The Toronto Maple Leafs will be drafting at 17 or 18 this year, as far as we know right now. It’s not often that Toronto picks that low, particularly lately, and the last time they were in that exact spot was 2001, when they selected Carlo Colaiacovo.
2001 is also how far back you have to go to find a first overall pick who is not currently in the NHL. And since that was Ilya Kovachuk’s year, maybe next year he’ll be back.
That is the year I chose to begin looking at 17th and 18th draft picks. From last year all the way back to when the Leafs chose 17th in 2001, here are the picks, and little bit about where they are now.
Players drafted 17th or 18th in the NHL
|Year||Name||Position||Where are they now|
|Year||Name||Position||Where are they now|
|2001||Jens Karlsson||F||Kept his SHL gig for a while. Has since drifted through the Allsvenskan, the Norwegian league, the German league, and played Division 2 in Sweden in 2015, his last year.|
|2001||Carlo Colaiacovo||D||Just re-signed with his German league team after a good year there. The only Leafs draft pick on this list, he had a lot of NHL/AHL years.|
|2002||Denis Grebeshkov||D||Great in the AHL, okay in the NHL for a defender, tried a comeback two years ago with the Oilers, and retired after one more year in the KHL.|
|2002||Boyd Gordon||F||After a very long and successful NHL career as a depth player, he rode the elevator from Philly up and down to the AHL this year, and he might be done now.|
|2003||Eric Fehr||F||He's had one game as a Maple Leaf, and is under contract for next year after a career a little better than Gordon's.|
|2003||Zach Parise||F||You know who he is. 19 goals this season.|
|2004||Kyle Chipchura||F||After a long career as depth on various teams, he went to the KHL and doubled last year's NHL points in fewer games.|
|2004||Marek Schwarz||G||A Czech goalie, he tried the NHL/AHL/ECHL for two years and then went back home. He played in Austria last year.|
|2005||Ryan Parent||D||Had more NHL games with Philly than he likely should have, but they'll play anyone on D. He played last in 2016 in the AHL.|
|2005||Martin Hanzal||F||Was just traded for a first and a second at the deadline. He scored one goal in the playoffs for the Wild which is more than most on that team did.|
|2006||Chris Stewart||F||Played for the Wild this year, and is considered a good depth player.|
|2006||Trevor Lewis||F||Decent 15-20 point man on the Kings.|
|2007||Ian Cole||D||Decent mid pair defender who is having a career year for the Penguins at 28.|
|2008||Chet Pickard||G||Older brother of Calvin, and thought to be the better goalie when they were young. He is coming off two years in the German league and is without a contract. He never played in the NHL.|
|2008||Jake Gardiner||D||I've seen this guy somewhere.|
|2009||Louis Leblanc||F||Played half a season for Montréal and a few more games before sliding down into the AHL and then to Europe. He is retired at 26.|
|2009||David Rundblad||D||Puck carrying D who was mired in Phoenix for years before one good year in Chicago. He was excellent in Switzerland last year and is right-handed and without a contract...hmmm.|
|2010||Austin Watson||F||Decent depth player who seems to be on the edge of sticking in Nashville.|
|2010||Joey Hishon||F||Seriously hurt post-draft in junior hockey. He never got a serious look in Colorado and struggled in the KHL last year after excellent AHL seasons, but he has another year to try to make it work.|
|2011||Mark McNeill||F||Has played 1 NHL game each on two different teams, and his AHL points are in decline. Was part of the Oduya trade this year.|
|2011||Nathan Beaulieu||D||Turned in the highest points of his short NHL career as a defender, but was called out by Marc Bergevin for being not good enough. Is constantly rumoured to be on the trade block.|
|2012||Teuvo Teravainen||F||Traded to Carolina, where he had 42 points, similar to last year with Chicago.|
|2012||Tomas Hertl||F||Has played 2 full and 2 half NHL seasons, but is a 20-goal scorer when healthy.|
|2013||Mirco Mueller||D||Decent AHL defender, who so far can't stick with the Sharks.|
|2013||Curtis Lazar||F||Has 13 NHL goals in 180 NHL games and barely played post-trade to Calgary. Likely needed some AHL time he never got.|
|2014||Alex Tuch||F||Second in points on his AHL team in his first pro year.|
|2014||Travis Sanheim||D||Second highest in points for a D on his AHL team in his first pro year. (But his team has T.J. Brennan on it.)|
|2015||Thomas Chabot||D||Still in junior, scoring like an overager a year early.|
|2015||Kyle Connor||F||Was second in scoring on his AHL team in his first pro year. Played a few NHL games.|
|2016||Logan Stanley||D||Equalled last year's points totals in junior in half the games. Was injured for most of the year.|
|2016||Dante Fabbro||D||Moved to the NCAA and scored a little less than Charlie McAvoy on the same team.|
On the first read through, if you’re looking for stars to be wowed by, you might not be thrilled with the results. If you set the bar at “had an NHL career”, you get a much better-looking list that covers most of these players.
There are not a lot of outright busts. Some of the Europeans did not play in North America much, but still had careers. Most of them are still playing somewhere. Very few of these choices seem completely out of line for mid first-round picks now, years later. But it is a bit sobering to consider the value stretches from Eric Fehr to Jake Gardiner.
There are a lot of defencemen on this list, and that’s not a surprise. The hot forwards always go first, and it’s a rare year with a lot of defenders in the top ten. By the time you get to 17th, teams are starting to look at the defenders as the best players left.
There is one name not on the list. And this is a story about a terrible tragedy and about how your fragile life is and how unknowable all our futures are: Alexei Cherepanov was drafted in 2007 at 17th overall. He died of heart failure at the age of 19 after collapsing on the bench in a hockey game in Russia. That was a very sobering reminder to me when I was looking up these players—that life is about much more than how you’re ranked on draft day.
No matter who the Leafs draft, what matters is that they work hard to become the best player they can be. The Leafs have shown a lot of willingness to make that happen with time, money and all the most modern of medical care and training.
Whoever it is, we’ll love them, fight over them and spend endless hours debating their future.