It couldn’t have been easy for Brian Burke to watch Brendan Shanahan take the big prize.
But Shanahan was willing to do what Burke wasn’t or didn’t believe he could during his time running the Toronto Maple Leafs, and that was take the club to the very depths of the NHL in order to try and get the best teenage talent on the planet.
The Leafs now have the ability, with the first overall pick, to draft centre Auston Matthews, who spurned North American offers to play in Switzerland this year. It was the Leafs and the Winnipeg Jets at the very end of a dramatic NHL draft lottery tonight, and the Leafs won.
But so did Canada.
The Jets get the No. 2 pick, and all-in-all, Canadian teams now hold five of the top six picks in the 2016 NHL draft, and seven of the top 12 selections, after all seven Canadian-based squads missed post-season play this season.
Here’s an early mock draft to gauge the opportunities for teams in the first round in June.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs: C Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swiss) 6-2, 190 lbs
A game-changer for the Leafs who haven’t had a No. 1 centre since Mats Sundin left town. With Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly, the Leafs finally have a talented young core.
2. Winnipeg Jets: LW Patrik Laine, Tappara (Finland) 6-4, 200 lbs
The Jets, 28 years after drafting Teemu Selanne, have their next Finnish franchise player. They’ll have a tough choice between Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, but expect them to go for the goal-scorer.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: RW Jesse Puljujarvi, RW, Karpat (Finland) 6-3, 198 lbs
With a Finnish GM in Jarmo Kekalainen, this is a nice fit. Puljujarvi joins a young, upcoming group that includes defencemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
4. Edmonton Oilers: D Olli Juolevi, D, London Knights (OHL) 6-2, 180
The Oilers desperately need blue-line help and most scouts believe yet another Finnish player, Juolevi, is the best back-liner available, a smooth puck mover who starred at the world juniors.
5. Vancouver Canucks: LW/C Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cape Breton, 6-3, 201
A big body up front, and one who may be able to play centre, is what the ‘Nucks need. They could go defence as well, but Dubois is rated No. 1 among North American players by NHL Central Scouting.
6. Calgary Flames: LW Matthew Tkachuk, London (OHL) 6-1, 188 lbs
With Sam Bennett and Sean Monahan up the middle, the Flames are dying for size on the wings and the London left winger offers size and a significant net presence.
7. Arizona Coyotes: LW Alexander Nylander, LW, Mississauga (OHL), 6-0, 172
The Yotes have Dylan Strome down the middle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the back-line. What they could use is a scoring winger to go with Max Domi and Anthony Duclair. Nylander would be that player.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Jakob Chychrun, D, Sarnia (OHL) 6-2, 194 lbs
To many scouts, but not all, Chychrun is the No. 2 defenceman available in the draft. The Sabres might feel differently, but going for blue-line help makes the most sense for GM Tim Murray.
9. Montreal Canadiens: C Tyson Jost, C, Penticton (BCHL) 6-0, 195
The Habs could use a centre, and Jost just broke Connor McDavid’s Canadian record for points at the world under-18 championships. Scouts love his game and his personality.
10. Colorado Avalanche: Logan Stanley, D, Windsor (OHL) 6-7, 210 lbs
This would be a slight reach, but Stanley is such a unique commodity because of his size and mobility. The Avs need blue-line depth and Stanley has rocketed up the rankings this season.
11. New Jersey Devils: C Logan Brown, C, Windsor (OHL) 6-6, 200 lbs
There aren’t many centres playing at this size in the NHL, which is why the son of former NHLer Jeff Brown has so many scouts excited. He might take a while, but he could be very special. Nice 1-2 centre ice punch with Pavel Zacha.
12. Ottawa Senators: Jake Bean, D, Calgary (WHL), 6 ft, 165 lbs
The Sens need puck movers from the back end, and after taking Thomas Chabot in the first round last year, Bean would be another good addition. He’s not big, but super-smart. Broken foot kept him out of world under-18s.
13. Carolina Hurricanes: Clayton Keller, C, US NTDP (USHL) 5-9, 170
He is a left-handed version of Mitch Marner, and would add pop to the middle of the Carolina lineup after Eric Staal was traded away at the deadline. This kid has tons of skill and creativity.
14. Boston Bruins: Mikhail Sergachev, D, Windsor (OHL), 6-3, 195
The B’s had three consecutive first round picks last year, and took two forwards and a defenceman. Sergachev would be a smart additon to an aging blue-line.
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15. Minnesota Wild: RW Julien Gauthier, Val d’Or (QMJHL) 6-4, 221 lbs.
Would give the Wild size and scoring punch on the wing they currently lack. With RW Alex Tuch coming out of college and C Joel Eriksson-Ek, Minny has size up front coming.
16. Detroit Red Wings: C German Rubtsov, Russian national U18 team (MHL), 6-1, 180 lbs
Natural replacement for the departing Pavel Datsyuk. A strong, two-way centre. Wings aren’t as leery of taking Russian players as some teams. Drafted Evgeny Svechnikov in the first round last year.
(Final order of picks 17-30 will change depending on results of the Stanley Cup playoffs and transactions before the trade deadline. As of now, however, picks No. 20, 21 and 22 are locked in.)
17. Nashville Predators: C Michael McLeod, Mississauga (OHL) 6-1, 184 lbs.
With their talented blue-line corps locked in for a while, Preds can look to continue to add talent up front. McLeod has terrific speed.
18. Philadelphia Flyers: C Luke Kunin, University of Wisconsin, 6 feet, 190 lbs
The Flyers need depth down the middle behind Claude Giroux, and Kunin could be that player. He’s a feisty, aggressive forward and captain material. Strangely, the Badgers played him at left wing this season.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning: LW Max Jones, London (OHL) 6-2, 189 lbs
Jones, the son of a former NHLer, is a big body who can skate, and the Lightning don’t have an over-abundance of size up front.
20. Arizona Coyotes (from Rangers): D Charlie McAvoy, D, Boston University (NCAA), 5-11, 195 lbs
Here’s a chance for the new Coyotes GM, whoever that turns out to be, to find some talent to go around OEL on the back end.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (from Los Angeles): LW Riley Tufte, LW, Blaine H.S. (Minnesota), 6-5, 205
He’s a big body who can skate and is headed to Minnesota-Duluth next season. Unless they re-sign Eric Staal, the Canes could use some size up front.
22. Winnipeg Jets (from Chicago): D Dante Fabbro, Penticton (BCHL) 6-1, 185 lbs
More blue-line depth for the Jets to go with Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff went heavy on forwards last year.
23. Boston Bruins (from San Jose): LW Kieffer Bellows, U.S. NTDP (USHL), 6-0, 189 lbs
A young sniper would be next on Don Sweeney’s list of needs, and Bellows, son of former NHLer Brian, is likewise a forward who lives to score.
24. New York Islanders: RW Alex DeBrincat, Erie (OHL), 5-7, 165 lbs
Isles GM Garth Snow isn’t afraid to be different, and while DeBrincat’s small, he’s proven he can score. Could help fill hole if Kyle Okposo moves on.
25. Florida Panthers: Rasmus Asplund, C, Farjestads (Sweden) 5-10, 175 lbs
The Panthers have youth at every position (except goal), and at this stage in the draft the old best-player-available strategy may start to kick in.
26. Anaheim Ducks: D Kale Clague, Brandon (WHL) 6-0, 194
Ducks GM Bob Murray loves stockpiling defencemen, and Clague at one point was rated much higher in the draft. Shades of Cam Fowler.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh): G Filip Gustavsson, Lulea (Sweden) 6-2, 184
Made 54 saves to beat Canada at the world under-18s last week. Leafs could wait until pick No. 31 to take a goalie-of-the-future, but they need one.
28. St. Louis Blues: C Tage Thompson, Connecticut (NCAA) 6-5, 189
Big body up the middle could be a very useful commodity if David Backes leaves as a UFA this summer.
29. Dallas Stars*: D Dennis Cholowski, Chilliwack (BCHL), 6-1, 170 lbs
Blue-line help to store away for a few years. He’s headed to St. Cloud University next season.
30. Washington Capitals: LW Carl Grundstrom, LW, Modo (Sweden) 6-0, 184 lbs
A grinding winger, the Caps are loaded with talent everywhere. Grundstrom impressed at the world juniors.
*Pick goes to Calgary Flames if Stars advance to third round of the Stanley Cup playoffs