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Connor McDavid, centre, speaks to reporters with fellow potential draftees Dylan Strome, left, and Noah Hanifin following the announcement of the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto on April 18. The Maple Leafs could select Strome or Hanifin with the fourth overall pick.Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press

It's a heated, organization-wide debate that will finally be put to rest Friday night: Who should the Toronto Maple Leafs take with the fourth pick in the 2015 NHL draft – the franchise's highest pick in 26 years, one they feel must absolutely turn out to be a superstar?

The pivotal decision has divided the front office for months, ever since Edmonton won the draft lottery and the Leafs learned that only three teams would be picking ahead of them.

Some in Leafs management like pint-sized London Knights forward Mitch Marner. Others are fans of big Boston College defenceman Noah Hanifin.

The two players have completely different skill sets, backgrounds and development curves, so weighing the pros and cons gets complicated. And members of the Leafs' four-headed management team all have different ideas about what kind of player is most vital to a team that's rebuilding.

Because this draft is deep in high-end talent, the teams picking after Edmonton and Buffalo – which will have no trouble choosing Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, respectively – are in a bind, trying to determine which of the remaining players might be future stars.

Anyone taken fourth overall is expected to be a good NHL player. The Leafs, however, desperately need a great player, so they say they'll take the best player available, regardless of position.

Unsurprisingly, the main voice in the Marner camp is Toronto's director of player personnel, Mark Hunter. The former Knights general manager knows Marner intimately – he picked the forward 19th overall in the 2013 OHL draft and persuaded him to forgo a scholarship offer from the University of Michigan.

At that point Marner was 15 years old, 5 foot 7 and 130 pounds, and his size was the biggest reason he slipped to London at 19. Over the next two years, he grew four inches, added 30 pounds and rang up a terrific 126-point season to finish second in OHL scoring as a 17-year-old.

Hunter's belief in him paid off. He thinks it will again for the Leafs and he has support from colleagues such as Lindsay Hofford, one of the Leafs' newest scouts, who was the Knights' director of scouting when they drafted Marner.

They know everything about the player – his family, his habits, his progression – and they love him.

Marner is also likely to be available at No. 4 since the Arizona Coyotes are expected to take Dylan Strome third – if they don't trade that pick.

From the outside, it long appeared the Leafs' decision with the fourth selection would be between Marner and Strome, the top two OHL scorers. But the Leafs rate Strome fifth, while at four Hanifin has influential supporters in the organization, including head coach Mike Babcock, who covets his unique combination of size, speed and ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone.

Make no mistake, Babcock has become an important voice for the Leafs. In the five weeks since signing an eight-year, $50-million (U.S.) deal, he has been putting in 12-hour days, working and debating with the scouting staff and management over their choices.

His vision for how the Leafs will play mirrors his philosophy in Detroit and with Team Canada: He wants a team that moves and thinks fast and that doesn't spend a lot of time in its own end.

Strength on the blueline and at centre is paramount. A smallish winger? Not as much.

Two things, however, will push the Leafs in Marner's direction. No. 1 is the fact he can play centre and enjoys the position. It's not out of the question that, if he continues to develop – both in terms of size and skill – that's where he slots at the NHL level.

The other key factor is that Hunter is in Marner's corner. Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan will have to break the deadlock – if there is one – at the draft table, and he made Hunter his draft and scouting guru for a reason.

He knows players, especially OHL players, and if he wants Marner that badly, he'll likely get his way.

The Leafs' decision could be made even easier if the Coyotes do trade their pick. The top team in the running for it is Columbus; the Blue Jackets are interested in moving up from No. 8 in order to take Hanifin.

If Hanifin goes at three, the Leafs won't have much deliberating to do.

But even if he doesn't, it may not matter.

The Leafs' list

1. Connor McDavid

2. Jack Eichel

3. Mitch Marner

4. Noah Hanifin

5. Dylan Strome

Others well regarded by the organization if it can acquire another top pick: Ivan Provorov, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal.

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