FanPost

The Leafs and the Draft

The Stanley Cup playoffs are done, and I have started thinking about how I will fill the hours in the summer ahead. Spend time with my family? Good God! With that thought in my head, I decided to look forward to the draft. The #5 pick has got me a little excited. What can we expect? How much spare time did I put in this? The answer for both is "a hell of a lot".

I have read many articles speculating about who the Leafs will be drafting, and that is all fine and good. I have read articles about previous picks at this spot, and that was very exciting yet often terrifying. Here are a few that jumped out at me that fall into both categories:

- 1988: Daniel Dore (Who?)

- 1989: Bill Guerin (That's better)

- 1990: Jaromir Jagr (Drool-worthy)

- 1996: Ric Jackman (Oh deer)

- 2000: Raffi Torres (Oh no...)

- 2001: Stanislav Christov (Getting worse)

- 2003: Thomas Vanek (Back on track)

- 2005: Carey Price (That would help)

- 2006: Phil Kessel (Can they trade him for Seguin?)

- 2008: Luke Schenn (Ahhh....)

After settling myself down, I realized that chances are pretty good that the #5 pick will result in a decent Leaf player in the future. As long as management doesn’t rush the player and fans don’t get all worked up and hold the player up on a pedestal with unrealistic expectations, we should be fine. Hopefully. I mean, I am sure it will work out…right?

Let’s face it. The NHL draft is a crap shoot. Sure, the top few picks generally produce excellent players, and the rest of the top ten or so picks will likely be serviceable players. But still, you may hit a home run, but you may completely strike out as well. A high draft pick can still land you Rick Dipietro, Hugh Jessiman or Petr Taticek.

Plus, anything after the first round is like throwing darts with a blindfold on. Look at this year’s nominees for major trophies for proof. Hart/Vezina nominee Henrik Lundqvist was drafted 205th. Halak and Elliott, the current Jennings trophy winners, were both selected in the 9th round in 2003. The highest drafted Norris Trophy nominee this year is Erik Karlsson, drafted 15th (Weber was 49th and Chara was 56th).

People always point to teams like Detroit as evidence of a club that has mastered the draft. Detroit’s best three players have been late round steals (Lidstrom, 53rd overall, Datsyuk 171st and Zetterberg, 210th). On the other hand, the only Leaf of consequence drafted late was the rosy-cheeked Tomas Kaberle, selected 204th in 1996. Still, plucking unknown Europeans out of the later rounds is getting harder and harder. A lot are coming to North America to play Major Junior hockey.

Some teams consistently find talent later in the first rounds, once the "sure thing" top picks are already talking to the media with their fancy new team sweaters and hats on. New Jersey is one example. They consistently draft late but pluck out gems that others have passed over (Brodeur, Parise, and Zajak were drafted around the 17-20 range).

So, are these teams drafting well or drafting lucky? It is a relatively small sample size to draw conclusions from. Even still, with a handful of picks throughout the draft, shouldn’t every team be expected to nail one or two each year?

If you apply that lens to the Leafs, the answer is actually no. The Leafs draft record is not good. They employed the famous "Draft Shmaft" attitude while purging picks for quick fixes. When they did keep draft picks, they often traded the young prospects before they developed, or alternatively, killed players by throwing them into the fire before they were ready.

Still, the Leafs have made some horrible decisions at the draft table (or had terrible luck depending on how you feel about the dart board analogy). I looked at a 10 year window, from 1999-2008. If a blind squirrel will eventually find a nut, you would think that if you shook the Leafs’ draft tree hard enough one would eventually fall into their laps.

Take a second to think about what pick the Leafs made over those ten years that has the highest number of points per game played. Before I tell you, take a couple shots of Pepto first. The answer would be Brad Boyes, at 0.67 points/game. That would be the guy the Leafs decided to ship off to San Jose before he played a single game in the NHL (along with Alyn McAuley and a first round pick that ended up being Mark Stuart). In return, the Leafs got 79 games and 60 points from Owen Nolan. Oh, they also got sued over Nolan’s misdiagnosed knee injury…let’s not forget that.

Just as a measuring stick, using 2011-12 stats only, there were 108 players that finished with a PTS/G higher than the 0.67 PTS/G career average owned by Brad Boyes. I know this isn’t a perfect comparison, but 108 players in the NHL last year had a higher PTS/G than any Leaf draft pick over ten years. They have made 87 picks in that time. Ugghh.

Next on the list of Leaf draft picks is Alex Steen (0.56 PTS/G, but most productive time has been with St. Louis after he was traded with Carlo Colaiacovo for the pylon Lee Stempniak). Nik Kulemin, the only Leaf player of any consequence drafted and still playing for the team, is 3rd with 0.50 PTS/G. The wheels fell off a bit for him this year, however an optimist would hope for a return to form. Depressed yet? How about Kyle Wellwood (0.49 PTS/G), Matt Stajan (0.47 PTS/G) and Victor Stalberg (0.41 PTS/G) rounding out the top six players. How does that make you feel? Boyes, Steen, Kulemin, Wellwood, Stajan and Stalberg are the top six forwards drafted over ten years. Dear God.

You could argue that the Leafs have done better at drafting defensemen. Then again, given the crap sandwich of forwards listed above, that is not saying much. The Leafs best D draft picks during those 10 years have been Carlo Colaiacovo, my beloved Ian White and Carl Gunnarsson, Luke Schenn (fingers crossed) and the marginal at best Anton Stralman. OK, maybe they haven’t been that much better drafting defensemen.

What about goalies? James Reimer is still a question mark, but let’s just hope for the best. Other than that, Leaf goalie draft picks are more famous for the trades that they were involved with than their production for the Blue and White. The Leafs chose draft pick Justin Pogge (7 NHL games played…well done) over Tuukka Rask. They traded Rask to Boston, where he will now take over since Tim Thomas has officially gone crazy. Andrew Raycroft, on the other hand, just managed to drive all Leaf fans crazy. The only other guy to play in the NHL was Mikael Tellqvist, who played 40 games over four seasons before he was traded for the pick that ended up being Matt Frattin. Is that considered a win?

Sadly, there have been years that the Leafs completely came up empty. In 1999, the Leafs drafted nine players. Only one, Pierre Hedin, managed to play in the NHL. Well, he played for 3 games. Three games played for nine different picks! That is just remarkable. They did not do much better in 2000 (Backup Telqvist and Boyes who was traded), 2003 (only John Mitchell really did anything, and he did not do a lot), 2004 (Justin Pogge and Robbie Earl!), 2005 (Rask, traded, and Stralman). In 2008, they traded up for Schenn, but did not pick anyone else of any consequence.

The only draft years that the Leafs can claim that things didn’t go horribly wrong:

  • 2001: The Leafs were consistent, however no real stars emerged. They picked Colaiacovo, Karl Pilar, Brendan Bell, Jay Harrison, Kyle Wellwood and Maxim Kondratiev (part of the Brian Leetch trade)
  • 2002: The Leafs did well to pick 3 serviceable players: They picked Alex Steen, Matt Stajan and Ian White. The latter two were at least flipped in the Phaneuf trade.
  • 2006: The Leafs picked 7 players. Only two have not made it to the NHL, although the Leafs did just sign Leo Komarov and expect him to play next year. The Leafs grabbed Jiri Tlusty (playing regularly for the Canes, now keeping self-portraits to himself), Kulemin, Reimer, Korbinian Holzer (Marlies) and Stalberg (traded).
  • 2007: Way too early to judge, but let’s give the Leafs credit for getting Frattin late (99th pick), and Gunnarsson even later (194…Kaberle territory!).


Now that you may be doubting the Leafs’ ability to draft anyone that can help, let’s see what teams with the #5 pick have done in the past. But, instead of looking at just the previous number 5 picks, I did that already, let’s look at the entire draft class for teams picking fifth as a comparison. As I mentioned, in 2008 when the Leafs drafted Schenn, he was the only player that panned out. The same can be said for Washington, who picked Karl Alzner in 2007. Let’s be fair, it is still way too early to fairly judge those draft classes. What about before that (I am only including picks that made it to the NHL for more than a cup of coffee)?

So there you have it. I have clearly wasted a lot of time on this, but that is what the off season is for. You can now pop a few Tums and Tylenol and wait until draft day. Even though the Leafs have not done all that well drafting players, it is clear that the last few drafts have been better. Brian Burke has placed a stronger emphasis on the draft, and has also been stocking up on players that were first round picks like Gardiner and Colborne in recent trades, as well as college free agents.

Still, the draft is clearly the path to success. Look at your Stanley Cup Champions, the LA Kings. They have held on to their prospects, developed them and they now are reaping the rewards. They also were able to part with Simmonds and Schenn to get Mike Richards, but their core came through the draft:

Draft/

Year

Player

Pos

GP

G

A

PTS

+/-

PIM

GP

W

L

SV%

GAA

13/2003

Dustin Brown

LW

595

163

196

359

-30

430

174/2004

Scott Parse

C

73

14

16

30

19

36

11/2005

Anze Kopitar

C

475

163

271

434

-1

134

72/2005

Jonathan Quick

G

249

0

6

6

0

8

249

131

87

0.916

2.3

11/2006

Jonathan Bernier

G

48

0

1

1

0

0

48

20

17

0.91

2.5

17/2006

Trevor Lewis

C

155

7

16

23

-17

32

4/2007

Thomas Hickey

D

61/2007

Wayne Simmonds

RW

322

67

75

142

11

378

82/2007

Bryan Cameron

RW

95/2007

Alec Martinez

D

115

11

17

28

8

28

109/2007

Dwight King

C/LW

33

5

9

14

1

12

2/2008

Drew Doughty

D

316

43

119

162

14

247

32/2008

Viatcheslav Voynov

D

54

8

12

20

7

12

123/2008

Andrei Loktionov

C

59

7

7

14

-2

4

5/2009

Brayden Schenn

C

63

12

8

20

-9

34

35/2009

Kyle Clifford

LW

157

12

14

26

-15

264

186/2009

Jordan Nolan

26

2

2

4

2

2

28

PensionPlanPuppets.com is a fan community that allows members to post their own thoughts and opinions on the Toronto Maple Leafs and hockey in general. These views and thoughts may not be shared by the editor of PensionPlanPuppets.com.

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