The last time the Toronto Maple Leafs went to the draft with no first-round pick was 2010. How well does Kyle Dubas have to do today to beat that draft run by Brian Burke and Dave Morrison?
First, it helps to remember what the expectations should be for draft picks. This handy graph from my go-to post on talking draft pick probabilities, is created from the drafts just before that fateful year:
Note that this is the lowest bar you can set on future success, too, as it’s defined as 50 NHL games played. For the second round, where we’ll begin looking at how the Leafs did that year, there should have been a 44% chance of picking at least a guy who played 50 games.
In the actual 2010 draft, there were 16 players out of 30 chosen in the second round or 53%, who have managed that number of games so far. There were another eight players who have played less than 50, but more than zero. One of those players is Justin Holl, who could conceivably bust through to 50 games from his current number of 13. The most successful of the bunch, so far, is Justin Falk of the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that drafted him. He’s had 559 games. Other good picks include Calle Jarnkrok, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jason Zucker, Tyler Toffoli and Johan Larsson.
The Leafs, as you know, chose Brad Ross at 43rd overall, and he is one of only six players in that round who have played zero NHL games. There were, however, three total misses taken ahead of him. The Bruins chose Jared Knight, the Blue Jackets selected Dalton Smith and Chicago picked Ludvig Rensfeldt. Everyone gets it wrong sometimes on draft day, even with picks that high. But what rankles with this pick is why the Leafs got it wrong. Ross actually had some points in the WHL in his pre-draft season, but they were mostly assists, and we all know his selling feature to Burke was the 203 PIM and his reputation as a tough guy.
As an older player in junior, Ross kept beating up on younger players, and also managed to start scoring his own goals, but in a lesson that needs to be learned over and over, none of that translated even to the AHL, far less the NHL. Ross is a career .23 points per game AHLer, and has had a modestly successful career in Germany. His most recent season in the DEL2 looks like the start of a rapid decline at age 27.
Ross’s career with the Leafs ended when his rights were traded to the Oilers along with the 107th overall pick in 2015 for Martin Marincin. The Oilers declined to sign Ross. Marincin looks like he’s got another decade in him as NHL depth or top pair in the KHL, whichever he chooses. He was drafted by Edmonton 46th overall in 2010, a few minutes after the Leafs took Ross.
With their second round pick blown on a tough guy, the Leafs were in tough to ever make something out of their remaining picks that year. They had two second rounders, the 62nd overall and the 79th overall, and those picks should have netted the Leafs two 30% chances at some sort of NHLer. So far, seven of the 30 picks or 23% in that round have at least 50 games played, and five more have played some NHL time.
The star of this round was Radko Gudas with 416 games played so far. Other good picks were Joakim Nordstrom, Bryan Rust and Jordan Weal. It seems unlikely anyone not at 50 games yet will get there.
With their first pick the Leafs took Gregg McKegg, who was ultimately traded for Zach Hyman, so in that way, he turned into a success for the Leafs. But did you know he has 132 NHL games played, and he found a home on the fourth line in Carolina this season? He’s not flashy, but he is an excellent AHLer who can handle a depth role. It’s hard not to see that as a totally fine third-round choice.
With their second pick in that round, the Leafs took Sondre Olden, who was on the Norwegian national team at the World Championships this year, and was one of their top players. It’s hard to criticize this pick in a round that produced less NHLers than average. And overall, the Leafs made out okay out of the 62nd overall.
The odds of getting an NHLer in the fourth round are 20%, and in the actual draft, seven of 30 picks have made the 50 game mark or 23%. The stars of this round are Joonas Donskoi and Tom Kuhnhackl as well as Phillipp Grubauer. But the Leafs came close, it seems, if you only look at games played.
With the 116th overall, the Leafs took Petter Granberg, and he has 45 games played. However, most of his NHL time was spent in Nashville after they grabbed him off of waivers. The Leafs got caught in a bind with Granberg, where he was injured in training camp and couldn’t be waived to the AHL along with everyone else. The Predators took him, locked him up in the press box for a few years where they played him intermittently and then ultimately waived him to the AHL where he cleared, and performed not much better than he had in the NHL. He’s in Sweden now, likely where he would have been years sooner if the waiver rules hadn’t caught him in a gilded trap.
Was this a bad pick? Not really. The 116th is nearly in the fifth round, and while there was a couple or three good players taken in that round, everyone else passed on them over and over too. It just hurts now because one of those fifth-rounders was John Klingberg and another was Brendan Gallagher. That’s 550 NHL points to date that was sitting there waiting to be picked.
The Leafs had two fifth-round picks. The odds on average for the fifth round at that time were less than 20%, and the actual success rate was 11 out of 30, or 37%. With a richer than usual round and two chances to pick, the Leafs... did not take John Klingberg.
With the 144th overall, they took Sam Carrick, and he’s got a chance of cracking the 50-game mark. He has 25 so far, and spent last season called up to the Ducks a lot, but played only six games. He’s better than most of the rest of that draft, and he is a star in the AHL, so he was a good fifth-round pick, even if there were brighter gems the Leafs didn’t see.
With the 146th overall pick, the Leafs took Daniel Brodin from Sweden, a player I know really well. He has no NHL or even AHL games played, but he has had a solid career as a scoring-line forward in the SHL. He’s moving to the Swiss league next season. He wasn’t a bad pick either, but that’s small consolation when the Habs took Gallagher with the next one. It’s tough to remember now, just nine years later, but size bias was incredibly deeply entrenched at that time, particularly in the Leafs front office.
The Leafs had no sixth-round picks, so we can’t blame them for not taking Mark Stone. Along with Stone, there were five out of 30 picks or 17% who have played 50 NHL games. That’s just about average for a sixth round. Jesper Fast is the best of the rest after Stone.
The Leafs had one seventh rounder, the 182nd overall, and they should have expected a less than 20% chance of making anything out of it. There were only two successes in the actual draft, or 7%, so it was tougher than usual to make a pick count after someone had finally taken a chance on Mark Stone.
The biggest name, and the only real success is Frederik Andersen, who was drafted fruitlessly by the Hurricanes with the 187th pick. He re-entered the draft and was ultimately taken by the Ducks.
The Leafs chose Josh Nicholls, and I have never heard of him. Ah, tall: check; WHL: check; less than 20 goals: check. Typical Burke pick, and his career arc is as you’d expect.
He played a lot of ECHL games before trying out the lesser leagues of Europe over the last few years. Somehow, he got signed to Kunlun Red Star in the KHL last season, but he’s not KHL class.
There’s no shame in missing on Nicholls in the seventh round, the real shame is taking his near twin in Ross in the second.
Some of the Leafs picks that year were goodm solid picks for their draft position. The Leafs never got lucky with any of them until they traded McKegg, but they also missed a lot of late-round glory. So did all the other teams, it should be said. What the Leafs did overall was about what every other team can do. But where they blew it big was in the second round, and they blew it because of bias.
All Dubas and his staff have to do is just pick players based on skill and they’ll do better, they could use a dartboard and come out about as well.