The draft is one of those things that takes many years to evaluate properly. So with that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the Leafs’ drafts since the turn of the millennium and see how we did. For each draft class, I’ll look at the best player the Leafs drafted, the most disappointing outcome, and grade the draft out of 10. It’s a subjective grading scale, that consists of both quality of players selected and the quantity that actually become NHLers. Essentially, it’s a scale that tells you how much you got out of that draft class. I make some adjustments for degree of difficulty as well. You get a slightly lower grade if you draft a good player at #5 than if you did at #25, because the expectations are so much higher at the top end of the draft. Conversely, if you whiff at #5, you get penalized more than if you whiff at #25. This only really matters at the top end of the draft, since value difference between picks outside the top 10 or so are pretty minimal.
A 10 is VERY hard to get, and requires multiple high-level NHL players to come out of the same draft. A 5 would be about average - graduating a couple legit NHL players or a larger amount of fringe NHLers. As for a 1... well, this qualifies as a 1 (courtesy of HockeyDB):
Yes, I clicked on Luca Cereda’s name because he sounded like an NHL 17 create-a-player and I wanted to confirm he was real. With the preamble out of the way, let’s get started.
Leafs selections: Auston Matthews (1st overall), Yegor Korshkov (31), Carl Grundstrom (57), Joseph Woll (62), J.D. Greenway (72), Adam Brooks (92), Keaton Middleton (101), Vladimir Bobylev (122), Jack Walker (152), Nicolas Mattinen (179), Nikolai Chebykin (182).
HIT ‘EM WITH THE FOUR LIKE AUSTON MATTHEWS. BRAP! BRAP! BRAP! BRAP!
Most Disappointing Outcome: Obviously, this is TBD, since the draft is so recent. But jeez, the Mattinen and Middleton picks make absolutely no sense, and I don’t think either has much of a future in North American pro hockey.
Grade: Again, TBD. Matthews is a great start, though he was obviously a gimme at #1 overall. This was a controversial draft in general, as the Leafs rarely took players projected to go in the area of their picks. What helps is that they had a whopping 11 picks. Out of Korshkov, Grundstrom, Woll, and Brooks, I expect at least one of them to be an NHLer. And there’s an outside shot one of the other players does too. Combine that with already having Matthews, and this draft is a solid 6/10.
Leafs selections: Mitch Marner (4), Travis Dermott (34), Jeremy Bracco (61), Andrew Nielsen (65), Martins Dzierkals (68), Jesper Lindgren (95), Dmytro Timashov (125), Stephen Desrocher (155), Nikita Korostelev (185)
Best Player: Another easy one. Magic Mitch.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Like 2016, it’s a bit too early to say for sure. Most of these guys are either 20 or 21, and it’s hard to totally write someone off at that point. Personally, I had reasonably high hopes for Jesper Lindgren. When he was drafted, he was described a smooth skating, poised offensive defenseman. However, his defensive game hasn’t seemed to develop, as discussed by our former overlord on The Athletic. It’s not too late for him, but he’s not really a notable prospect in the Leafs system anymore.
Grade: This draft received higher reviews than the 2016 draft, but the Leafs don’t have a whole lot more to show for it. Marner is awesome, but picking at 4 in a stacked class, it was hard to go wrong. Dermott, Bracco, and Nielsen all seem relatively promising. Dermott and Nielsen are solid AHL contributors already, and Bracco will probably be one next year. Timashov was a very exciting draft pick at the time, and he still has a tantalizing skillset. However, his first pro year wasn’t as great as I would’ve liked. I’ll give this one a 7/10, because I think there’s a good chance that we get two non-Marner NHL contributors from that group.
Leafs Selections: William Nylander (8), Rinat Valiev (68), J.J. Piccinich (103), Dakota Joshua (128), Nolan Vesey (158), Pierre Engvall (188)
Best Player: Nylander, next question.
Most Disappointing Outcome: This is a bit hard to say... aside from Nylander, the Leafs had no other first or second round pick, so there isn’t an obvious bust. I’m gonna go with Nolan Vesey, because if you’re not going to be an NHL player on your own, the least you can do is convince your brother to sign with us.
Grade: We’re getting to the point where we can actually grade these drafts. It seems unlikely that anyone besides Nylander becomes an NHL player of real significance. That said, Willie is so good, and since he wasn’t a ridiculously obvious pick, we actually get some credit for taking him. For Nylander alone, this is a 4/10 draft. If we had taken Jake Virtanen, this would be pretty close to a 1.
Leafs Selections: Frederik Gauthier (21), Carter Verhaeghe (82), Fabrice Herzog (142) Antoine Bibeau (172), Andreas Johnsson (202)
Best Player: Jeez, this is rough. Side note: throughout this period, the Leafs were typically awful (this was actually the draft after the one year we made the playoffs)... how do we have so few picks? God, Nonis/Burke were terrible.
Anyways, Gauthier has played the most NHL games, but he sure didn’t play them well. I’ll go off the board here with Andreas Johnsson, because he actually has the potential to be a difference maker at the NHL level. Gauthier, even if he makes it as a full-time NHLer (which in of itself is not certain), looks like he’ll be a notably worse version of Brian Boyle.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Sorry Freddie, but you were taken like, three picks before Andre Burakovsky, and your NHL comparable was Colby Armstrong. Just a bad pick.
Grade: This was an AWFUL draft. What the fuck, Nonis? Johnsson might be the one saving grace. His potential alone keeps this out of the basement. 2/10.
Leafs Selections: Morgan Rielly (4), Matt Finn (35), Dominic Toninato (126), Connor Brown (156), Ryan Rupert (157), Viktor Loov (209)
Best Player: This is a pretty easy category, since it’s almost always our first rounder. Up steps Mr. Morgan Rielly.
Most Disappointing Outcome: This has to be Finn. I was a big fan of his in junior, but unfortunately, he never was able to maintain his healthy, and evidently, he hasn’t taken to the pro game. He’s currently in the ECHL.
Grade: We finished 27th in the league this year! HOW DO WE ONLY HAVE 6 PICKS! Our management was so incompetent, jeez. This would be another poor draft, but Connor Brown came out of nowhere and dragged it to a bit of respectability. Two good NHLers isn’t a bad return at all, especially since both are likely going to be mainstays in the blue and white. 5/10. That might be a little low, but the Leafs don’t get a huge bump for taking Rielly (picked in Top 5), and Brown is good, but appears to top out as a middle-6 winger. A useful player to have, for sure, but nothing incredible.
Leafs Selections: Tyler Biggs (22), Stuart Percy (25), Josh Leivo (86), Tom Nilsson (100), Tony Cameranesi (130), David Broll (152), Dennis Robertson (173), Garret Sparks (190), Max Everson (203)
Best Player: Not a lot to pick from here. Leivo has shown the most at the NHL level, so I’ll go with him.
Most Disappointing Outcome: I don’t want to talk about it.
Grade: This was not a good draft. The theme of this draft’s ‘success’ stories is guys who should probably get a real shot in the NHL. Leivo and Sparks are the only players of note here, and both have shown enough to deserve an extended NHL look. Unfortunately, neither has gotten one so far. As a result, this is a 3/10.
Leafs Selections: Brad Ross (43), Greg McKegg (62), Sondre Olden (79), Petter Granberg (116), Sam Carrick (144), Daniel Brodin (146), Josh Nicholls (182)
Best Player: Greg McKegg is sort of in the NHL, so I guess him.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Literally everyone else.
Grade: This is trash. 2/10.
Leafs Selections: Nazem Kadri (7), Kenny Ryan (50), Jesse Blacker (58), Jamie Devane (68), Eric Knodel (128), Jerry D’Amigo (158), Barron Smith (188).
Best Player: Naz!
Most Disappointing Outcome: I guess the easy answer is Ryan, as a 2nd rounder who never even played an NHL game. Back in the dark days, I thought Jerry D’Amigo would be a capable bottom 6 player. You never forget the first prospect you irrationally overrate.
Grade: This is a typical Leafs draft. Hit on their 1st rounder in the top 10, spectacularly miss everywhere else. Kadri was a very big hit though, even for #7 overall, and he’s blossomed into a top 30 centre in the league. You take that at 7, all day. He raises this group’s grade to 4/10.
Leafs Selections: Luke Schenn (5), Jimmy Hayes (60), Mikhail Stefanovich (98), Greg Pateryn (128), Joel Champagne (129), Jerome Flaake (130), Grant Rollheiser (158), Andrew MacWilliam (188)
Best Player: Not for us, but probably Jimmy Hayes.
Most Disappointing Outcome: When you spend a top 5 pick to get a third pairing defender, you know things didn’t really work out for you.
Grade: Unsurprisingly, another bad draft. Hayes kind of rescues it from being historically awful, but the kicker is that he’s never played for the Leafs. We traded him for the pick that became Brad Ross (good job, good effort). Pateryn and MacWilliam got cups of coffee in the NHL, but no one else is even close to decent. Factor in that the Leafs had a high value pick in this draft, and this really starts to look bad. 2.5/10
Leafs Selections: Dale Mitchell (74), Matt Frattin (99), Ben Winnett (104), Juraj Mikus (134), Chris DiDomenico (164), Carl Gunnarsson (194)
Best Player: Gunnar, without a doubt. Which says a lot about how bad this draft was for the Leafs.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Our 1st and 2nd rounder this year were used for the Toskala trade, just in case you thought this draft couldn’t get worse.
Grade: 2/10. Again, one player stops this from being one of the worst post-’99 drafts of all time. Thank you Gunnar.
Leafs Selections: Jiri Tlusty (11), Nikolay Kulemin (44), James Reimer (99), Korbinian Holzer (111), Viktor Stalberg (161), Tyler Ruegsegger (166), Leo Komarov (180)
Best Player: This is a bit tricky. A lot of really solid players here, but no one outstanding. I’ll go with Reimer, as he’s a league average NHL starter, which is damn valuable.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Tyler Ruegsegger, I guess. He was the only one to not play a single NHL game in this draft class.
Grade: This is without a doubt, the best drafting job the Leafs have done in the 2000s. They drafted FIVE legit NHLers, and a fringe NHLer in Holzer. There’s no superstar here, but there’s a lot of solid NHL players. If the Leafs had been smart (they weren’t) this draft class could have formed a nucleus of supporting players/assets to the Leafs’ stars (if only we’d had any). Based on the incredible quantity, this grades as a 9/10. The only reason it’s not higher is because, aside from Reimer, none of the players hit particularly notable highs.
Leafs Selections: Tuukka Rask (21), Phil Oreskovic (82), Alex Barry (153), Johan Dahlberg (173), Anton Stralman (216), Chad Rau (228)
Best Player: This is really close. Rask has been a good goalie for the past 7 years. Stralman took a while to develop, but blossomed into a legitimate top pairing defenceman at his peak due to his incredible possession ability. They’re both REALLY good players. Ultimately, I go with Rask, because a high-end goalie is more valuable to me than a fringe top pairing defenseman.
Most Disappointing Outcome: That we traded Rask and lost patience with Stralman, so we didn’t reap the rewards of our good drafting. No, I’m not bitter.
Grade: Luckily, we’re only focused on the drafting here, so the moves to trade Rask and Stralman are not being considered. This is a great draft solely because of those two. If the Leafs played their cards right, they could have had an upper-echelon goalie and high impact defenseman over the last 12 years. They didn’t, but that shouldn’t take away from what was an awesome draft. 8/10.
Leafs Selections: Justin Pogge (90), Roman Kukumberg (113), Dmitry Vorobiev (157), Robbie Earl (187), Maxim Semenov (220), Jan Steber (252), Pierce Norton (285)
Best Player: Pass. Only Earl and Pogge made the NHL, and neither played very much.
Most Disappointing Outcome: I’ll say Kukumberg, because his name reminds me of a salad, which has made me realize that I need to eat healthier. That’s disappointment if I ever saw it.
Grade: 2/10. Only thing keeping this out of the dreaded 1/10 zone is that the Leafs didn’t have a 1st or 2nd rounder.
Leafs Selections: John Doherty (57), Martin Sagat (91), Konstantin Volkov (125), John Mitchell (158), Jeremy Williams (220), Shaun Landolt (237)
Best Player: Johnny Malkin.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Hard to say. I guess Doherty, but no one jumps out as a particularly disappointing player.
Grade: Mitchell was the only NHL player of significance, and he topped out as a bottom-6 guy. This is the definition of a 2/10.
Leafs Selections: Alex Steen (24), Matt Stajan (57), Todd Ford (74), Dominic D’Amour (88), David Turon (122), Ian White (191), Scott May (222), Jarkko Immonen (254), Staffan Kronwall (285)
Best Player: Alex Steen has always been one of my favourite players, and like a lot of players the Leafs drafted, we gave up on him too soon. He was legitimately a top line player for an excellent St. Louis team for a good four or five years. He’s one of the most underrated players of the past few years. His scoring rate in his prime was elite, and he had excellent possession impacts as well.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Ian White, for being such a spectacular asshole that he ruined a perfectly solid NHL career.
Grade: Steen, Stajan, and White are all big hits. No one else did anything of note, but those three make this an above average draft. I’ll give it 7/10.
Leafs Selections: Carlo Colaiacovo (17), Karel Pilar (39), Brendan Bell (65), Jay Harrison (82), Nicolas Corbeil (88), Kyle Wellwood (134), Maxim Kondratiev (168), Jaroslav Sklenar (183), Ivan Kolozvary (198), Jan Chovan (213), Tomas Mojzis (246), Mike Knoeplfi (276)
Best Player: Kyle Wellwood. Weight jokes aside, he was a legitimately talented offensive threat in the NHL for a few years.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Gotta be Colaiacovo. Excellent player, but Splodey-Bones never managed to stay healthy for an extended period of time.
Grade: This is a low-key decent draft. Colaiacovo, Wellwood, and Harrison were all legitimate NHLers, and it was hard to forsee the injury issues that would derail Colaiacovo’s career. A bunch of the other players drafted also got cups of coffee in the NHL, and while there were no huge difference makers, three good NHLers gets you a 6.5/10.
Leafs Selections: Brad Boyes (24), Kris Vernarsky (51), Mikael Tellqvist (70), Jean-Francois Racine (90), Miguel Delisle (100), Vadim Sozinov (179), Markus Seikola (209), Lubos Velebny (223), Alexander Shinkar (254), Jean-Phillipe Cote (265)
Best Player: Brad Boyes. He’s played over 800 games in the NHL - easy choice.
Most Disappointing Outcome: Literally anyone else, besides Tellqvist.
Grade: It’s fitting that we end on a classic Leafs draft. Nail the first round pick. Strike out everywhere else. 4/10.
So what did we learn? For one, the Leafs are bad at drafting. Not counting anything later than the 2012 draft, the Leafs averaged 1.7 NHL players per draft. When you factor in how often they traded these players once drafted, the contribution the team has gotten from drafted players in the last 16 years or so has been pretty minimal. This year represented a notable change in that regard, as Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Rielly all represent home-grown, high-end talent. Granted, they were taken super early in the draft, but I’ll take what I can get. Hopefully, the Leafs future drafts are a little more successful than their past ones.