Now that the Leafs are back in the first round of the draft (although the ownership of the pick might be temporary) it’s about time we started talking about the draft a bit more. And one of the first things that comes to mind with this years draft is that there is rare opportunity to draft players who will be in the middle of their season, if teams look to the European leagues.

While most North American junior leagues have deferred their start times until December (with the exception of the QMJHL), players are presently reporting to European clubs and in the case of the KHL, they are playing their first games of the year today. It’s a rare opportunity to draft based on their post draft year, what a luxury.

Of course there are issues with this, as NHL teams are loaning players to any European team that will take them, likely bumping top prospects down the lineup or into European Junior leagues, removing the opportunity to see how players match up against veterans. There’s also the fact that if I’m writing about this, there are plenty of NHL teams that are already thinking this way, and in that case exploiting North American players sliding down the draft board is the best bet for the Leafs.

Given the Leafs track record with drafting overseas, especially from Sweden, it remains an area worth exploring, and here are a few European players expected to go around 15th overall in the draft that we should keep an eye on.

Yaroslavl Askarov-G-KHL

It’s not too often we talk about a goaltender going in the first round, and it’s even more rare that people are legitimately excited about the idea of selecting him. By most measures Askarov is a player who’s abilities point to him being selected well before 15th overall, but the goaltender aspect does leave some hope that he could slide down the draft board to the Leafs.

The Leafs are already sitting on Joseph Woll and Ian Scott as goaltending prospects with some promise, but Askarov represents an elite option who might be develop even quicker than players already established in Toronto’s system. The fact that he’s already playing in the KHL and the Leafs could get a look at him days before the draft is encouraging.

Rodion Amirov-W-KHL

The Leafs looking to wing in the draft might not be the direction you want to see them go, given that there are more pressing issues in the prospect depth chart at every possible position, but over the next couple of months Amirov could play himself into a situation where he is the best available player.

He’s already got 21 KHL games experience, and was over a point per game in the second tier Russian league. Given the successful scouting of Korshkov, Mikheyev, (Barabanov?), and Soshnikov, the Leafs could look to go with a high end Russian prospect who might be ready to join the Leafs sooner rather than later, allowing them to move out more cap space on their wings in the future.

Anton Lundell-C-Liiga

There is absolutely no reason to believe that Lundell will slide in the draft, except for the fact that someone slides every year, and also there’s no rule saying that the Leafs won’t trade up to grab a player they really like. So with that we’ll talk Lundell.

Lundell had 28 points in 44 games as an 18 year old in Finland last season, and put up 19 points in 38 games as a 17 year old. The Leafs would have the opportunity to consider a third year pro center, and considering they could really use a third line center, Lundell might be a ready now solution for them.

Noel Gunler-W-SHL

So we looked at a bit of a trade up option in Lundell, perhaps Gunler represents a trade down option. The 6’2 winger is also comes with some pro experience already, and has been able to produce in the second tier league, but has a smaller role in the SHL. Gunler might not be as exciting as the options above, but he also has two months to show his abilities off while CHL players and NCAA players are working out at home.

Outside of the first round

Arguably the bigger impact and the better time to look to European players might come outside the first round. These are players that might not have had as much time focused on them previously, but now can benefit for increased attention, and knowing what they can do beyond their draft year is a huge advantage to these players. The plethora of late round picks the Leafs have accumulated is an opportunity to collect as many unnoticed and unclaimed overachievers as possible. The Leafs successful scouting of Sweden and Russia in recent years has the chance to set the organization up quite nicely for the foreseeable future if the entire NHL doesn’t steer into the “draft who is playing now” trend and drain that talent pool.

Also a future shout out to the guy in the mentions on this post who is replying with “you take the best player available.” Thanks guy, no one ever thought of that.