Welcome back. I haven't heard any reports of any messy suicides in the GTA, so I'm hoping this means you all managed to curb your natural instincts to cause yourself permanent physical harm at the reminder that, in arguably the strongest draft of all time, we didn't pick until #57 because we just HAD to have Owen Nolan. Unfortunately...it's not going to get any better just yet because I'm genuinely starting to think that, contrary to popular belief, 2003 wasn't the worst draft job the Maple Leafs have done in the recent history. I think 2004 takes that honour, and I'll explain why as I go along. This one I will understand if you disagree with, but for me 2004 might be worse as a whole because of the chain reaction kicked off by one of the picks.
The scene, first. After one of the tightest divisional battles in years, Toronto finished the year with 103 points, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference - Boston won the division and secured the second seed with 104 points, while Ottawa ensured the running battle would continue into the playoffs by finishing fifth in the conference, tallying 102 points. A seven-game victory over the Senators was followed by a six-game loss at the hands of the Flyers, who themselves got bounced by eventual winners Tampa Bay. Our first-round pick, slated to be #19, went to New York as part of the Brian Leetch trade, and the Rangers picked Lauri Korpikoski with it. Wikipedia fails to record what happened to our second-round pick but, regardless, we made our first appearance at #90, picking...
Round 3, #90 Overall - Justin POGGE
7 GP - 1-4-1, 0.844 SV%, 4.35 GAA
Pogge is a name we're all aware of and he is the foundation of my suspicion that 2004 might have done more damage to Toronto than 2003. 2003 was bad, but it's long since become the accepted wisdom that when trying to decide which of their star goaltending prospects to trade away for an established netminder, the Toronto front office chose wrongly. Very wrongly. Rather than flipping Pogge, Tuukka Rask was sent to Boston for Andrew Raycroft, who was succeeded by Vesa Toskala, who was of course apocalyptically awful and himself supplanted by Jonas Gustavsson and J.S. Giguere, who were themselves dethroned by James Reimer, the man we're currently pinning all of our hopes on. I posit this - had we traded away Pogge, while the Raycroft deal would have happened I believe Rask was good enough in 2007 that we don't trade for Toskala. It doesn't solve all of our problems, but in trading Pogge, we keep the one that's actually good and maybe aren't quite so terrible these past few years.
But then again, I could just be spitballing. Don't take the above too seriously.
Verdict: I'm between neutral and bust. He's not an NHL-quality goaltender, but the fact he's hung around the league despite this sets him apart from others like Jeff Glass (picked 89th) and I'm probably biased because of what I said up there. Let's call him a push.
Round 4, #113 Overall - Roman KUKUMBERG
According to Wikipedia, the most notable thing about Kukumberg is that he is recognised in his native Slovakia as the man who introduced the populace to the concept of balsamic vinegar. He's 31 now, implying he was 24 when he was drafted, and I don't know for sure but my guess is the list of overage players who were drafted and then went on to justify that pick is fairly low. Kukumberg played 54 games in North America, all with the Marlies, and currently plays for Khabarovsk Amur in the KHL. He also has never smiled.
By the way, this is who David Steckel will probably turn into. Chill.
Verdict: Has to be a bust. The expectations were low, and him being fully six years older than most of the players drafted that year can't have helped, but not a single NHL game from the man? Bust.
Round 5, #157 Overall - Dmitri VOROBIEV
I may be wrong, but I think Vorobiev may technically still be in our system somewhere. He's probably, like, twentieth on the defensive depth chart, but he's there somewhere! Although he's another one who never suited up as a Maple Leaf outside of the preseason, he seems to have carved out a respectable career in Russia and has played with the national team - he was part of the squad that took gold in 2008, although he only appeared in five games. In his spare time, I'm reliably informed he enjoys neo-Soviet architecture, the colour red and field-stripping rifles. I am categorically NOT suggesting he is some kind of Communist super-soldier born to wreak vengeance on the United States.
Verdict: Did he ever play in North America? Yes, but only for international play. Bust, at least as far as the Leafs' concern in him goes.
Round 6, #187 Overall - Robbie EARL
47 GP - 6 + 1 = 7, -4, 6 PIM
Just kinda lame. He was a pretty respectable player in college - being a point-per-game player his last two years at the University of Wisconsin - but since then his career highlights have probably been the six goals he scored for Minnesota in 2009, during a 32-game stint with the Wild. Currently with Dinamo Riga, presumably after figuring it wasn't worth it sticking around in the AHL for another year.
Still On The Board: Um. Anton Khudobin (206)?
Verdict: A limited win, I suppose.
Round 7, #220 - Maxim SEMENOV
Chalk up another one who decided to stay in the Motherland; Semenov is Kazakhstani rather than the Russia, though, which differentiates him from Vorobiev. Otherwise, they might as well have been the same person. Either he was drafted as a stay-at-home defenseman or he's a two-way player and his offensive numbers are just fucking awful, it could be either. He did, however, make the Kazakhstan national team in 2010 - a team which lost all three of it's games, had a goal differential of minus 10 and was relegated following the tournament's conclusion.
Still On The Board: Chris Campoli (227)
Verdict: BUST. Borat might have done better.
Round 8, #252 Overall - Jan STEBER
No, I've never heard of him either. A Czech forward, he was fairly unimpressive through his two years with the Halifax Mooseheads, unimpressive with the Pensacola Ice Pilots when they were our ECHL affiliate and unimpressive when he went back to the Czech league in 2006. I'm sure there's a unifying factor here, I just can't think of the right word for it.
Verdict: A bust made more disappointing when you consider we could have had an Enstrom-Schenn-Streit-Phaneuf-Gunnarsson-Franson defensive corps with some smarter picking (and, as before, shut up let me dream goddammit).
Round 9, #285 Overall - Pierce NORTON
Inexplicably, Wikipedia claims Norton's name is Mike Guthrie and refuses to acknowledge his existence in any other way. This, sadly, might be the most interesting thing about this pick.
Still On The Board: Who cares?
Verdict: Mike Guthrie is a character from a TV show. Bust.
Career Players: Zero. Nobody's even going to come close.
Grade: F-. Yes, I'm going out on a limb here because I believe this draft was EVEN WORSE than 2003. We might loathe John fucking Mitchell, but the best player to come from this year's crop of rookies was Robbie Earl, who ranks #1005 in terms of games played among all of the players in the database - and this would be lower if everybody who'd played zero NHL games weren't tied for #1556 - and Justin Pogge, our great white hope, hasn't made anything of himself in Toronto or anywhere else. What a terrible year. Over to you.