What Kyle Dubas has done in the 2nd round of the draft could be vital to the success of the Leafs

Published January 12, 2022 at 1:57 PM
They say that drafting in the first round is pretty straight forward. You just pick the best player available and hope for the best. Once you get beyond the first round, however, that's where the men begin to separate from the boys.

The data might be a little bit dated, but back in 2015, TSN's Travis Yost wrote about playing the percentages in the NHL draft. In the article, which is hyperlinked above, Travis talked about how roughly 80% of first round picks end up playing in the NHL. What you see beyond that is that it's not easy to hit on prospects from rounds 2-7.

After the 1st round, the conversion rate of prospect to NHL player is cut almost in half, down to 44% in round 2. It drops to just 30% in round 3 and continues to taper off round by round. By round 7, your chances of hitting on a prospect are slim to none.

While it's still a bit too early to see the full picture, Leafs GM Kyle Dubas has seemingly done very well with his second round picks since taking over for Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter, the man who was originally thought to be Lou's heir apparent.

Prior to Dubas taking over in Toronto, the previous four 2nd rounders were Eemeli Rasanen (2017), Yegor Korshkov (2016), Travis Dermott (2015) and Jeremy Bracco (2016). Hitting on 25% of your picks, with Dermott still (arguably) not establishing himself as a consistent NHL defenseman isn't exactly something to brag about.

However, since Dubas took over in 2018, the Leafs appear to be in a much better position with his four 2nd rounders; Matthew Knies (2021), Roni Hirvonen (2020), Nick Robertson (2019), Sean Durzi (2018). Before you jump on that comment and begin to pick it apart, please allow me to elaborate.

Dermott, while he has played over 230 NHL games, was drafted over the likes of Sebastian Aho (CAR), Brandon Carlo (BOS), MacKenzie Blackwood (NJ), Erik Cernak (TBL), Roope Hintz (DAL), Rasmus Andersson (CGY) and Vince Dunn (STL). Call it revisionist history or whatever else you want to call it.. the fact of the matter is that had Dubas been handling the drafts over Mark Hunter, the Leafs' prospect pool likely shakes out a lot differently.

Dubas has put a lot of trust in his scouting staff, including the now departed John Lilley, who has joined the Rangers' organization, but the fact remains that he is a much better talent evaluator than Hunter was. As the game transitions more towards a skill and speed-based game, the archetype of the high-end prospect is also changing.

An additional point that a lot of people tend to lean on is that Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello drafted Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Those are no-brainer picks, so let's get that out of the way. The point is, very few of the Hunter/Lamoriello picks have been bearing much fruit for the Leafs, while the early returns on a lot of Dubas' picks has been pretty exciting.

Matthew Knies: 57th overall in 2021

Knies has been rocketing his way up the Leafs' prospect depth chart and appears to be a first-round talent, according to most pundits. The 2021 draft was unique in that many prospects played less or did not play at all due to COVID-19, and scouts were forced to rely heavily on video scouting rather than in person.

Knies appeared to be on his way to a big World Juniors performance when the IIHF cancelled the tournament due to COVID concerns. Since that time, Knies has earned himself an invite to represent Team USA at the Olympic games, along with another Leafs prospect in 2019 4th-rounder Nick Abruzzese.

At 6'3, 210 lbs, Knies is already sized appropriately for NHL hockey. Now it's just about the details. Make no mistake, this pick is going to be a dandy for the Leafs.

Roni Hirvonen: 59th overall in 2020

Hirvonen isn't as imposing as Matthew Knies, standing just 5'9 and 171 lbs, but he is a tenacious young forward who proves that it's about the size of the fight in the dog.

Hirvonen is a worker bee. He is relentless on the puck and is always doing well to read the play when he doesn't have the puck on his stick. It was his excellent work ethic and leadership skills that earned him the honour of wearing the "C" for Team Finland at the WJC tournament, though it was ultimately cancelled, as previously mentioned.

While his path to the NHL is not likely to be anywhere near as straight as it appears that it will be for Knies, Hirvonen's worth ethic may just get him there. He's already playing against men in Finland's top men's league, and while the NHL is, admittedly, a different animal, Hirvonen may have a leg up on some of the other Leafs prospects who have yet to play against men at the AHL level.

Nick Robertson: 53rd overall in 2019

Unfortunately, injuries have prevented Robertson from a sustained run in each of the last two seasons in both the NHL and the AHL. That aside, when Robertson is healthy, there's a lot to like about his game - particularly, his wicked release.

Robertson is in excellent shape, has an NHL-caliber shot, and his work ethic and maturity are invaluable assets, given his small stature. At 5'9, 165 lbs, Robertson embodies what most perceive to be the "typical Dubas pick". I agree, but in a different context. Robertson's skill cap is higher than most second round picks. Dubas always drafts for skill, not for intangibles. In that respect, Robertson is certainly a "typical Dubas pick".

After scoring 55 goals and 86 points in 46 games for the Peterborough Petes in the OHL in 2019-20, Robertson joined the Leafs for their play-in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the bubble. While the team didn't come out on the right side of the series, a brief look at Nick Robertson told us all we needed to know about the player, which is that he never quits on a play and he doesn't look out of place with NHLers. If he can get healthy and stay healthy, this kid is going to do some damage.

Sean Durzi: 52nd overall in 2018

This pick is an intriguing one, and I'm not including it because of what Durzi meant to the Leafs.. I'm including it because of what the Leafs turned him into. Jake Muzzin.

Durzi, along with Carl Grundstrom and a 1st round pick were packaged and sent to the LA Kings by Dubas back in 2019 to address a glaring need on the blueline, and there's no denying that the Leafs' blueline is certainly better with Jake Muzzin than it is without.

Muzzin's physical brand of hockey added some intangibles that the Leafs desperately needed at the time, and while he's not exactly an offensive powerhouse, his offensive contributions and reliable two-way play have been appreciated in Leafs Nation. Muzzin has certainly become a fan-favourite in his 196 games as a Leaf.

Durzi may end up being a good one for the Kings, but with where the Leafs were at the time, the move made a lot of sense and gave them an opportunity to win right away by adding a proven top-4 defenseman for the price of some futures.

With what Dubas has been able to do beyond the first round in his 4 drafts as Leafs GM, the fanbase should be excited by the fact that, with the Hunter years not really producing much of anything beyond the first round, the cupboard is once again stocked with some quality prospects who appear to have serious upside.

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