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If Leafs keep 15th pick, several quality prospects there for the choosing

Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Braden Schneider  has the size, skill and physicality the Leafs could be looking for with the 15th overall pick on Tuesday.
Brandon Wheat Kings defenceman Braden Schneider has the size, skill and physicality the Leafs could be looking for with the 15th overall pick on Tuesday.

Plenty of pre-draft trade chatter continues across the National Hockey League as general managers get a handle on where their respective teams need the most improvement.

The assumption is there’s going to be plenty of wheeling and dealing as teams get their financial situations in order in the world of the $81.5-million US flat cap.

Kyle Dubas figured on being busy when he spoke to the media several weeks ago, but the Maple Leafs GM has been quiet since trading Kasperi Kapanen to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Aug. 25. We expect that to change into next week, when the draft will be held virtually Tuesday and Wednesday followed by the opening of free agency on Oct. 9.

The Leafs’ salary-cap issues and the fact they’re not a great hockey team have pushed Dubas into a spot where money must be freed up and roster changes have to be made.

Dubas has said he is willing to move his first-round pick — 15th overall and acquired in the Kapanen swap — if a deal fell into place that would help the Leafs now. On the other hand, his scouting staff will be advising him that a player with plenty of potential will be available at that spot. With the draft days away, we will be more surprised now if the Leafs trade the pick rather than keep it.

We know that one area of concern for the Leafs is on the blue line, specifically right-shot defencemen. The Leafs can’t wait for that kind of player to develop. They need one or two now, though they could still go that way on Tuesday night.

“There are players at every position — forward, defence and goalie —that are of interest to us at that spot,” Dubas said toward the end of August.

Here’s a look at some players who could get some consideration from the Leafs in the first round.

Braden Schneider, D, Brandon, WHL

He shoots right and is on track to becoming a top-four defenceman in the NHL. Need we say more? Sure. Two-way game is on point, he brings a physical nature and can provide offence. Likes to join the rush as much as he recognizes when it’s just as smart to survey the landscape down the ice.

Seth Jarvis, C, Portland, WHL

You can never have enough centres, and though the Leafs are set with Auston Matthews and John Tavares as their top duo, more help in the middle wouldn’t be a bad thing. Jarvis had 98 points in 58 games last season, coming from a player with a great hockey brain and creativity. Not the biggest prospect, not a problem.

Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert, WHL

There’s a fine mix provided by Guhle, whether it’s an injection of offence, skating ability or a hard shot from the point. The younger brother of Anaheim Ducks defenceman Brendan Guhle shoots left and plays with a physical bent and lots of pace. Forty points in 64 games last season for the Raiders.

Anton Lundell, C, HIFK, Finland

Lundell probably will be gone by the time the Leafs pick, but they would be foolish to pass him up if he remains on the board. He is considered to be a complete package and plays with a maturity that comes naturally. Playing against men in the Liiga has not been an issue. Lundell had 28 points in 44 games last season.

Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi, QMJHL

We don’t know for sure whether Mercer will be there for Toronto to consider, but we can be certain he will be the seventh Newfoundland-born player to go in the first round. His smarts and skills bring versatility and responsibility at both ends of the rink. Determination and desire also help set him apart.

Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin, NCAA

Shone as a rookie with Wisconsin last season with 17 points in 35 games. Has power in his game and projects to bring depth to any NHL lineup. Competes hard and can be difficult to keep in check, whether he has the puck or is in pursuit of it. A strong skater who was named AJHL MVP two seasons ago.

Rodion Amirov, LW, Ufa, KHL

Speed, skill and smarts are in abundance, though we have to wonder if the Leafs will go for a winger, considering they should be set at that spot for a while. If he’s there and he’s deemed the best available by the staff, that won’t matter. Amirov plays with spirit, which would look good anywhere, especially in Toronto.

Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St. Petersburg, KHL

Just two goalies in the past 10 drafts — Spencer Knight at No. 13 to Florida in 2019 and Jack Campbell at No. 11 to Dallas in 2010 — have gone in the top 15. Askarov likely will be the next. If he’s available, should the Leafs think long and hard about him? Yes. There’s no blue-chip goaltending prospect in the organization.

Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa, OHL

Do we really think Quinn, who scored 52 goals and had 89 points for the 67’s last season, will be available when Dubas steps to the virtual podium? No. On the off-chance that he is, we can’t imagine why the Leafs would look past his dynamic talents and ability to play and excel in all situations.

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