FanPost

The Leafs Went All The Way To Europe... And Never Found Any Scoring Talent.

Warning: This piece is long. Skip every other word if you like. And then, if it's still too long... skip the rest. [More seriously, you can just scroll down to the Conclusions if you like.]

1. We know that the game is moving toward adding more great-skating, high-skill, high-end talent.

2. We know that the draft is where most smart hockey people say the Leafs can get this talent.

3. We know that Europe has produced a surprising 40% of the highest-scoring talent in the NHL.

Looking at that, lined up 1-2-3 and all, I kinda thought it might be worthwhile to dig a bit into, you know... the evidence.

Like, to see how the Leafs have actually done with their drafting from Europe.

And sure, if you saw draft results like that coming out of your dog, you'd probably need to put on a glove, pick it up careful-like, and dispose of it, hygienically.

But. The point of digging down into the steaming evidence is to GODDAMN LEARN WHAT WENT WRONG.

Time to get nasty, Leaf fans.

Put on your gloves.

And Yeah. You May Need Some Help To Handle This. Free - All Right Now.

*

Here's the real, Leaf fans. It does not matter two sweet naked fucks where your 20 and 30 point forwards come from. I know, I know, every year we find one or two that we fall in love with. Like Komarov. But the thing is, while you need these guys to win, the truth is also that... you can get them from a lot of places.

Look at the Hawks. They turn these Bottom 6 guys over, year after year, and continue to win Cups. They've shown that you can draft your Bottom 6 guys, trade for them with late round picks, or pick 'em up in the Summer as free agents. Where they come from is secondary. Cause you can get 'em.

What matters is where and how to find the guys who can score above league average - and ABOVE WHAT THEY'RE PAID. That’s the real target. That's the real game. And the key to getting that kind of high-scoring player, cheap is... to get them young. Through the draft.

I already showed how Europe has produced 40% of the NHL's high-end scorers for the past 30 years. This post is gonna roar through the Leafs draft record in the 4 major European hockey regions - Finland, Czech/Slovakia, Russia and Sweden.

Now, if you're looking for Switzerland and Denmark and Germany and that shit, you can forget about it. Because nobody actually takes them seriously. We just pretend to, so those idiots down in Buffalo will waste their money sending their scouts there. Last I heard, they were drafting some Gurglesons kid out of Lipvia. Good one, Buffalo!

Ok. What I wanted here were some charts that would let us get at the nuts and guts of this European problem, fast. Stab, twist, turn out the entrails, let 'em fall, look down at the floor, nudge 'em a bit with our boots, then walk away with a damned clear idea of the problem.

So I went with a method that was straight-up, simple, easy to visualize.

Step #1. I picked out all the guys who scored a batch of points.

Step #2. I sorted them out by which country they had come from.

Step #3. I then compared them to the guys the Leafs had taken.

Nothing fancy. But useful. In fact, sometimes stupidly simple systems let you see really useful things.

I'll point out some things I noticed along the way. Maybe you'll see some others.

If so, let me know in the comments.

Oh yeah. If you've already read the post on Finland and the Czech/Slovak region, feel free to skip on ahead!

Otherwise, Go, Finland... GO!

*

FINLAND.

Yup, it’s Finland here, and you pretty much know this story already, because I did a long post on it already.

Screen_shot_2015-06-18_at_12.15.27_PM.0.png

This chart tells us that:

  1. We have tapped NONE of the high-scoring Finnish Forward talent pool of the last 30 years. None. Of. It. Hell, I listed Leo, but truth is, Leo’s full name is actually Leonid Alexandrovich Komarov and he was born in Estonia. Still, he’s the closest we got to a Finn. So for Leaf purposes, Leo is the goddamn greatest Finn in history.
  2. In fact, Leo and Immonen - listed in blue - are the ONLY TWO Finnish Forwards ever even drafted by the Leafs. EVER. Just pause right there and maybe take a drink. Because... what the hell kindof a hockey hell-hole must that be, where for 40 years, we couldn’t find a forward we liked? I could find you two perfectly good hockey players in complete shit-holes like Akron, Ohio. Or Barrie, Ontario. So surely to God there must be some in Finland. Because, it's either that, or the Leafs have messed up.
  3. Since Leo, 8 years ago, we’ve taken NO Finns at all, in any position. Which means... WE HAVE NO YOUNG FINNISH TALENT COMING UP, AT ALL, AT ANY LEVEL OF THE SYSTEM. Whereas other teams have the kids in green. Barkov. Pulkkinen. That Teuvo kid on the Hawks. Jori Lehtera.
  4. Now. We failed to fix this problem, for decades. So... it's probably not an easy fix. Because when you fail to draft any high-end talent from an entire country, for decades, and don't actually even bother trying after a while, it may be revealing a deeper organizational/cultural problem. Now, Shanny seems to be onto the fact that there's a problem, because he fired the guy we had not really scouting Finland for us a few months back. And yet, with the draft coming, we've just hired about our 17th straight OHL guy. Which is fine, great. I like 'em. But we still don't seem to have ANY quality scouting input from Finland, do we? [Nope.] Which has - if you check the list above - turned out some fairly shit hot hockey players, and which has more coming in this draft [Rantanen. Aho. Hintz.] So. I'm just saying that restocking our European scouts and retargeting them into places like Finland needs to be a priority for next year, eh?

So Shanny Pollock can have some quality scouting reports to rely on as he takes all those nice 2016 picks we'll have, and picks Puljujarvi, right?

*

CZECH + SLOVAK.

The Czech and Slovak story isn’t much more fun.

Except that it’s a total fucking laugh the way that when the Czechs decide to make up ways to spell words and names, they always just use the letters nobody else gives a fuck about. It’s like they wanted their language to be best for winning at Scrabble or something.

Seriously, it’s all J’s and Z’s and K’s and shit. It starts right there in their name. Coulda been "Chek." Or Check. Or Cheque, even.

But nope. "Czech." GOTS to have a "z" in there. Also, a fucking "h" at the end. Silent as Bob.

Good one, randomest fucking people of Central Europe!

Screen_shot_2015-06-18_at_12.15.41_PM.0.png

  1. Anyway, Peter Ihnacak was our #1 guy here, at 267 career points. Which is better than our best Finn, but look. That’s only about 42nd all-time on the full Czech-Slovak list above [because I’ve only listed some names, right?] And 42nd is... not so good. So once again, NO HIGH END SCORING TALENT.
  2. Ihnacak was 25 years old when we drafted him. Not 18. We do this a lot, drafting overagers. A lot. And that’s great, but it makes the Leaf drafting record from Europe look better than it was. I mean, back in the early 80's and early 90's, a number of countries went belly up, and their leagues and contracts fell to pieces. Which meant we got to pick fully-developed, top-league, pros. In many cases, guys already at Point Per Game in their leagues. So it wasn’t much like drafting 18 year olds at all. It was more like a whole batch of NHL teams went broke, and then we got to draft their adult, professional players. Overagers on our list so far include Ihnacak at Draft age +7, Komarov Draft+1, Immonen Draft+2, and 3 others at Draft+1 or Draft+2. And on D, we picked Czechs like Karel Pilar at age 23, etc. It’s a habit, and we’ll see it again in Russia.
  3. So, ok, how did we do when we picked 18 year olds? Well... now you’e gone and asked it, haven’t you? Because the truth is, WE ONLY EVER DRAFTED ONE 18 YEAR OLD FROM HERE THAT GOT US MORE THAN 10 CAREER POINTS. JIRI TLUSTY. How’s that feel? In 40-odd years of drafting, we’ve had the burning insight amongst our scouts to pick us ONE GUY at age 18 who went on to score more than 10 points. And it was frigging Tlusty, who, sorry, I do not regard as a whopping great success. While almost all those other big-scoring Czechs and Slovaks taken by other teams were just 18. It’s just real hard to spin that as a success, when we've got just the one 18 year old, Tlusty, from Finland + the Czech Republic + Slovakia so far.
  4. And prospects? Whoops, same story as with the Finns. WE COMPLETELY STOPPED DRAFTING FROM HERE 8 YEARS AGO. So we have absolutely NO young Czech or Slovakian draft picks at the prospect stage. No Vorachek, not even a Tatar or a Palat, Hertl or Pastrnak. At least we grabbed Panik off waivers, and maybe we’ll get lucky... but we’re rummaging through other people’s Euro-trash at this point.

Can you imagine the history of the Leafs in these past 30 years if WE had landed just ONE of these amazing guys? Like a Jagr or a Selanne? I mean, those two went 5th and 10th in their drafts, and there’s no reason - for all the years we officially had people out there hunting in Europe - that we couldn’t have landed SOMEONE great from there.

Even just to have a Tatar or a Pulkkinen coming, guys who went #60 and #111.

Ok, enough whining. Let’s get stuck into Russia, and check our post-Soviet scorecard.

But 1st - A Tribute To Tlusty.

*

RUSSIA.

Russia has been the world’s #2 hockey power for the last 43 years or so. A country that has produced incredible offensive talent. Now, if you go over to Hockey Reference and check out the Total Points leaders for the past 20 years, there's only 1 Russian.

Now go look at the Point-Per-Game scoring leaders over the past 20 years.

Yeah. That's 6 Russians [link] all nestled up in the Top 20.

Cryptic? No way. It's just how they live, up at the high-end of high-end talent.

Ovechkin and Malkin. Bure and Mogilny. Kovalchuk and Datsyuk.

They don't mess around, Russians.

So... if you haven’t been trying to tap Russian scoring talent... probably the most talented nation in the world for top-end upfront scorers... knowing what we know for these, oh, past 40+ years, since 1972... then what in the name of Teeder Goddamn Kennedy HAVE you been doing?

Hello? Toronto?

Screen_shot_2015-06-18_at_12.15.54_PM.0.png

1. Ok. Here's how the Leafs did. With all that skill available, and a chance to draft superstars from the 2nd-greatest hockey power on Earth, and with all our money and scouts and stuff, the top scorer we ever got from Russia... was actually a guy from Kazakhstan. Guy was huge, never really had top-end speed or a great shot. But big. Took him 8 YEARS of development before he broke 45 points. Averaged 35 points a season.

And never made the Top 50 scorers in any season he played.

Now... just compare those results with that chart up there. That goddamn chart.

I mean... look. I'm not even gonna bother with fancy comparisons. I'm done with that shit. It's just BAD.

And when you add it to the other nations listed, it means the Leafs have failed, completely, once again, to get at ANY of the players on the TOP end of the scoring curve. You know, the elite scorers. And this time, from an even more massive hockey nation. Hell, it’s actually about ten countries, because of all the ex-Soviet nations in here, right? So this is actually the list for Russia + Ukraine + Belorussia + Kazakhstan + Latvia + Estonia + Lithuania etc.

2. And just like in the Czech, two of our best snipers, Berezin and Borschevsky, weren’t actually picked by some savvy little Euro-scout spying the potential in some foggy little 18 year old Russian kid’s game.

Nope. These two were actually 22 and 27 years old when we "drafted" them. Both were already scoring at a PPG pace. In the top Russian league, not Junior. So we didn’t "scout" them like 18 year olds. We took them when their teams, their league, their contracts and their country blew up.

And sure, as a Leafs fan, getting these guys made me happy. But in terms of our scouting - which is what we’re trying to learn about here - these guys were a totally different issue.

And some of you are thinking, "Well, the other teams’ big-scoring names must’ve been 22 and 27 as well, right?" Ahhhmm, ok. I'll run down the All-Time Top Russian Scorers list and just list the ones picked up by other teams’ scouts at age 18 and 19.

Federov. Mogilny. Kovalev. Ovechkin. Datsyuk. Kozlov. Kovalchuk. Yashin. Bure. Zhamnov. Malkin.

Oh wait. That’s every one of the Top 10 highest Russian scorers ever, who were identified and targeted and reeled in by other teams scouts and management at age 18 or 19.

And the age thing, it's not just something we do for forwards. Our best D-man pick, Dmitri Mironov, was 25, and Danny Markov was 19. And in fact, it’s still a Leafs thing right up til today. Nik Kulemin was picked at age 20 (Draft+2) and Rinat Valiev was picked last year at 19 years old (Draft+1.) It continues.

Screen_shot_2015-06-03_at_1.37.23_PM.0.png

3. Seriously, this'll make you mad too, but the facts are right there.

We never actually even tried in Russia.

By which I mean, we never went after any of these guys listed with high picks. In total, the Leafs made 25 draft picks from the ex-Soviet countries. That’s about average.

But we only ever used one 1st round pick, and that was for Antropov. And just one 2nd rounder, for Nik Kulemin.

To compare, the average NHL team has invested 5 picks in the first two rounds on Russians. We used 2. In 25 years.

So. We failed by not bothering, frankly.

4. If you look at the chart, you’ll see that last lonely little pink line at the bottom that reads, "No Leaf draft picks from here." Well, you know what that means. We have no young Russian forwards that we’ve drafted. Anywhere in the system. Just as with the Finns, Slovaks and Czechs. The cupboard is bare.

And why is that? Well, if I may be blunt for the moment, if an NHL team can’t be ARSED to actually PICK any goddamn Russians, then how in the HELL do we expect to suddenly show up with some high-flying, fast-skating, top-end young talent from there?

It’s a bit difficult not to look at this, as a fan, and blow a gasket actually. I mean, it’s the same damn thing as with the Finns and Czechs and Slovaks, right?

For the last 8 years, we’ve picked NO Russian forwards either.

Think about that, just for a sec.

Nothing, since 2006. And the 2006 draft was the one where the Leafs picked all those Europeans. Who then, you know, ALL MADE THE NHL.

Our most successful draft in decades.

After which, we apparently decided the time was right to pick ZERO Finnish forwards, ZERO Czech forwards, ZERO Slovakian forwards and ZERO Russian forwards.

[Oh wait, we picked the Stefanovich kid, from the Belarus, in 2008. So. We alllllllmosssst picked a Russian.]

But how in the hell do the Leafs imagine they’re gonna move to more speed, skill, puck-handling and sniping - while ignoring 40% of the global high-skill hockey pool?

Just look at the kids they’ve ignored recently from Russia. Tarasenko. Kucherov. Kuznetsov. Nichushkin. And more coming. The Rangers have Pavel Buchnevich. He just turned 20, was PPG at the WJC, he’s 6’ 2", fast, great shot, and last year he scored more than Tarasenko did at 19. And the Rangers got him in the 3rd round.

But for the Leafs? The Russian, Finn, Czech and Slovak kids can forget it. They’re not getting in the game. Or at least, not in our game.

5. What else? Well... you can probably smell the smoke at this point. So I'm gonna head out the side door, give you a different angle, then come back in.

Let's take Antropov and Ponikarovsky, cause lots of you will remember them.

These guys weren’t just "projects." They were actually double projects. For starters, they came out of Kazakhstan and the Ukraine. Which matters, because neither of those countries have development systems anywhere close to Russia’s.

Look.

  • Kazakhstan has zero players in the NHL right now. Ze. Ro. How many good non-goalkeepers has it produced, ever? Ummmm.... Antropov is the ONLY one anyone can name.
  • Belarus has just one, name of Grabovski. [Drafted by the Habs.] And in history? Add in the Kostitsyns.
  • The Ukraine has nobody playing in the NHL today. No. Body. And besides Poni, the only names you'll likely recognize are Khristich, Zherdev, Zhitnik, Babchuk and maybe Godynyuk.

This is no slur on their talent. It's just that, plain and simple, these countries - then regions of the old USSR - never received anywhere NEAR the same level of investment and attention to their hockey development as the core Russian territories did. So, sure, it’s fine to draft guys from there. But you need to understand that they’re gonna be a lot more raw in their development. Uneven. Maybe in skating or puck-handling or the in-game skills.

And on top of that, our two guys were projects in the usual Leaf sense, i.e. that they were BIG. Because "project," to the Leafs, actually means you take someone big, and then... teach them to play hockey. And yeah, I’m happy these two guys worked out, we got some solid hockey out of them, and they’re good guys.

But let’s not imagine we were drafting the kinds of young players you’d normally associate with being "Russian."

These guys were VERY limited as hockey players when drafted, and so, took years and YEARS of development.

Alexei Ponikarovsky, in his draft year, in a 2nd tier Russian league, had just 3 points in 24 games. And it took 7 YEARS of development before he broke 10 goals in the NHL and established himself. That’s a long hard climb for a project. By which point, you're having to PAY him a lot more. So that "cheap/high-end kid" thing you were after... is lost.

Nik Antropov. Being 6’ 6" and 245 pounds gives you a massive advantage when you're playing against 16 and 18 year olds. But skating or a scorers-touch were never really his things. And so, at 18, Antropov was averaging almost a PPG. But in their 2nd tier league. And once in the NHL, it took 8 YEARS of development to reach 45 points. Never a single PPG season. And so, again, we faced him finally producing points, but at Free Agent age.

Now compare these projects to drafting high-end, world-class, best-in-class, trained-in-Russia guys like Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure, Alexander Ovechkin or Sergei Fedorov. Bure played, and scored, for the Red Army, in the top league, at age 16. Fedorov, age 17. Ovechkin, age 16. Players with high-end talent like this hit the NHL like bombs, and score enormously, even early on - when their contracts are cheap. And you get years worth of point-per-game pace out of them.

Conclusion? We either never really did the scouting work in Russia, never had the really determined feet on the ground or the really sharp eyes in the stands, that were required to sort the truly top-end young Russian talent from the rest...

Or... if we DID have it... then Senior Management in Toronto fucking well never wanted to hear about it.

  • Let’s just call it. Our guys either never spied out a Datsyuk, or never wanted him. Because, instead, that same year, we went for Antro and Poni. Somehow, at some level, we felt the risk of placing a 1st round bet on a 6 foot 6 Kazakh kid was lower than investing a mid-level pick on a small, genius Russian.
  • Ten years before that, in 1989, we had 3 first round picks. But risked none of them on the Russians. Too long a shot, we said. But then we said the same at pick #66. And #96. And #108. The year when we could have had a Bure or a Fedorov, at #74 and #113.
  • Or in the last 5 years. Ask yourself how many times we traded up to get kids named Tarasenko. Or Kuznetsov. Hell, forget having to trade up. We never took Kucherov at #58 or Buchnevich at #75 when they were there for free. FREE.

Here’s the take away. Print it.

For the Toronto Maple Leafs, drafting high-scoring young Russians has ALWAYS been too risky.

Every. Single. Year.

Under Every GM and President.

Think about this. Don’t just let your brain skitter away to think about other things. THIS WASN'T JUST A BURKE THING. Dryden was like this. And Quinn. Cliff Fletcher. Burke, sure. Nonis? Afraid of vodka maybe. JFJ.

NONE of them would take high-scoring young Russians. Or even ring the bell to take a shot.

Fact?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have never, not ONCE, in the entire history of hockey since that country opened up, attempted to pick a high-end, top-talent, 18-year-old Russian scorer.

Are you asking yourself "why" yet?

World Called Catastrophe.

A NEW HOPE IN RUSSIA.

So what does our cupboard look like today? In terms of talented young Russian forwards that we’ve drafted, working their way up through the system?

We. Got. None.

None that we’ve drafted, at least.

BUT. Here’s something that, for me, helped to begin to build my confidence that the new Leaf management was looking to change, to move more in the speed-skill direction. Which is that they signed this Russian kid, a real Russian from Russia, named Nikita Soshnikov. Now, there’s no guarantees that he makes it, but in age, size, his style and the level of his performance, he looks a lot like an Andreas Johnson.

Last year Soshnikov was the top goal-scorer in the KHL aged 21 or under, and had 32 points in 57 games. For a really bad team. A team going broke, and thus, dealing off all their vets. Which opened up an chance for this kid. Who not only seized it, but saw his PPG pace rise over the year from 0.3 to 0.5 to 1.0 PPG over the last 15 games. And with every goal at even-strength.

Here's Soshnikov against SKA, the best team in the KHL, by the way. Watch this, and tell me you don’t wanna draft Russian kids. I love this kid. He's got some juice, takes it to the net.

Anyway, with his KHL team going broke, the door opened for the Leafs to sign him. Which they usually do out of the NCAA, right? Like with Casey Bailey (and that Bozak kid.)

Only THIS time, Shanahan and his team got him. A kid that can score. Young. For us.

And this is a route other teams have been using to scarf up young Euro-talent outside the draft. While we sign 30 year old Europeans for a 3rd chance at breaking into the NHL, teams like the Habs have gotten Jiri Sekac. Chicago just got 23 year old Artemi Panarin (scores well in the KHL and internationally, but is 2 years older than our Soshnikov.) San Jose got 23 year old Joonas Donskoi, who was a dynamite Junior, and just blew up the Liiga in the playoffs, and has scored real well Internationally. Vancouver got Kenins from Latvia... etc.

But at least we're started, and got Soshnikov.

And better, we appear to have had a "scout" on the inside, in Russia, associated with Soshnikov’s team. People on the ground helps in Russia. Plus, money. Plus, Soshnikov’s coach was Alexei Kudashov. Who the Leafs drafted back in 1991, and even scored an NHL goal for us. Anyway, I hope he helped send Soshnikov our way - with maybe more to come.

Because we can use this avenue to haul in more Russian talent. I've got a separate post coming on this, but the fact is that the NHL's teams were scared away from Russia by the KHL for a number of years. And now, it appears that - driven by finances - those walls are tumbling down again.

Which means, just as in 1989/90/91 - albeit on a smaller scale - there is ALREADY AN ENTIRE ROSTER OF YOUNG, WELL-TRAINED RUSSIANS, ALREADY PLAYING AGAINST MEN. And the Leafs, with money, as well as room to take on some contracts, and a chance to offer a fast-track to the league, have just what those players will want. The key is, this time we need to keep moving fast, as with Soshnikov, and.... TO FIND AND TARGET THE HIGH-END TALENT, not the fringes.

But at the least, the Leafs Russian cupboard today is now the proud bearer of... Rinat Valiev, a 20 year old D-man just finishing up in the WHL. And Nikita Soshnikov, a 21 year old Forward, headed for the Marlies.

It’s a start.

So Apparently, Kate Tempest Knocked NXNE On Its As Last Night. Colour Me Not Surprised.

*

SWEDEN.

The Swedish story is - you’re never gonna believe this - almost the same.

But with one unique twist. A sweet little historical oddity.

Let's take it from the top.

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1. Our best guy ever, Freddie Modin, ranks just 20th amongst the Swedes. And sure, good to have him and all, but he wasn’t ever a fraction of a Sundin or a Forsberg. Plain and simple, he was never top-tier.

2. While Alex Steen was a really solid pick at #24, and while he played his Junior in Sweden, the truth is that... he wasn't just some Swedish kid hockey player. And if he had been, and that’s all he had been, we never would have touched him.

What made him SAFE enough for the Leafs to draft with a 1st round pick was that his father Thomas had a hugely successful NHL career in Winnipeg. And Alex had actually been born here. And learned to play in Canada, and played his minor hockey with the Winnipeg Monarchs, and hung out in the Jets dressing room and spoke English etc.

Even after his career, Steen Sr. didn’t move back to Sweden. He stayed on in Canada, and became a Winnipeg City Councillor and so on. Alex moved back to play Jr. in Sweden and to represent Sweden. And that’s great. Fine.

My point is that the Leaf scouts on both sides of the Atlantic knew him. So this wasn’t just a kid our European scouts recommended. And in fact, Leaf management knew him as well.

And that fact, that he was basically a Canadian, let Leaf management feel ok about taking him in the 1st.

Don’t think so? Check out Swedish scoring-forward, 1st round Leaf pick, Exhibit #2.

William Nylander. Born in Calgary. His father a Flame. Played hockey in the U.S. til he was 15, speaks good English, etc. Then... back home for Swedish Junior.

Once again, NHL scouts from both sides had already seen him for years, as well as Leaf management.

And sure, both kids were good picks. But it’s worth noting that out of all the high-end offensive talent that’s come out of Sweden over the 40 years since Salming, it was only in these TWO cases - where the kids are actually born in Canada and basically grew up in North America - that the Leafs would risk a 1st round pick on a Swedish forward.

3. While we have a great reputation for picking Swedes and loving our Swedish scouts Anders Hedberg and Thommie Bergman, in reality, the Leafs barely even bother with Swedish forwards:

  • In the 1970’s, even after Borje, we only took 1 Swedish forward. At all. Alexandersson.
  • In the 1980’s, only the 1 pick again. Elvenes.

Look who we took, then look who was available.

Think about how we led the way with Salming, think about how that was squandered.

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  • Then, even with Anders Hedberg on-board, one of the great Swedes, we only took 3 in the 1990’s.
  • In the 2000’s, if you count Steen, then we took 4.
  • And 3 so far in the 2010’s, if you count Nylander.

Here, look.

Screen_shot_2015-06-17_at_8.46.37_PM.0.png

And in terms of round?

  • Only the 2 quasi-Canadians - Steen and Nylander - were taken in the 1st round. And we picked Freddy Modin in the 3rd round at #64.
  • ALL the rest were late round picks - over #100.

In short, if you see Steen and Nylander as effectively Canadian picks, then we have almost entirely ignored Sweden when searching for forwards these last 40 years.

This doesn't quite fit the storyline that we've all heard about how well we've done in Sweden. Not with FORWARDS, we haven't. More on this, below.

4. The same pattern of drafting players at age 19, 20 and beyond holds for Sweden as well. Freddie Modin was almost 20 when drafted, and Viktor Stalberg was actually taken in his Draft+2 year. Many of the Defencemen were also older, including Gunnar (20), Stralman (19) and more recently, Loov (19.)

In fact. if you tote it up, there have been just 5 Leaf forward picks that scored an NHL point who were drafted at age 18 - Steen, Tlusty, Nedved, Antro and Poni. From 40 years drafting.

Our tilt towards over-aged picks from Europe is that extreme.

5. Now. If you pulled Steen and Nylander from the list of Swedish forwards, what do you have left? In terms of Swedish-born and trained and scouted forwards that we drafted?

Modin + Stalberg + Hedstrom.

That... is a screaming disaster.

That’s fewer points than Thomas Steen or Michael Nylander scored on their own, over their careers.

And yet that’s the cumulative total of EVERY Leaf forward pick made from Sweden.

6. Thommie Bergman. He runs our European scouting, and was the 1st Swede to play in the NHL in the modern wave, a year before Salming.

Now, this is the man Leaf Management always says they trust above all others, and regard as a scouting genius. And in specific areas, he damned well is. Even at 67.

But.

If we set aside our very recent picks of Nylander and Johnson and Engvall, and look at the prior 13 years from 2000-12, we see the Leafs only followed Bergman’s advice 3 times, when it came to drafting Swedish-born and trained forwards.

3.

In total.

And just how high were the picks that we took, showing our faith in Thommie?

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#173.

#161.

#146.

In 13 years, those were the picks we invested in Swedish-born forwards.

That fact is basically a grenade rolled under the curtain of the Leafs old PR machine. Which keeps on trotting out the line about how, "We draft really well from Europe, and it’s all because of the genius Thommie."

Just take a minute and look at this chart again, down below. Now, can you for one MOMENT imagine that the tiny, terrifyingly fast Anders Hedberg only ever wanted to draft 3 Swedish forwards? And each of them just happened to be either huge, or mean? And that he never spied or valued any of that talent in the right-hand column? Never ONCE saw some high-talent, small Swede he liked?

And then, under Thommie Bergman, the years outlined in yellow, that he only wanted these 3 guys? Who all, again, happen to be either huge or mean?

AND NOT ONCE HAVE THESE CLASSIEST OF SWEDISH SCOUTS EVER WANTED A GENUINE SCORING FORWARD OUT OF SWEDEN?

What a load of shit we've been told. All this talking up of Hedberg and Bergman, and then not even taking their goddamn advice on Swedish forwards.

Cause, gee, I can't imagine a high-skill Swedish forward ever making it in Toronto. O hai Mats!

Screen_shot_2015-06-17_at_8.46.37_PM.0.0.png

Imagine being Thommie Bergman for a minute. These 3 are all the forwards you were ever allowed to pick from your home country.

Imagine sitting there, for 10 of 13 years, without getting to pick one.

And then, in the 3 years where you get to pick - take a look at that right-hand column - you STILL have to wait so long you only get to pick the 9th, the 14th and the 14th Swede taken in that year. To see all those other talented kids walk on by.

Let’s widen this. In the table below, I want to show you the faith we had in Thommie Bergman, and the picks we allowed him on Defence. DEFENCE, people.

Screen_shot_2015-06-16_at_8.47.46_PM.0.png

NOT A SINGLE PICK IN THE TOP 100. OF ANY DRAFT.

THIS MAN WE REGARD AS A DEFENCEMAN-PICKING GOD, AND THAT’S WHAT WE ALLOWED HIM.

ZERO PICKS IN THE TOP 100. EVER.

No wonder Thommie’s son went to work for Nashville, and has been fattening them up with some nice European picks.

Look again at that right-hand column of the white chart. Thommie Bergman has had to sit there, as not just 1 or 2 or 3 Swedish kids are picked ahead of him by others, but as AN ENTIRE SWEDISH NATIONAL TEAM OF DRAFT AGE KIDS IS PICKED. 15, 18, 20 kids.

And THEN we turn to him and say, "Hey Thommie, find us a gem, willya?"

And you know what? Thommie Bergman is not any great shakes when it comes to picking from Finland or the Czech or Russia.

But that man has made 6 late picks of Swedish defencemen.

  • 2 are strong NHLers already.
  • 4 have already had NHL games.
  • And I’d bet within a year or two, every pick he's made will make the league.

Pay the man his money just for that.

And maybe show him a little more respect, Leafs.

Lines I Wish We Could Amend.

And you know why I don't think these forward picks were even really his? Look at this.

They were all late rounds, for starters. And they ALL had one characteristic in common. The one that smells of Head Office interference and Leaf culture kicking in.

They were all big.

In 2005, it was Johan Dahlberg at #173. Our first Swedish born forward in 8 years. Dahlberg not only never made the NHL, he never had a hope in hell. He was big, 6 foot 2 and over 200 pounds as a kid, tough, physical, and... dirty. Like, 3 or 4 penalty minutes a game. He never even played top-level Junior, and is now 28, playing 3 divisions down in Sweden.

Now, ask yourself whether you think that Thommie Bergman liked this pick, or whether Leaf management had him bring forward this sort of player.

Because, that same year, Patric Hornqvist was available. And while he wasn't a superstar in Junior, he was playing a full LEAGUE above Dahlberg even at the time.

Oh year. And he was picked a Round later by Nashville.

After being scouted and picked by Thommie Bergman’s son.

Now ask yourself, do you think they sat together in any rinks watching those games? Which way you think Thommie would really have liked to go? Hornqvist... or Dahlberg?

The next year, 2006, was Viktor Stalberg, with a #161 pick. And Stalberg, while fast, has another attribute. He’s big, 6’ 3". Which is the one feature he shares with our other rare Swedish forward picks, like Modin and company. That made him a win-win. And especially since he was already 20 years old, making it his 3rd draft. And that, apparently, is something the Leafs like.

Finally, in 2010, we picked Daniel Brodin at #146. He’s big. He hits, he’s intense, has an edge. And he was 20 years old. But still only scoring at 0.5 PPG in Swedish Jr. And is now career 0.25 PPG in the SHL.

You know who we could have picked at that slot, in that year? Jesper Fast. At #157. He was destroying Junior, and was 2 years younger. He may not end up a super-scorer, but he’s fast, and he always out-scored Brodin.

Think Thommie wanted Fast or.... Brodin? Brodin being two years older, scoring way less, hits/intense/big blah blah blah.

Anyway, in 2007, Bergman lamented that he never got a chance to pick Carl Hagelin with his 7th round pick (which went on Gunnar.) What’s interesting is that he even had his eye on Hagelin - lightning fast, nice player. Which is the kind of guy you'd expect a scout like Bergman to like. But Bergman said he had to wait to pick him. Meanwhile, Leafs Head Office were busy picking guys from the BCHL. So we lost Hagelin.

And in 2009, remember how we took no Europeans at all? Not even that late round Swedish defenceman we usually gave Thommie?

Well hey, Thommie’s son picked a Swedish defenceman late. You may know him.

Mattias Ekholm. He’s 23 now, stands 6’ 3" and 207 pounds. Had 18 points for Nashville last year. Nice late pick.

What I’m getting at here - and will get at in a later post - is that the Leafs look very much as though they have a formula for when they’ll draft out of Europe. I just wanted to use Sweden as an example here. Because, if you look down over ALL the Swedish forwards the Leafs have picked over the 40 years from 1973 to 2013, every single one fell into one of 2 boxes:

  1. Either you were the Canadian-born son of a Swedish star who played in the NHL;
  2. You were big. REAL big if you weren’t gritty, while just Big was ok if you were dirty and gritty.

That’s the facts, folks.

Meanwhile, back where the real drafting was done, we whiffed on every single high-skill, high-scoring Swedish forward there was. Even with Anders Hedberg, the tiny, blindingly fast, Swedish superstar forward himself in charge, we whiffed on Swedish forwards. We either didn’t want them or couldn’t be bothered slapping down a high draft pick next to their name. Sundin and the Forsbergs, the Sedins, Zetterberg and Silfverberg, Alfredsson and Nyquist and Landeskog and Backstrom, the Naslunds and all the rest.

We just weren’t gonna take a chance on high-skill Swedes. ANY OF THEM.

Our picks were gonna be players who were big, and older, and hopefully, only involve a late round pick.

And we did this for 40 years.

7. Personally, I've had to wash my brain out with soap around this. Because the story-line that we were "Great in Sweden" turned out to be.... nonsense. We never drafted Salming, and we never drafted Sundin. And sure, we picked some nice defencemen, in Kenny Jonsson and Gunnar and Stralman and hopefully the kids coming up.

But don’t let the handful of D-men blind us to the fact that in 40 years, we have done really, abysmally poorly in drafting Swedish forwards.

Up to 2013, we were looking a situation where our entire 40 years of Swedish-born forward picks had given us fewer points, combined, than Daniel Alfredsson.

Which is pretty staggering, because the storyline was that while we may have missed out on the Russians, we knew Sweden really really well. That was where we were to parlay our expertise into top-of-the-line talent.

Except that we turned out not to be even bothering to pick forwards. While the rest of the league - which we thought wasn’t half as good at Sweden as we were - was scouring the countryside and coming up with repeated HHOF’ers.

And worse?

Sweden comes on top of what we just saw with Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and Russia.

What we have here is not just a "blind spot."

EITHER our European drafting has shown itself to be completely unable to identify, evaluate, and select offensively-skilled forwards.... OR... they’re being over-ruled. From Toronto.

For 40 years straight.

That means something has been deeply wrong, back at the ranch.

A NEW HOPE IN SWEDEN.

Now, here is where we start seriously hoping. That Leaf management has begun to recognize the problem, and is acting to turn the ship.

Because we actually used our 7th rounder in 2013 to get Andreas Johnson, a high-speed, offensively-minded Swedish forward. The highest-scoring player under age 22 in the SHL.

And Andreas Johnson literally marks the 1st all-Swedish high-octane forward I can ever remember us taking.

And then last year, 2014, where we went all-in on William Nylander in the 1st round.

And then put down a 7th on Pierre Engvall, who‘s big, but also high-talent. The kid can skate like hell, and score. Watch this.

Engvall Turns On The Jets.

And so, for the first time in many years, we have some Swedish forward prospects from the draft. Hope. But that's only just begun in the last two years. Literally, this boat has just begun to show the slightest signs of turning.

But you know what would make these picks even nicer?

If Nylander, Johnson and Engvall were Thommie Bergman's recommendations, and at last - even if he is 67 today - he was listened to by Head Office in Toronto.

*

CONCLUSIONS.

Ok. Let’s bring this review together briefly, before we skip to the next post.

We have scoured all every European Quadrant for high-scoring forwards.

And then picked through the Euro-trash-heap of Leaf picks.

And yes, there’s been one quiet, happy corner - Thommie Bergman’s drafting record with Swedish defencemen - for which the guy deserves a medal.

But all in all, my friends, this has been the story of how you end up with none of the 75 greatest scorers Europe has ever produced.

Because when it comes to forwards, we have drafted like dirt.

  1. We drafted absolutely NONE of the high-end young offensive talent out of Europe. Leo in Finland. Jiri Tlusty in the Czech. Antropov in Russia. Freddy Modin in Sweden. That’s the fruits of the Leafs labour, from 40 years, for a continent. We deserve to be demoted to the ECHL.
  2. Worse, we never even took a shot. We only ever drafted 2 forwards from Finland. We had 100 high-skill chances in Russia, skipped on them all, and only took on projects. We had the world’s best Swedish scouts, and we failed to even try. And the Czech, well... the only time we decided to get big was with Tlusty. Yeah.
  3. Some countries, frankly, we skipped altogether. Finland, for sure. But also - and I’ll cover this more in a separate post - Russia as well. It’s bizarre if you look into it, how many guys we took from the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the Belarus and more distant countries and regions outside Russia, while almost entirely avoiding the high-skill players on the most talent-rich clubs, in Moscow.
  4. When we did pick, we liked to pick players who were older. In every country, this held true.
  5. In Sweden, bizarrely, we only wanted BIG forwards. You could see the same pull towards big Swedish defencemen, and for big Czechs/Slovaks, and even occasionally, for big Russians, like in 1998.
  6. Since 2006, and its successes, we just apparently lost our minds. Either our European scouting collapsed, or our faith in it did. Maybe both. I feel bad for Thommie Bergman is all I can say.
  7. And this shit has gone on for 40 years, and the problem has never been fixed. Don’t imagine this is just some easily-alterred personnel thing, because it existed not only through Ballard and Brophy, and even when they had Salming and Ihnacak out on the ice... but then through Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns, who had Borschevsky and Sundin out there... and through Pat Quinn and JFJ with Kaberle and Antro and Poni... through Ron Wilson and Brian Burke with Grabo and Kulie... right out to and through Dave Nonis and Randy with Leo and Gunnar and Nylander coming up. Which means that it’s not just the personnel at the top. And that it’s not just gonna be a thing we can change by throwing a single switch. There’s more to it.
  8. But above all, we need to stop letting the success of Salming and Sundin blind us to what has been actually going on.
  9. Screen_shot_2015-06-08_at_9.18.23_PM.0.png

Ok. Next post will be quicker, where I’m gonna compare our European drafting results to those of other teams.

Then, we'll take a look at our secret European formula.

Then go Cherry-picking.

Then see what we can do to change all this.

And The Glorious Rave-Ups - Come Around.

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