Toronto Star

Maple Leafs open to trading their No. 4 pick

Interim GMs hint at possible moves to gain more picks


BUFFALO— By the time the NHL draft gets to the Maple Leafs and their fourth overall pick, there could still be available a high-end defenceman in Noah Hanifin, a crafty centre in Mitch Marner or a power forward in Lawson Crouse.

It may not matter, because by the time the fourth pick comes around, the Leafs may have traded it.

“It’s something we would definitely look at,” said Leafs interim co-GM Kyle Dubas. “If someone else was adamant about a player, we’re pretty comfortabl­e with the players in that cluster.

“We need to be acquiring as many draft pick assets as we can, as many prospects as we can. If there was something that made sense, we’d be open to having some thorough discussion­s on the fourth pick.”

The effect of poking and prodding — mentally and physically — 119 of hockey’s top prospects for the past week in Buffalo had the added effect of having the GMs in the same place at the same time.

That, of course, fuels all sorts of trade speculatio­n.

The message from the Leaf camp: They’re open for business. The idea could well be to trade the fourth overall pick for another first-round pick as well as a second-round pick, giving the Leafs three picks in the first two rounds instead of two. The Leafs don’t have their own secondroun­d pick, but they do have Nashville’s first-round pick from the Cody Franson trade.

“Everyone is feeling us out,” said Mark Hunter, the Leafs other interim co-GM. “They’re talking to Brendan Shanahan too. There’s lots of talk going on. Nothing concrete.”

The Leafs are scheduled to pick after Edmonton, who’ll grab Connor McDavid; Buffalo, who’ll take Jack Eichel, and Arizona, who have been telling folks they really like centre Dylan Strome, the fourth-rated North American skater.

Hunter spoke about the strides Marner made as a junior in London. Hunter, who ran the Knights before joining the Leafs, drafted Marner, who clocked in at five-foot-11, 160 pounds and is listed as the sixth-best skater in North America.

“You’ve seen this young man at 15 and now he’s grown into a man,” said Hunter. “He was five-foot-seven when he was in minor midget. But his mom’s almost five-foot-11, so there’s growth there. He still has to get physically stronger. Even players such as Dylan Strome have to get stronger, even though he has the height.”

Marner finished second to Strome — listed as the fourth-best skating prospect — in OHL scoring with 123 points in 63 games. A six-point game in Erie’s final game of the season gave Strome the scoring title.

Crouse, a six-foot-four left winger with the Kingston Frontenacs and the fifth-rated skater, put on a tremendous performanc­e in Saturday’s fitness testing. His standing longjump went 116.1 inches, second best. He was tied for ninth in bench pressing, with 14 reps lifting between 70 and 80 per cent of his body weight. He was seventh in left-hand grip, squeezing 161pounds, and right hand grip (166 pounds) and tied for seventh with 11 pull-ups.

“It all comes down to draft day and what they have in mind,” said Crouse. “I feel I did everything I could to put me in a great situation for June.”

Hanifin, the third-rated North American skater, also posted well at the combine. He was Top10 in lowest percentage body fat (seventh), bench presses (6th, 15 reps), left-hand grip (9th, 155), right-hand grip (5th, 173).

As a college player (Boston College), he may decide not to go pro this year. “Whatever the team (NHL team that drafts him) thinks I should do, I’m willing to do,” said Hanifin.

 ??  ?? Jack Eichel is expected to go No. 2 to the Buffalo Sabres in the June 26 draft.
Jack Eichel is expected to go No. 2 to the Buffalo Sabres in the June 26 draft.

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