LAS VEGAS – If there's any silver lining to a season gone wrong, it will take shape for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the annual NHL Draft in Pittsburgh on Friday.
"The reward you have for a poor year is a high pick," Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke said Tuesday evening, following a lengthy Board of Governors meeting. "We expect to get a guy at five that's going to be an impact player for us some day, maybe not right away."
Well known for his theatrics on draft day, Burke wouldn't rule out moving the fifth pick – "not far" in either direction – but made clear his intent to utilize the pick in some capacity rather than trade it outright.
"Right now I'd say yeah," Burke said of keeping the pick. "We might trade up or down, but so far that hasn't materialized."
Unpredictability is expected to swirl around a draft class considered to be lacking in depth. Edmonton holds top spot with Sarnia winger Nail Yakupov leading the pack. Rumours of a trade involving the Oilers continue to bubble, but Burke denied any such knowledge or pursuit on the Leafs' behalf. "I have no sense from Edmonton that that pick's in play," Burke said. "If someone's actively trying to get that pick it's not us."
Yakupov is the premium offensive talent amongst a group stocked with capable blueliners. Long short an elite prospect down the middle, Burke hinted at drafting for need – rather than best available – but flashed only a sly grin when the prospect of selecting a centre was raised.
"You can speculate," he grinned. "We don't think anyone that we get at five is going to play right away so drafting positionally probably doesn't make sense. This is the one time in my life I've considered it, if there were a certain position available that we might try to fill it. But we usually go best-available athlete and that's still the way I intend to go."