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Burke 'inclined' to keep Leafs' first-rounder

Toronto Maple Leafs General Manager Brian Burke has been under fire after a difficult season with the struggling NHL club. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

Another night, another team creeps up behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings.

This time it was the Montreal Canadiens, who won in a shootout against the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday to move to 67 points, one back of the Leafs.

Toronto now sits in a group of five teams ranked 24th to 28th, separated by only one point, with the season's final 12 games determining who finishes in the draft lottery and who doesn't.

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Given their 17-game freefall, it's now possible the Leafs will have as high as third spot in the lottery, which comes with a 14.2-per-cent chance of winning the first overall pick.

While there's a sizable contingent of the Leafs fan base that is worried that Leafs GM Brian Burke will move the pick for more immediate help, he said this week it's more likely they keep it.

Even if other GMs are already calling him about it.

"[We're]inclined to keep the pick," Burke said, "but listening [to offers] already."

It obviously depends on the offers, but keeping the pick is the right decision on a number of fronts, as the top four or five players available should be able to make a fairly high impact in time for the 2013-14 season.

The only question is if Burke, who may feel his job is in jeopardy after four consecutive seasons missing the playoffs, decides he needs to improve the Leafs right away, something an 18-year-old not named Nail Yakupov likely can't offer.

What a top five pick will give Toronto is some much needed hope for the future, with a bona fide high end prospect to add to the roster on a low entry level salary for three years.

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Here are the chances of ending up with a higher pick based on end-of-season finish:

30th place: 48.2% (Columbus) 29th place: 18.8% (Edmonton) 28th place: 14.2% 27th place: 10.7% 26th place: 8.1% 25th place: 6.2% of getting second overall pick 24th place: 4.7% of getting third overall pick

It's unlikely at this point that the Leafs wind up with anything worse than a seventh overall pick, which allows them to target some fairly strong prospects even at the lower end of that range.

Someone like Alex Galchenyuk, who played his first OHL game of the season after missing all year with a knee injury, would be an intriguing gamble should Toronto fall outside of the top five.

Here were TSN's midseason draft rankings of the top prospects with a brief comment from scout Grant McCagg (visit their site for a full scouting report):

1. Nail Yakupov, LW, Sarnia - "Has been called a mini-Ovechkin... Has the dynamic skill set to be a first-line NHL winger."

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2. Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Quebec - "Has been compared to Viktor Kozlov in terms of his size/skill package, but also because of his inconsistency."

3. Ryan Murray, D, Everett - "A No. 2 or No. 3 defenceman with leadership qualities who will be relied upon to shut down team's top players."

4. Filip Forsberg, LW, Leksands (SEL) - "Improvements in skating stride could lead to first-line power forward duty in the NHL."

5. Mathew Dumba, D, Red Deer - "Draws many comparisons to PK Subban in skating, shot and risk taking, but may have more overall sense."

6. Jacob Trouba, D, USA U-18 - "Has the physical package to be a top two defenceman in the NHL if he learns the finer points of playing defence."

7. Alex Galchenyuk, C, Sarnia - "Has the size and skill to be a top two centre if he recovers fully from missing an entire season."

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