalo this past summer. After a very good season with the Sabres last season, Zadorov has been inexplicably buried in the AHL by Patrick Roy most of this year and could be sold for pennies on the dollar thanks to Roy’s apparent ineptitude when it comes to evaluating defenders. Zadorov is a big, strong two-way defenceman who has all the tools necessary to fill a spot in Toronto’s top-4 going forward. He has a huge shot from the point, can skate with the puck and the size to dominate opponents in his own end. He would instantly slot in behind Rielly and Gardiner as the third best defenceman in the Leafs system. He’s only 20 so there will be growing pains, but he would most definitely be a mainstay on the Leafs blueline for the next decade. He won’t be cheap as he still carries the ‘first rounder’ label but with Patrick Roy sewering his value, Hunter should be pushing Lou to steal Zadorov from Colorado.
Potential cost: Connor Brown + Matt Hunwick. Maybe Stuart Percy. I can’t see why anyone else would do it but Patrick Roy might just be bad enough at his job to trade Zadorov for Tyler Bozak.
Christian Dvorak – London Knights 2013-2016
Mitch Marner’s co-captain in London this season is one of the last draft pick’s left from Mark Hunter’s era as the GM of the Knights. The two-way center has been up at the top of OHL scoring race all season, and no matter what Leaf fans want to believe, he’s been Lonodn’s best forward this season (not a knock on Marner but it’s bound to happen in a draft +2 season). Dvorak is too good for the OHL and was simply a victim of the 20-year old age limit for the AHL. He’s a smart player that will not dazzle you offensively but he brings an all-around skill set that is taylor-made for the NHL. He’ll likely end up as an elite 3rd line center that kills penalties and lines up against the opposition’s top line most nights. A second-round pick of the Coyotes, Dvorak may be hard to pry away as Arizona is not likely to be looking to move young assets at the trade deadline but perhaps there’s a fit that could be mutually beneficial for the future of both teams.
Potential cost: Connor Brown + a pick.
Chris Tierney – London Knights 2010-2014
As the San Jose Sharks showed this week with their hilarious overpayment for Roman Polak and Nick Spaling, they are in win-now mode. The window is closing on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau so if they can add bodies that can help them in the playoffs they’ll mortgage the future to get it done. Chris Tierney was the last captain during Hunter’s London Knights reign and is the kind of player that would fit in well with the Maple Leafs going forward. He’s a younger version of Peter Holland and plays a game that would compliment the stars like Nylander and Marner really well. Like Dvorak he’s a smart two-way center that brings a lot to a team besides his offensive production. With the Sharks suffering from incredibly inconsistent goaltending this season, the Leafs might be a good matchup to make another deal with and Tierney is the kind of guy that they would move if they think they can fill a more pressing hole.
Potential Cost: James Reimer
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