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The Leafs should look to draft a center with John Tavares on the decline


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Dean Chaudhry
June 17, 2024  (3:50)
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Guelph Storm's centre, Jett Luchanko stick handling with the puck in his own zone.
Photo credit: TSN Hockey Twitter

While the Leafs have been spoiled with riches down the middle over the last 6 years, it might be time to replenish the pipeline with John Tavares on the decline.

After making a big splash in the summer of 2018 by signing Tavares to his lucrative 7-year deal that was worth 77 million dollars, the Toronto Maple Leafs had a very good 1-2 punch down the middle with Auston Matthews as well. Fast forward to 2024 and with his declining play, it might be time to look for Tavares' future replacement through the draft.
The 2024 NHL Entry Draft is set to take centre stage on the 28th and the 29th of June in Las Vegas and with the Maple Leafs holding onto the 23rd overall pick this year, there will be a bevy of options to choose from should they prioritize the centre position.
Jett Luchanko from the Guelph Storm is an intriguing name and should be available in the Maple Leafs' range. On the off-chance that Brad Treliving wants to be a little more risky and move up, he could have his choice in Cole Eiserman, Trevor Connelly, and Michael Hage - depending on how the draft rolls along.
Nevertheless, in Luchanko, the Maple Leafs have a playmaking, 2-way centre, who has explosive speed and a never-ending motor, not unlike Tampa Bay's Brayden Point. In their draft reports from earlier this month, both Adam Kimelman and Mike Morreale had nothing but complimentary things to say about the 5'11 centre.
Kimelman: "Luchanko (5-11, 187) is an explosive skater who can contribute on the power play and penalty kill. When injuries and graduations to pro hockey forced the 17-year-old into a larger role this season, Luchanko responded with a team-high 74 points (20 goals, 54 assists) in 68 games; he had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 46 games last season."
Morreale: "The right-handed shot, is smart and tenacious on pucks, and had 33 power-play points (30 assists) in 68 games. He can play center or wing and finished among the top five in six of 10 on-ice categories at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January, placing first in reaction with puck and second in transition ability with puck."
Luchanko improved greatly in 2023-24 after posting 5 goals and 14 points in 45 games for the Storm just one year prior. His 54 assists and 74 points paced the club this year and with another season under his belt, great things are expected in 2024-25.
Two of his greatest strengths and potentially underrated qualities from a potential first rounder are his hockey IQ and his motor. His forechecking is relentless, he has a sixth sense for finding loose pucks, and mixed with his high IQ, he's truly a dual threat. Skating is another quality that a lot of draft-eligible prospects have issues with and can be a big reason as to why their draft stock tanks a little bit. Not only is Luchanko a great skater but he is known to have explosive bursts and speed.
Playing for a weaker Guelph team allowed Luchanko to take the much needed steps this year to ameliorate his draft stock. He has risen all season long and with the draft right around the corner, it wouldn't be a shock if he were selected in the late teens.
Mixed with his two-way play, his special teams intangibles, and great hockey IQ, Luchanko could be seen as a steal should he fall into the Maple Leafs' lap at 23. If he's still around in the 18-20 range, Treliving should pick up the phone and see what it would cost to move up because it will worth it down the road for a team that needs centres in their pipeline as soon as possible.
Source for Jett Luchanko comments and stats:
Jett Luchanko Profile
Mock 2024 NHL Draft: Opinions vary after Celebrini, Levshunov taken with 1st 2 picks
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The Leafs should look to draft a center with John Tavares on the decline

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