FanPost

Only The One Good Eye - Drafting With The Leafs.

From a series of pieces on the Leafs, on potential strategic changes and tactical moves, the one on drafting uncovered a number of new (at least to me) ideas along the way. So I've broken it into 4 posts. Here's the 1st.

LEAF FANS ATTENDING RECENT DRAFT.

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NAW, LEAF FANS LOVE THE DRAFT.

Love to fight about it, that is. In the latest round, we’re fighting about Dylan Strome vs Mitch Marner vs Noah Hanifin. But before that it was Rielly against a bunch of guys, and before that Kadri, and so on. And when we hit draft years when we don’t have 1st round picks... we fight about who was the idiot who traded them away.

All of which is fun... but a bit short-term.

But when you step back and look at the overall pattern of Leaf drafting in recent decades, the results are pretty much universally agreed to have been... not good. In fact, they’ve been so bad for so long there are a lot of fans who believe the Leafs have never been good at drafting.

Thing is, we know that’s not true.

Because back in the early days of the draft, we picked players like Darryl Sittler with a 1st rounder. Who not only broke 1,000 points, he even got 916 of them with the Leafs. And Rick Kehoe was a 50 goal sniper. Even Tiger Williams racked up more than 500 points. We even did pretty well right into the 1980‘s. We picked both Wendel Clark and Gary Leeman as young D-men out of Junior, converted them to forward, and each got over 400 points for the Leafs. Plus, the top all-time point-getter for a Leaf draft pick... Vincent Damphousse, with over 1200 career points, was our 1st rounder in 1986.

All in all, Leaf draft picks from 1970-86 included: 3 forwards who scored over 1,000 career points; 7 more over 500; and 18 players on top of that who got at least 100 NHL points. That’s a lot of reasonably-good NHL’ers. And yes, we traded some of them away too young (Damphousse-Carlyle-Kehoe) too young, but that’s not a mistake of drafting.

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I mean, look at that list. An era when we, the Toronto Maple Leafs, actually drafted forwards. Lots of them. Some of them not even that big. And a whole raft of straight-up, high-octane offensive performers - Lanny, Damphousse, Courtnall, Kehoe.

But compared to this earlier success, most all of the last 25 years looks... disastrous. Take 1999, where the Leaf draft crop has a combined zero career NHL goals. Or 2004 (6 goals - hey Robbie Earl!) Or 2010 (1 goal thus far.) So it’s understandable that Leaf fans (and management) have grown a bit impatient.

Fortunately, a lot of smart people - including Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas and others on the new Leaf management team - have been looking at the problem. And there’s a reasonably strong consensus about some of the things that need to change:

1. STOP TRADING DRAFT PICKS. Instead, start gathering them. Remember 2007, when we traded our 1st rounder for Vesa Toskala? Same as 2003, 2004 and 2010. The good news is that Leaf management seems to already share this wave-length, and has begun trading for picks, including Nashville’s 1st.

2. STOP TRADING THE YOUNG GUYS AWAY AFTER DRAFTING THEM. This bad habit has been around for decades. But even just a few years ago, we traded 22 year old Anton Stralman for 33 year old Wayne Primeau. Again, the good news is that Leaf management says it aims to change this.

3. MORE SKILL, LESS SIZE. More controversially, new voices on this site and elsewhere have argued the Leafs need to put more priority on speed, skill and high-end talent. And less on size and grit. Adjust the Size/Skill balance. With the 2011 choice of Tyler Biggs over a Brandon Saad-type being the central battle ground. Now, while the 2013 Gauthier > Burakowsky decision still looks iffy, the Leaf’s 2014 pick of Nylander over a Nick Ritchie-type signals hope for a better Skill/Size balance.

While these debates often involved some fury about individual picks, and some finger-pointing at individual managers, the patterns involved run much deeper than any one player or person. For example, the Leaf preference for size over skill didn’t start with Tyler Biggs. Back in 1989, all three 1st rounders went on big-bodied Belleville players - and not Nik Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov or Pavel Bure.

When you see a pattern like the Size > Skill one, that has the staying power to outlast 10 straight General Managers, that’s not a pattern you fix just by swapping out a GM, or by implementing one bright idea.

Big-picture patterns that last for decades tend to be made up of 2 or 3 or 4 strong ideas wound together, and the ideas reinforce each other.

Which makes change... much more difficult than imagined.

We all know that in a company or a social policy, real change requires more than just turning a single individual, or a single dial. Think of Elon Musk at Tesla, needing to bring in new kinds of engineers from Silicon Valley. Fighting state-by-state legal challenges from US auto dealers. Having to build his own Giga-plant battery supply-line from scratch. Everything must change.

NOT JUST AN ELECTRIC MOTOR DROPPED INTO THE SAME OLD SHELL.

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Now, some of the problems, mistakes and bad ideas that hold an organization back are screamingly obvious. A goalie fluffs a shot. Or a hot-headed winger takes a dumb penalty. And in these cases, the cause of the failure is so obvious even a Steve Simmons can spot it.

But a second kind of failure is harder to see. It doesn’t sit right upfront and wear a name tag. In fact, it’s often built right into, and sits on in behind... our success. And so every time we look at our success... every time we re-tell the story of that success... the success shines a little bit bigger and brighter.

But the bigger the success-story gets...the greater the shade it casts over the secondary problems. I sometimes think of it this way. We all like to stare at our sunny successes. But the longer we stare at success, the more our cataracts grow.

Which is also the story of the Leafs and their drafting. There have been some successes. Big successes. Ones we've heard about for years. But there’s a lot hidden in behind. And worse, the ideas we'll find there tie right in tight with the Size/Skill problem.

Reinforcing it. Making it worse. Making it harder to change.

So if we actually want Big-Time change and improvement in our drafting, we’re also going to need to change some of these other ideas as well.

Ok. Before we launch in - one quick, personal, note. Just in case anyone thinks I’m making a pretense of being a real hockey scout here, ummmm..... no. I am in no way, shape or form someone who has those skills. And if you did nothing but poured intensive scouting training into me for a decade, I’d still never be any good. Being a real scout takes skills way beyond mine, ok?

Fortunately for you all, that’s not what I’m aiming to do here. What I’m aiming to do here is the thing I do well. Seeing patterns, and sorting them out. And that skill’s turned out to be useful to the organizations I’ve worked for, who are all trying to change. Yes, it’s a weird "skill." But... I’ve had a pretty great and exciting life doing it. People even pay me lots of money to do it, in different fields and different countries. But just so there’s no confusion, I’m not attempting to do scouting here. I’m doing something else.

ARE YOU READY? WELL.... GET READY.

Ok. We’re gonna start with a simple Eye Test. The point being to check if you too share the cataracts most of us Leaf fans share about drafting. Now, like any good Eye Test, this one is focussed. And in this case, I’m focussed just on the Forwards we’ve drafted.

Repeat: Strong. Forward. Focus.

And because most of you don’t remember any decade before the 1990‘s, we’re only going to look at Leaf drafts since 1990. Which means, the last 25 years.

5 questions in the test. For each one, you can fill in as many names as can. And for each correct name you provide, you’ll earn 5 points. Which means, if you end up with 20 correct names, you’d get 100 points. [Which is unlikely, because I’ve set the difficulty of this test at Clark Aitken levels, and I know most of you slackers have been training in Skinny mode.] Now, if you would all please put the Internet away - and no cheating off Hockey Reference - we can begin.

1. Looking back over the last 25 years, name any Finnish-born Forwards drafted by the Leafs who went on to score >100 career points with Toronto.

2. Same thing, only name any Czech or Slovakian-born Forwards, drafted by the Leafs, scoring >100 career points with Toronto.

3. Same, only name any Swedish-born Forwards, drafted by the Leafs, scoring >100 career points with Toronto.

4. Same, only name any American-born Forwards, drafted by the Leafs, scoring >100 career points with Toronto.

5. Name as many Forwards as you can, Leaf picks, born Outside Canada [i.e. the USA, Sweden, Finland, Czech, Slovakia plus Russia and the Soviet Union and anywhere else outside Canada], who have scored over 300 points for Toronto.

We’re gonna answer these as we move through the post, ok?

FINLAND. When I was a kid, I travelled to Finland. I loved their food, the sauna and even the fact that all the guys were wearing Elvis-style 1950’s haircuts... in the ’70’s. Anyway, best of all, the Finns loved hockey too.

Now, before writing this post, I also knew - like most Leaf fans - that we’d apparently done pretty well drafting out of Europe. And especially in Scandinavia, right? And with Salming having a statue, plus Captain Mats, and of course, Leo Komarov... when I started compiling the top-scoring Finnish Forwards we drafted, I was pretty excited.

Here’s the resulting table.

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Yup. That’s it.

That’s every Finnish forward we’ve drafted in the last 25 years who has scored points - any points - for the Leafs.

Now, how about an expanded chart, showing all our Finnish forward draft picks - the ones that made the Leafs, the ones that didn‘t, and not just from 1990, but from 1963 on.

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Yeah. I think that makes the point about Finland pretty clear.

Now remember, these are career totals, right? Not just a single season’s best. So, adding 35 + 8 means the Leafs have only gotten 43 points, in total, from every game ever played for us by a Finnish forward that we picked. And that, by the way, is fewer than Jori Lehtera, alone, got for St Louis, just last year.

To me, coming at this from the outside, that is just a damned hard draft record to explain away. We had 50 years... and an entire national talent pool of 5.5 million people to access.... and got just 43 points. While even a quick look shows Finland has produced lots of perfectly good forwards. Speedsters and snipers, play-makers and agitators... big-bodied players and small ones... and they came from high, middle and late round picks. Here’s a sample list showing just some of the breadth and depth of the Finnish talent pool that we missed:

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Ok. Now, what patterns can we pick out of this:

1. We’ve missed 100% of the high-end Finnish offensive talent of the last 40 years. All of it.

2. More troubling is that we only ever used 2 picks on Finnish forwards. In 40 years. Meanwhile, more than 200 Finnish forwards were drafted by other teams. And then, even when we made our two picks, we only ever invested a 6th and an 8th rounder. So... this isn’t a "bad luck" story here. We never even rolled the dice.

3. More broadly, we only ever used 6 picks, in total, on Finnish players of all positions. Just two Forwards, three low-level D-men picks (who missed) and one Goalie (Tuuka Rask.) So this wasn’t just an oddity about forwards. It was Finland. Gone missing.

4. And after we picked Rask and Leo in 2005 and 2006... there’s been 8 straight years without a Finnish pick. Perhaps even more surprising after those two successes.

5. And sure, we didn’t have a high-enough pick to get some, say, a Barkov. But we didn’t even bother taking late round shots at Finns since 2006. In 2010, we picked 3 times before Teemu Pulkkinen at #111, and he was already 2.5 PPG in Finnish Jr.

6. And no, the problem wasn’t a lack of Finnish forwards with grit or size. Because the Finns have a long tradition of gritty, hard-hitting, agitators like Tikkanen, Ruutu and Leo. And players like Barkov, Lehtera, Olli Jokinen and Mikko Koivu aren’t small.

I started this piece with Finland, because it was the place where the results were so far off what I expected to see that they jumped out and bit me in the eye. Frankly, I’d heard so much about our Scandinavian successes - and had the constant images of Salming and Sundin before me - that I hadn’t even noticed the big blind spot over Finland.

OUR SWEDISH SUN.

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Now, it’s almost impossible to pin down whether the Finnish blind spot lies more at the scouting level or with management. And most likely, it’s an interaction of the two. Weak scouting coverage of Finland... so less of a push for them than for the better-scouted Swedish kids... then Leaf management squeezing down the number of picks we get from Europe... which means the Finn likely loses out to the Swede... and so on.

To be clear, I have absolutely no inside knowledge of how this happened. So this is my best guess - and I’d be happy to hear from those who know more. I suspect that the absence of Finland wasn’t simply the result of a stupid bias on the part of Senior Leaf management. I’m sure a lot of the GMs didn’t care much for European players. But it’s very unlikely they would have a particular beef with the Finns vs the Swedes, right?

So. I decided to look into the scouts a bit. And as I said, I’m a million miles from knowing that world. But I do know most scouts have a preferred beat - Western Canada or Quebec or the NCAA. And in Europe, with its languages and borders, scouts likely feel more knowledgeable and comfortable with a Swedish league than, say, Russia, or the Czech... or Finland.

For the Leafs, their European scouting had been dominated for 25 years by two Swedes - Anders Hedberg, the original "Super-Scout," and then, Thommie Bergman, also with a great rep as a scout. And obviously, both have an extraordinary knowledge of Swedish hockey. Unsurprisingly perhaps, given they were national hockey heroes as players.

The thing is, being immersed in and connected to the world of Swedish hockey, at a real depth, doesn’t mean you have equal time, or connections, to sink into Finland. Which means, the Leafs scouting would probably have been enhanced if we had had some top-notch Finnish eyes, watching Finnish players, on Finnish ice.

Now, in an oddity, after Hedberg left the Leafs in 1999, but while Bergman was still rising in Seniority, the Leafs also hired a Finn, Peter Ahola, as a European scout. But just for two years, the 2005 and 2006 drafts. And - maybe a coincidence - but in 2005, the Leafs drafted the Finn, Tuuka Rask. And then in 2006, they drafted Leo Komarov.

LEO SLAYS THE SMURFS.

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So, someone completely immersed in Finnish hockey shows up for two years... begins to search out Finnish talent more widely... to advocate for those players he’s seeing... and the Leafs suddenly decide to tap that talent pool.

Now, I have no idea whether Peter Ahola was any damned good or not. Or whether it was he, or Bergman, or someone else who spied and scouted Rask and Komarov. But the thing is, after those two years, and two Finnish successes, Ahola left, and the team hired a new Finn, Jari Gronstrand. But in the 8 years Gronstrand’s been with the Leafs, not a single Finn has been drafted. Not even a late round pick. Of course, maybe it was that the Leafs, or their European scouting system, wasn’t listening to him as he brought forward great Finnish picks.

And then, just last month, Gronstrand - the Finnish scout who never had a Finnish player chosen over the last 8 years - was fired by the Leafs.

So. The problem in Finland has been there for decades. And an absolutely essential first step is to get a stronger, Finnish scouting presence, and stronger voice at the table. And changing personnel is likely a good first step. Let’s hope the Leafs have begun a process of wiping the lenses on Finland... and will quickly put in place some local expertise.. and begin evaluating the new Finnish kids. And just look at these kids:

Mikko Rantanen.

6’4" and over 1 PPG in Jr., then 0.5 PPG in the Liiga for a bad team. Great hands, nice passer, creative. He’s ranked #7 by some, #19 by others. That’s quite a range, 7 to 19. Boy, it’d help to have some on-the-ground Finnish savvy, huh? Imagine if you had Filip Forsberg fall to you, and you didn’t know whether to pick him?

Jesse Puljujarvi.

For 2016. More than PPG in Junior at age 15. Then 0.5 PPG in the Liiga this year, age 16. Do you want to take a chance and not know if this might be another Teemu? That’d be turning Tanking into... Fail Tanking.

And short-term, like within this next month, the Leafs need to yank in some back-up expertise to make sure they don’t make big errors because of this blind spot, especially when it comes to that #24 pick, and kids like:

Roope Hintz.

6’2", high IQ, creative, can skate. He smoked Jr last year, was in the Liiga this year, got 17 points in 42 games. Pronman’s got him #32. Same questions.

Sebastien Aho.

No, he’s not big. But he tore up Finnish Jr. last year, age 16. And this year, age 17 in the Liiga (he’s not 18 til July,) he was 0.5 PPG. He’s quick, smart, skilled. Pronman has him #28. Higher? Lower? Do we know?

P.S. How'd you like to be 17 years old, playing in the big leagues, and in OT of the 7th game, you score a break-away goal to win it.

KID WINS IT ALL FOR KARPAT.

Now, I’m not saying we have to pick these Finnish kids. They may not be the best players available.

But we damn sure need these kids - and their fellow Finns - on our radar.

Ok, that’s our first significant blind spot. Let’s go visit some other countries. See what else we can see. Let’s go to Jagr-town.

THE CZECH + SLOVAKIA. We all remember beloved Czech D-man and Leaf-for-life Tomas Kaberle. And those of us from the 80‘s remember the 3 Stastny brothers landing, explosively, in Quebec - and running up more than 2000 career points. Which led to the Leafs grabbing its own pair of brothers, the Ihnacaks, who were pretty successful.

THE EUROPEAN HANSON BROTHERS. 2000 POINTS.

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Since then, the 16 million people of the Czech Republic and Slovakia have produced wave after wave of high-end offensive-talent. Like that Jaromir Jagr. If I recall, he was pretty good as a kid, and grew a quality mullet. Wonder whatever happened to him? And then Patrik Elias and Tomas Plekanec, Hossa and Hudler, Krejci and Gaborik.

And today, young Tomas Hertl, Tomas Tatar, Ondrej Palat and David Pastrnak.

So. Another list. Of all the Czech and Slovakian forwards drafted by the Leafs since 1990 who went on to make the big team. We’ll list them by their total points for the Leafs, but also show their NHL totals as well.

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Yeah, no. That’s not good. At all.

And as you can guess, a list showing Czech and Slovak forwards for other teams would already show 20 guys with over 500 NHL points, and 40 guys with over 300 points.

Whereas we have a combined total out of 25 years of drafting forwards from these two countries of.... 36 points? Look. Tomas Tatar had 56 last year alone.

What makes this situation even worse is that the Czech and Slovakian talent pool for high-scoring forwards has been a lot deeper than the Finnish one. Depending on how you do the counting, we’ve likely missed out on 3 times as many high-scoring forwards as we missed out on in Finland.

And combine the problems, and you’ll see that, of the top point-scoring forwards in the NHL over the last 10 or 20 years, 15%-20% of the Top 100 names are Finns, Czechs and Slovaks. Yup, it’s that high. And if your team is failing to draft any offensively-talented forwards from those countries - then you’re drafting in a 20% shallower talent pool.

To put this in hockey terms, you’re a team trying to compete with a 16 player roster instead of 20. You’re dressing 4 fewer players every night. Which means 20% less talent on the ice, and a lot shorter bench. There's a team that reminds me of that, over, ohhhh, the last decade. Can't quite remember the name.

(LEFT) WORLD'S SHORTEST BENCH. (RIGHT) 1C TOP-END OFFENSIVE TALENT.

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Ok. Let’s look closer at the pattern in the Czech and Slovakia.

For starters, we have the one great draft success here, a #204 pick that got us Tomas Kaberle. The problem being that - just as with our Swedish success - the Kaberle shine blinded many to the fact that the Leafs haven’t gotten anything else out of these two countries in 20+ years.

Which can be understood because... back in the early 80’s, Quebec pulled the three Stastny brothers out of Czechoslovakia, then behind the Iron Curtain. A player named Peter Ihnacak then defected, and became available in the draft. And the Leafs decided to take the Ihnacak brothers in the 1982 draft.

BEEN A WHILE SINCE WE'VE SEEN A 66-POINT ROOKIE.

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And Peter Ihnacak did alright, with a record-setting 66 point rookie season - although he was 25 at the time. And all in all, 267 career points, good, though he fell off after some injuries. But even with Ihnacak’s success, the Leafs really did nothing to invest draft picks in these nations - other than a few very late round picks. While other teams got Klima, Bondra, Palffy, Reichel... and the Jagr kid.

Toronto then brought in Anders Hedberg in to run European scouting from 1992 on. Result? Still nothing. Though to Hedberg’s credit, he did actually try, placing a few more late round bets, and coming up with near misses in Augusta and Nedved. Meanwhile, other teams continued to run hot, with Demitra, Prospal, Handzus, Elias, Sykora - more 500-1000 career point guys. And frankly, all we were getting was fumes.

Then came 1996, and the Leafs made the steal of the draft - Kaberle at #204. And suddenly, it looked like the Leafs really had something going on. Truth was, we had a guy named Jan Kovac on the ground in the Czech, and he told Hedberg about Kaberle. Both scouts had a look, and apparently, neither was 100% convinced - perhaps because Kabby was still growing. But we used an 8th rounder on him, and hit the jackpot.

Still, the Kaberle pick was... a one-hit wonder. A shot in the dark. Which is great and good, to hit one. But if it’s not undergirded by a great scouting system, you’re still just taking swings in the dark. The key fact here is that Kaberle wasn’t even at top of our own draft list - just for Czech defencemen. At the top was a 6’5" kid named Marek Posmyk, who we took in the 2nd round. [And who actually wasn’t even the best big D-man from the region that year, as there was this Chara kid - picked after Posmyk.]

Anyway, after Kaberle turned into a hit, Leaf management got the fever. And there was only one cure. More Czechs and Slovaks. In 2001 alone the Leafs threw 5 picks at the Czech-Slovak region. But still, they were basically just throwing darts. And missing.

MORE KABBY.

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Then came 2005-06. When we got a new scout for the area. A guy the Leafs figured would really knew the area.

Peter Ihnacak.

The Leafs thought a lot of Ihnacak, although in fact, he’d been in Germany for a decade as a player and coach. And his advice carried a double weight - not only was he a knowledgeable European hockey mind, but he’d been a successful Leaf player, and knew the NHL.

And so - the timing likely not a total coincidence - that same year, the Leafs invested a nice 1st Round pick (#13) on a player from Peter Ihnacak’s own home area. Named...

Jiri Tlusty.

Now, whether it was influenced by their feelings about Tlusty or not, the Leafs stopped making picks from the Czech-Slovak region right about exactly then (other than one other late pick.) Maybe they lost confidence in Ihnacak. Or maybe their feelings on Europe as a whole went South. Or maybe, Ihnacak’s scouting just wasn’t that good. Hard to tell.

But one way or another - and just as with Finland - the Czech Republic and Slovakia disappeared from the Leafs drafting radar, for the next 8 years.

THE PIC THAT BROUGHT IT ALL CRASHING DOWN. TLUSTY MAKES "SECRET DEVIL SIGN."

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Now did the talent from these countries dry up during these last 8 years? Well, the absolute number of NHL-wide picks from the region declined. But talent-wise? Boston picked Pastrnak, San Jose got Hertl and Vorachek came out in the 1st round.

And late picks continued to produce great steals - Detroit got Tomas Tatar from Slovakia for a #60 (right after we took Kenny Ryan.) And in 2011, we picked David Broll 56 places ahead of a kid named Ondrej Palat - who’d just gone 1.8 PPG in Slovakian Jr., and racked up 23 points in 61 games in their top league.

So to me, the situation here looks remarkably like Finland... and in almost every point:

1. We missed out on every single high-end forward talent from the Czech and Slovakia for 25 years.

2. We got lucky on Kaberle, and tried to repeat it by spending more 2nd rounders on D-men from the area. Failed. We also spent a dozen picks on forwards, all but one in very late rounds. Again, nothing.

3. After Tlusty in 2006, whether you blame Leaf management or Ihnacak, it looks as though we lost confidence that we could read talent in the region. And so, we stopped making picks there at all.

4. And then - as with Finland - last month, we fired Ihnacak from European scouting.

Which means we’re running into this next draft still a bit blind. Sure, people will say we have the scouting reports already in, from before the firings. But would you have confidence in these guys? Coming off 8 straight years when you never once took their advice? And then in April, firing them?

The Leafs may be a bit lucky, since players such as Zacha and Zboril have come and played a year of Jr. here in North America. But of those who stayed at home, Pronman ranks Erik Cernak at #20, David Kase at #30 and Michael Spacek at #36. All in our #24 zone. Thing is, they’re ranked much lower by many other scouts. So... are we confident in these evaluations? I’m hoping the Leafs have gone in behind the scene, and hired in some additional expertise from the region short-term. I’d hate to muff this year’s draft.

Ok. Let’s wrap up the combined 3 nation picture here.

  • WE START 20% DOWN. Our European blind spots have blocked us from seeing, and tapping, 20% of the hockey world’s high-end offensive talent. We've drafted few forwards from these 3 countries, and only ever invested 1 high-end pick on their forwards (Tlusty.) And even with late round talent like Pulkkinen and Palat showing up, we failed to risk a single pick.
  • SUCCESS CAN BLIND YOU. These problems continued long after they should have been detected, perhaps hidden by the success of fellow Scandinavians Salming and Sundin, the late round gift of Tomas Kaberle, and the genuine abilities and track record of Swedes Anders Hedberg and Thommie Bergman.
  • ISN’T IT JUST SIZE > SKILL AGAIN? Sure, the Size vs Skill equation is part of the problem. You can see it in choices like Posmyk over Kaberle, as well as others. But we’ve seen that the European blind spots are their own factor, with whole countries worth of players, large and small, ignored for years.
  • EXCUSES. WE’VE HAD A FEW. Yes, we have had some bad luck with our picks, such as Karel Pilar going down with a bad heart. Yes, we had losses due to poor development, with a player like Martin Prochazka being driven back to Europe. Yes, we have traded away some, like Jarkko Immonen, who were fine players. But a 30 and track record that shows no success with forwards - as in, a grand total of 79 points from these 3 countries - pretty much ends the discussion. That’s failure.
  • THE MOST OBVIOUS CHANGE. The simplest improvement is to... hire some scouts for these regions. Maybe also... hire some good ones. You know the kind of scout whose advice you won’t take for 8 years in a row? Don’t hire that kind.
  • THERE ARE OTHERS. I’ve broken this post into 3 pieces - today’s on Finland/Czech/Slovakia, then Sweden/Russia, and finally, the USA/Canada - precisely because there are more factors than the Blind Spots, at work here, dragging down the Leafs drafting. And together, they reinforce, and worsen, the team’s tendency to prefer Size over Skill. But they are causing the Leafs problems on their own.
  • HINT. For example, it’s pretty easy to detect in the Leafs, just from the discussion above, a more general down-rating of European picks. So we’ll look at the Russians and the Swedes to see if it’s widespread. But it’s worth thinking about whether we can do more than just simply "draft more Europeans." Because, happily enough, a team with money might have some avenues open to bring in some different approaches to the problem. [i.e. We can get more and better Europeans if we’re smart.

Now. For those of you wanting to finish scoring your Eye Test... sorry, but the right answer to date is... zero. Toronto has drafted no Finnish, Czech or Slovakian forwards over the last 25 years who have scored more than 100 career points for the Leafs. In fact, Leo’s 35 career points presently puts him in the #1 slot.

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PART 2 LATER ON...

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