Barring a deal, the Leafs won't pick until the 3rd round. What should they do with those picks? Some quick research suggests a strategy unlikely to be favoured by our truculent GM.
I looked at the five drafts from 1999 to 2003. Why that time frame? Because we can safely evaluate most guys from the 2003 draft by now, and I didn't feel like spending more than five minutes looking, OK?
I then looked for "impact players" in the 3rd round and lower from those drafts, which I defined as guys who have been Top 6 forwards or Top 4 defensemen. This was based on a quick review of stat lines on hockeydb.com and my own recollection of players, so feel free to tell me if I'm overlooking any gems here. Here are the lists I came up with:
Kyle Wellwood (hey, he was good for a couple years and it's a low bar)
John Michael Liles
What are the italicizations? As you may have guessed from the title, they are guys likely viewed in their draft year as "undersized". All the italicized forwards are listed in hockeydb as 5'11" or less, and all the defensemen are 6'0" or less. And even for the remaining guys who met those thresholds, Malone is probably the only one you would call "big".
In summary, 14 out of 23 late round gems from 1999 to 2003 are undersized guys who score. Moreover, of the nine "big" guys, no less than five of them--Hagman, Zetterberg, Erat, Malone and Vrbata--were from 1999. Maybe scouting wasn't as good back then.
The reason for this phenomenon is obvious. The minors are full of high scoring hobbits who crash and burn at the next level. NHL talent evaluators have become obsessed with "NHL bodies", figuring they can develop their skills but can't change their size. Well guess what? Given the dearth of hulking "late bloomers", it looks like for the most part you can't soften hands of stone. Guys who don't score in junior won't score in the NHL. And guys with size and skill are gone by the 3rd round.
mf37 and I have debated this--is it better to swing for the fences with late round picks or go for a "safe" choice? To me, there are no safe choices beyond the second round and so I'd swing the fences. The best way to do that is to pick the little guy who puts the puck in the net.
And for the love of God don't draft another Jamie Devane.