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Learning from the drafting of Toronto under Kyle Dubas

What does the past say about what Kyle Dubas likes to do (and avoid) in the NHL draft?

2022 NHL Draft - Round 2-7 Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now that Kyle Dubas is getting to work in Pittsburgh to shape and guide the future of the Penguins, what better time to look back at his history in Toronto? Today we’ll dive into the history and performance of Dubas in the NHL draft and later on in the week dig into the trades and free agency signings that he has done in the past.

Dubas was the full general manager from 2018-2023, so we will concentrate mainly on that, though it is worth pointing out that he is often credited in his stint as assistant general manager to help make decisions to select players like Mitch Marner, Travis Dermott, Joseph Woll, Timothy Lilejgren and others in the years prior while he was an assistant GM for the Maple Leafs.

Toronto Draft History 2018-22

Minten, Fraser Toronto Maple Leafs 2022 2 38 WHL Forward/Center
Moldenhauer, Nicholas Toronto Maple Leafs 2022 3 95 USHL Forward/Wing
Hildeby, Dennis Toronto Maple Leafs 2022 4 122 Sweden Goalie
Grebenkin, Nikita Toronto Maple Leafs 2022 5 135 Russia Forward/Wing
Lisowsky, Brandon Toronto Maple Leafs 2022 7 218 WHL Forward/Wing
Knies, Matthew Toronto Maple Leafs 2021 2 57 USA College Forward/Wing
Voit, Ty Toronto Maple Leafs 2021 5 153 OHL Forward/Wing
Peksa, Vyacheslav Toronto Maple Leafs 2021 6 185 Russia/Kazan Goalie
Amirov, Rodion Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 1 15 Russia Forward/Wing
Hirvonen, Roni Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 2 59 Finland Forward/Center
Niemel�, Topi Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 3 64 Finland Right Defense
Akhtiamov, Artur Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 4 106 Russia Goalie
Villeneuve, William Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 4 122 QMJHL Right Defense
Ovchinnikov, Dmitry Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 5 137 Russia Forward/Wing
Miettinen, Veeti Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 6 168 USA College Forward/Wing
Rindell, Axel Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 6 177 Finland Right Defense
Miller, Joe Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 6 180 USA College Forward/Center
Fusco, John Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 7 189 USA College Right Defense
Schingoethe, Wyatt Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 7 195 USA College Forward/Wing
Tverberg, Ryan Toronto Maple Leafs 2020 7 213 USA College Forward/Center
Robertson, Nicholas Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 2 53 OHL Forward/Wing
Kokkonen, Mikko Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 3 84 Finland Left Defense
Abramov, Mikhail Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 4 115 QMJHL Forward/Center
Abruzzese, Nick Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 4 124 USA College Forward/Center
Koster, Mike Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 5 146 USA College Right Defense
Loponen, Kalle Toronto Maple Leafs 2019 7 204 Finland Right Defense
Sandin, Rasmus Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 1 29 OHL Left Defense
Durzi, Sean Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 2 52 OHL Right Defense
Der-Arguchintsev, Semyon Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 3 76 OHL Forward/Center
Stotts, Riley Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 3 83 WHL Forward/Center
Hollowell, Mac Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 4 118 OHL Right Defense
Kr�l, Filip Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 5 149 WHL Left Defense
Holmberg, Pontus Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 6 156 Sweden Forward/Wing
Bouthillier, Zachary Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 7 209 QMJHL Goalie
Kizimov, Semyon Toronto Maple Leafs 2018 7 211 Russia Forward/Wing

As GM, Dubas made 35 total draft picks for Toronto over the years, an average of 7.0 per draft. This amount is skewed higher from the 2020 draft, when the Leafs had six total picks late in the draft’s final two rounds.

Overall, the most important thing for GM’s is the first round. Dubas only made two selections — which could be worth remembering later down the line in terms of tending to favor moving draft capital to build a contender’s present. Those first round picks included one solid selection of Rasmus Sandin (though, ironically, he got traded by Dubas recently for a 2023 first round pick) and one incomplete great for Russian forward Rodion Amirov. Amirov was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly after the draft, so analyzing that pick is unnecessary at the moment in the bigger scope of hoping for a positive outcome just in life for a young man.

The second round has been an impressive round for Dubas and the Leafs. While the Pens have typically traded their second round picks in the past (including this year), Dubas has made it a point for 2018-23 to use a second round pick. And they have mined a lot of talent in the form of Sean Durzi, Nicholas Robertson and Matthew Knies, with two others being in the “too early to tell” category. Still, this has been enough to indicate a strong show by Dubas and his scouting teams to repeatedly pick players with NHL futures at this level.

As expected and naturally enough, the third round has started to dry up for Dubas finding NHL-caliber talent. So far, only one of his five picks (Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, who only has one career NHL game) has made it to the show. But it should also be mentioned that there could be a few picks still in the works that could eventually develop into NHL contributors.

Of Dubas’s 12 total picks in Rounds 1-3, eight were forwards and four were defensemen. Zero were goalies. But Dubas does seem to subscribe to the “draft a goalie every year at some point” theory, taking a netminder in four out of his five drafts, twice in the fourth round and two other times further back in rounds 6 or 7.

In totality, Dubas drafted eight right shot defensemen from 2018-22, and only three left handed defenders. Toronto leaned heavily into drafting forwards in the Dubas era, drafting them 20 out of 35 times (57%).

Going by country, Dubas is difficult to predict or see any trends. In his first draft in 2018, Toronto selected four players from the OHL — but only drafted two from their local league in the four years to follow. The Leafs under Dubas did go heavily into Russia to make selections, compared to most NHL teams these days. Toronto has drafted six Russian trained players in the last five years, including one in 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine. (And those numbers don’t even count a Russian-born player who went to a different league, such as Mikhail Abramov, a Russian who went to the Quebec junior league).

Dubas liked the Scandinavian region for drafting, particularly Finland where he grabbed five players in five drafts, two more from Sweden.

Toronto didn’t go to the WHL often, but weren’t afraid to use high picks there either, including 2022-second round pick and the team’s top selection of Fraser Minton. The Leafs did seem to stray from Quebec, selecting only three players while Dubas was in charge, including just one in the last three years. But it is difficult to say if that was a concerted effort to not draft Quebec players, or the board simply didn’t line up to make any available for them at the right times.

Dubas and the Leafs did enjoy selecting players on the collegiate paths, making just over 25% of their picks (9) on such players over the years.

While his tendencies can be all over the board, some trends and tenets of Dubas to boild into nice, little bite-sized bullet points would be:

  • Heavy on forwards early in the draft, with no particular preference in what area in the world they come from
  • Lots of right handed defensemen
  • Eventually an emphasis on US players later in the draft
  • Probably drafting a goalie at some point, but only during Round 4 or later
  • More of a European haul (especially in Russia) than most other NHL teams in the modern era
  • Lack of frequent first round picks, but keeping second rounders
  • Despite a willingness to get a big guy like Matthew Knies, general forward profile of draftees trends towards smaller, higher-skilled type of players. Pittsburgh kid Ty Voit (fifth round pick in 2021) could be perfect example of that- has blossomed into the OHL’s second-leading scorer in 2022-23 with 105 points, despite being listed at 5’9 and 151 pounds. Not all Toronto players are that small, but under Dubas they’ve definitely been looking for the “next Jake Guentzel” types who might be small on draft day but have high ceilings for the future.
  • Generally defensively, Toronto was compiling puck moving defensemen (Sandin, Durzi) with skating/IQ qualities over physical profiles.
  • Trading down to accumulate more picks has been common for Dubas with examples in 2022 (moving back in the first round to ditch Petr Mrazek’s bad contract and again dealing back in the third round), and again 2020 (when he traded back in the second round), 2018 (in the first round) and as an interim GM in 2015 Dubas traded down twice in the first round. Save for dealing a 2023-fourth rounder to get back into the fourth round in 2022, trading up hasn’t been a strategy often used.