The Maple Leafs head to the NHL draft with a new scouting director. What will your approach be like?

MONTREAL—Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas marked a new direction in the way the team drafts when he named Wes Clark as director of amateur scouting a summer ago.

The 2022 draft will be Clark’s first decision, having been an assistant to the now-deceased John Lilley, who moved to the New York Rangers.

“His (Clark’s) process was different in terms of wanting explorers to supplement all of their live viewings with more evidence creation, with video,” Dubas said. “We don’t want to reduce live views, although live views were reduced a bit due to travel restrictions at times. But (we want) to use more video to supplement and verify his work and just make sure the process was as robust as possible on that front.”

Clark and Dubas have a history together dating back to their days with Sault Ste. Maria Greyhounds. Dubas was the general manager, Clark the chief scout. Clark followed Dubas to the Leafs in 2015. They see the game the same way, they believe in the same kinds of ways to build a team, which includes relying on analytics to back up what the eye test tells you.

“Wes relies heavily on our analytics department led by Will Sibley and our R&D department led by Darryl Metcalf,” Dubas said. “We want to put as much evidence as possible into the decision. … I have worked with Wes for a long time, so I know he will be as thorough and focused as anyone.”

With Dubas as a GM who has a penchant for trading his draft capital, the Leafs have generally gotten good grades with the few draft options they’ve had. Matthew 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 sixth round.

The Leafs have one pick in the first round on Thursday and two on Friday (third and seventh rounds).

“Last year we had a second, a fifth and a 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.

Matthew Knies, who played for Team USA at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, is already projecting as a top-six player in the NHL.  The Leafs selected him late in the second round of last year's draft.

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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