NHL Draft 2014: Final Look at Toronto Maple Leafs' Best Options in 1st Round
While many Toronto Maple Leafs fans, and fans across the league, focus on the NHL trade deadline as vital, it's safe to say that the NHL draft is the more important event in helping to shape a club for the future.
In the salary-cap era, it is increasingly difficult to obtain high-quality players at the peaks of their careers. It can be done, but developing from within the organization is the most cost-effective and efficient way to go.
Let's take a final look at the Maple Leafs' best options in the No. 8 spot of the first round.
5. William Nylander, Forward
While the Leafs don't necessarily need another smallish forward, William Nylander might be well worth a long look with the No. 8 pick.
At 5'11" and 170 pounds, Nylander isn't diminutive, and his ability to create with speed and skill could see him be a very good NHL winger. He has spent some time at centre as well, but he projects as a winger at the NHL level
Nylander has great vision and is a highly creative player. Issues are his two-way play and his ability to regain possession once he's playing without the puck.
Nylander should be a top-six NHL forward in another couple of seasons. If he's on a line with some size, he could become an effective attacking player.
4. Haydn Fleury, Defenceman
Haydn Fleury is not as NHL-ready as Aaron Ekblad, but the talented Red Deer Rebels defenceman has the tools to become a very good pro defender.
Fleury is listed at 6'3" and 198 pounds. He had 46 points in the 2013-14 season, which more than doubled his output of 19 from the previous year.
The best draft-eligible WHL defender is a mobile defender who can play at both ends of the rink. The Leafs are starting to build a good stable of rearguards and Fleury would be a good addition at a position where depth is an issue for all organizations.
Fleury is likely at least two, if not three years away from regular NHL duty. Patience would be key with this young talent.
3. Brendan Perlini, Forward
Brendan Perlini has a great mix of size, speed and creativity. He's an effortless skater who is a great attacking player.
He didn't play on a strong OHL club this season, but he displayed good offensive upside despite the Niagara IceDogs being comparatively weak.
Perlini posted 71 points in 2013-14, and at 6'3" and over 200 pounds, Perlini could add more size as he's just turned 18 this past April.
He's a great power-play threat but needs to continue his five-on-five play as his game develops.
Perlini is at least one if not two seasons away from NHL play, but he could be well worth the wait.
2. Jake Virtanen, Forward
Jake Virtanen is a rugged and skilled forward at 6'1" and 210 pounds. He had 45 goals with the Calgary Hitmen this past season, and he won't turn 18 years old until August.
This is a very important factor as he more than doubled his point total from the 2012-13 season. This indicates that there could be a higher ceiling on this talented winger in comparison to other forwards in his draft cohort.
Virtanen has an excellent release and a great overall shot.
He has the tools to become a dominant NHL power forward in a few seasons. He skates well for a bigger forward and loves the physical play demanded of NHL players with his size.
1. Nick Ritchie, Forward
If you like Jake Virtanen's game, then in all likelihood, you'll love Nick Ritchie's.
Virtanen and Ritchie are formed out of a similar mould with Ritchie's advantage being even more size. At 6'3" and over 230 pounds, Ritchie was a man-child in the OHL this season.
The Orangeville, Ontario, native dominated the opposition on many shifts. There is absolutely no question that he's NHL-ready in terms of size and ability to handle the rigours of physical play at the pro level.
While Ritchie's foot speed isn't exceptional, it doesn't have to be at his size. He has soft hands for a big man that allow him to be a setup man and a sniper.
He has very good vision and hockey sense. While he may need a year of further development, it would not be surprising if Ritchie were playing in the NHL next season.
Unless otherwise noted all stats can be found on hockeydb.com.
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