The Maple Leafs might not get the franchise, but an integral piece of the puzzle could be there for the taking.
If the Leafs end the regular season on a relatively strong note, they will put themselves far enough away from 30th overall that they can forget about picking Steven Stamkos in the entry draft in June in Ottawa. Ditto for Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian and Alex Pietrangelo, a trio of defencemen who should be impact players in the NHL.
But all won't be lost for an organization that needs prospects as badly as Torontonians needed a snow shovel this morning.
"This is a good year to be picking 7-13, even as far as down as 20, because it does not drop off that much," NHL director of central scouting E.J. McGuire said. "The next tier after the first group has a lot of good players."
A few weeks ago, the Leafs bottomed out in the Eastern Conference, leading to salivation across the GTA that Stamkos might be outfitted for blue and white later this year. But a 7-2-1 run in 10 games previous to last night put the Leafs out of Stamkos striking range, and if recent history is repeated with a solid finish, they won't get close to No. 1.
What could wait for the Leafs, whose prospects have been ranked 28th in the NHL by the Hockey News, then?
Defencemen Luke Schenn, Colby Robak and Michael Del Zotto could work their way into the plans. Schenn and Kelowna Rockets teammate Tyler Myers are referred to as twin towers, for good reason. Schenn is 6-foot-2, 216 pounds, while Myers has drawn comparisons to Zdeno Chara because he is a shade over 6-foot-7. One NHL scout said Robak, who plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings, could be the best skater among draft-eligible defencemen. Del Zotto of the Oshawa Generals has slipped a bit, mostly because scouts would like to see him compete with more authority in his own end.
Forwards who might interest the Leafs include Colin Wilson, the son of former NHLer Carey Wilson, who plays for Boston University and conjures memories of Ron Francis in his junior days; Josh Bailey of the Windsor Spitfires; Zach Boychuk of the Lethbridge Hurricanes; and Mikkel Boedker of the Kitchener Rangers. The Brampton Battalion's Cody Hodgson, who reminds some of Chris Drury, could be available.
As it stands today, Leafs director of amateur scouting Dave Morrison and his staff have nine picks.
"We'll go with who we think is the best player available (instead of by position)," Morrison said. "You never know what will happen, but it's better for us to keep winning. We're still going to get a good player."