Leafs eye best of the rest at draft

With the Pittsburgh skyline behind him, Filip Forsberg speaks to the media yesterday aboard the...

With the Pittsburgh skyline behind him, Filip Forsberg speaks to the media yesterday aboard the Gateway Clipper Express as it ferried the top NHL prospects around the three rivers. (Getty Images)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:49 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Decisions, decisions.

The Maple Leafs have plenty to make this weekend, and whether general manager Brian Burke is able to pull off a deal or two, there’s still the little matter of the entry draft, starting with the first round on Friday night at the Consol Energy Center.

The Leafs, provided Burke doesn’t pull the rug out from under his scouting staff, will pick fifth, the highest choice they have had since selecting defenceman Luke Schenn fifth in 2008 and just the fourth time in 20 years they’ll have picked in the top 10.

“All things being equal, would we take a forward, a centre?” Leafs senior vice-president of hockey operations David Nonis said on Thursday afternoon. “That’s a pretty good assumption. But we’ll take the best player available to us.”

And could that be a defenceman, despite the organization’s feelings about its depth at that position?

“Yes,” Nonis said. “You never want to leave too much talent on the table.”

What’s clear is the Leafs, barring a colossal mistake, should get a blue-chip prospect in the fifth spot. Russian star Nail Yakupov will be gone by then, as will Everett defenceman Ryan Murray — it’s expected one will be picked by the Edmonton Oilers first overall, with the other following to the Columbus Blue Jackets at No. 2 — but what comes after is anyone’s guess.

The Leafs would love to get Yakupov’s teammate in Sarnia, centre Alex Galchenyuk, but the Montreal Canadiens are said to have designs on him at No. 3. The New York Islanders select fourth and they could take one of the top defencemen, whether it’s Morgan Rielly, Griffin Reinhart or Mathew Dumba.

Also in the top-five mix should be Swedish centre Filip Forsberg.

The wild card now appears to be Russian winger Mikhail Grigorenko, who could be a top-five pick or fall to the latter half of the first-round, depending on whose mock draft you’re looking at.

“I don’t know,” said Grigorenko, who had 85 points in 59 games for Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts in 2011-12. “Some people have me at No. 20. It’s just people’s opinions, they don’t like me, okay. But I am still in the first round.”

There’s no shortage of talented teens who wouldn’t mind sharing the responsibility in making the Leafs a respectable organization once more. Forsberg’s sole intention is to return to Sweden next season no matter what team takes him, but playing for the Leafs would suit him fine, figuring he could follow where his countrymen have gone.

“It would be a huge honour because (Borje) Salming and (Mats) Sundin have been big players for the Leafs,” Forsberg, no relation to Peter Forsberg, said. “Also, they have some good Swedish players right now, so that would be fun.”

Both Rielly and Galchenyuk missed the majority of the 2011-12 season because of knee injuries, but both have put those health problems in the past.

“When you get hurt, it is always difficult, but to have it happen in your draft year is tough,” Rielly said. “Getting back and being able to play again (in the playoffs) was a long process.”

The Leafs’ second pick is slated to come at No. 35, but there is no guarantee they will keep it. In all, the Leafs have six picks — Nos. 5, 35, 126, 156, 157 and 209.

“We’ve probably had as much discussion about our pick at 35 as our pick at five, to be honest,” Nonis said. “A lot of people think there will be some good players well into the 40s and 50s. Some teams picking late (in the first round), we’ve had some discussions about them possibly moving their pick. They feel they are going to get a good player, and at 35, we have a good shot at a quality player, as well.”

Bottom line? No matter who the Leafs pick, it’s doubtful the kid will step in and make a large impact next season.

But the pressure remains on Burke to get something done through a trade.


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