Leafs trade Petr Mrázek to Chicago, exiting first-round NHL draft in the works

MONTREAL—The era of Petr Mrázek is over.

The Maple Leafs got rid of the last two years of Mrazek’s contract by sending him and the 25th pick in the 2022 NHL draft to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 38th pick in the NHL draft.

It means the Leafs have cleared another $3.8 million (US) in salary-cap space, this year and next, giving general manager Kyle Dubas some wiggle room in an attempt to re-sign Jack Campbell, a clear No. 1 goalie headed for unrestricted free agency.

The Leafs now have a little over $10 million in cap space. If it’s not Campbell, there could be enough to re-sign Ilya Mikheyev. Both Campbell and Mikheyev are eyeing bigger paydays this summer, around $5 million a year. It won’t be enough for both of them, barring any other move, as there are other players, albeit with more modest paychecks in the offing. Those would be restricted free agents like defenseman Rasmus Sandin and forwards Pierre Engvall and Ondrej Kaše and unrestricted free agent Ilya Lyubushkin.

The Blackhawks took USHL defenseman Sam Rinzel with the pick.

The Leafs have selected just once in the first round in the last four years, taking Rodion Amirov 15th overall in 2020, using a pick obtained from the Pittsburgh Penguins. They traded their own 2020 pick to get rid of Patrick Marleau. And they traded their 2021 pick in the Nick Foligno deal.

It may be a cautious move. The depth of the draft is believed to be quite strong, even though the top of the draft lacked star power. A player selected at 38, the top of the second round, can be as good as any of the bottom of the first round. Travis Dermott, the 34th pick in the 2015 draft, is an example of a second-round switch.

Dubas had spoken about Mrázek on Wednesday, saying he believed the goalkeeper was better than his record as indicated by a Leaf. He played 20 games with an .888 save percentage, but was frequently injured.

If signing Campbell is the reason for the trade, the Leaf’s goalkeeping situation will have taken care of itself. It also opens up the possibility that the Leafs could go after another free agent goalie when free agency opens next Wednesday.

With Dubas as a GM with a penchant for trading his draft capital, the Leafs have generally gotten good grades with the few draft options they’ve had. Matt Knies was selected in the second round last year and projects to be a top-six forward. Ty Voit, a fifth round finisher last year, had a breakout year at Sarnia. Both he and Knies have been invited to camp to try to get a spot on the roster with Team USA for the COVID-delayed World Junior Championships to be held in August. The Leafs also took out Russian goaltender Vyacheslav Peksa in the seventh round.

Petr Mrázek played just 20 games in a Maple Leafs uniform, posting an .888 save percentage during an injury-plagued season.

The Leafs now have three picks on Friday (one in the second round, one in the third, one in the seventh).

“Last year we had a second, a fifth in the sixth. This year we have two top 80 picks. So last year was tough,” Dubas said. “We still have Knies. We picked him late in the second and he’s had a really good year. Ty Voit will go to US camp and Peksa was on the Russian U-20 team at the end of the year.

“We don’t want to create a habit of only picking three times, but it’s very much a reflection of where we are as a team and trying to keep moving forward. If there’s a way for us to get some of that draft capital back without depleting our team, then we’re going to do it.”

Under Dubas, the Leafs have tended to pick the player with the most talent, which includes speed and high hockey IQ. They care less about size and strength, but will accept him if he’s there. It’s more about taking the best player available rather than drafting to address the organization’s positional need.

Dubas has been general manager of the Leafs since the 2018 draft. Since then, several players he recruited have already made it to the NHL: Rasmus Sandin (88 games), Nick Robertson (16 games), Nick Abruzzese (nine games), all with the Leafs. Sean Durzi has played 64 games in Los Angeles, as part of a trade for Jake Muzzin.

Prospects like Pontus Holmberg (156th overall in 2018), Roni Hirvonen (59th overall in 2020), Topi Niemela (64th overall in 2020) will be among the prospects in training camp with a decent shot at making the team.


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