Maple Leafs 2009 review

By John-Eric Iannicello

Brian Burke and the Toronto Maple Leafs were the center of attention when it came to rumors and trade speculation at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. 

And after weeks of speculating into who the true apple of Burke’s eye was in the first round, the Maple Leafs selected a London Knights forward, but it wasn’t John TavaresNazem Kadri was the first name selected by the Leafs as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft.  The high-character, slick, offensive forward joins a growing group of young forwards that the Leafs have added over the past few months (Christian Hanson, Tyler Bozak, Robert Slaney) in an effort to kick start the Leafs ‘rebuild.’

“We got offered not from Ottawa, but another team that will probably have a top-five pick in next year’s draft to offer us a first-round pick for the pick,” he said at the draft.  “Ottawa made an offer, as well, but I wouldn’t divulge what that was and we felt very strongly we wanted to take Nazem.”

The Leafs selected seven times, picking three defenders and four forwards.  Many of the Leafs picks were from their own backyard in the Ontario Hockey League, something they’ve been criticized in the past for not doing.

Burke did not address the need for goaltending depth through the draft, but the recent acquisition of the highly sought after Swedish free-agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson solidified the immediate needs for the team.  He did do a good job of addressing the need for size within the system.  The addition of Kadri, Kenny Ryan, Jaime Devane, and Jerry D’Amigo adds to the group of forwards in the Leafs system.  Jesse Blacker, Eric Knodel and Barron Smith replenish some much-needed defensive depth that has been graduating over the years.  Other much-needed traits among all the selections this year were strength and character.

Nazem Kadri, C – London Knights, OHL

1st Round, 7th overall
6’0, 177lbs

While names such as Brayden Schenn and the unattainable John Tavares were bantered about as possible first-round selections for the Leafs, it was none other than Nazem Kadri who would have his name called by Burke among a hostile Montreal crowd.

Kadri possesses some of best offensive potential in the draft.  He’s a shifty playmaking forward who is a pain to play against and can line up at all three forward positions.  He was a leader in short-handed points in the OHL with 10 and utilizes his speed to get into the open areas of the ice.  He’s shown a knack for raising his play in key situations such as the OHL playoffs with both Kitchener and London.  This season with London he collected 25 goals and 53 assists for 78 points in 56 games. 

He spent a good portion of the season recovering from a broken jaw suffered only a few months into the year.

"I lined up the hit, and the player (Alex Hutchings) was a little smaller than me and his helmet collided with my face,” Kadri said of the injury.  "It broke in two spots, but it’s 100 percent right now.”

While his consistency and team-play have been questioned, there is no denying the fact that Kadri oozes pure skill.  Combined with a willingness to engage physically and a responsible defensive game, Kadri has the potential to be a first-line forward. 

He’ll need to add bulk this year and has the chance to take the OHL and prospect world by storm should he not make the NHL.

“I don’t anticipate he’ll play next year,” Burke said about Kadri.  “He’ll need more time than that — physically, if nothing else.”

Kenny Ryan, RW – USA Under-18, USDP
2nd Round, 50th overall
6’0, 204lbs

Ryan is a prototypical workhorse.  He prides his game around outworking everyone else on the ice and it shows.  He doesn’t possess a great array of offensive skills, but has a nose for the net.  He works the boards well and can open up the ice for his teammates.  While he doesn’t have the typical height for a power-forward, he can play a power-forward type game.

Defensively he’s responsible and can be a short-handed threat due to his skating ability.  He anticipates the play well and can quickly jump into the rush. 

"I think I’m a solid two-way player. I like to pitch in offensively,” Ryan said about his style.  “I like to play a gritty game, I like to think I’m a good skater — use my speed and the guys around me a lot.”

He’s likely to spend next season with fellow Leaf prospect Jimmy Hayes at Boston College.  He spent the last year playing with the U.S. Under-18 team where he collected 27 goals, 22 points and 49 points in 62 games.  He also had a solid showing for Team USA at the U-18 world championship with four goals in seven games.

The Windsor Spitfires also hold his rights should he opt to play junior hockey.

Jesse Blacker, D – Windsor Spitfires, OHL

2nd Round, 58th overall
6’1, 190lbs

A member of the 2009 Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires, Blacker is a solid two-way defender. 

He has good size and plays a steady up and down game.  While he hasn’t displayed much offense, the potential is there due to a strong skating stride, a good shot and strong first pass.  He is no slouch in his own end either as he engages players with regularity.

"I’ll drop the gloves when I need to, stick up for a teammate or change the momentum of the game,” Blacker said of his developing physical game.

He played on the second pairing on a deep Windsor team, but saw limited power play time behind Ryan Ellis and Rob Kwiet.  He finished the season with 4 goals, 17 assists and 21 points in 67 games.

"I paired up with Mark Cundari and Harry Young generally, on the second pairing this year,” he said. 

Blacker had a very solid performance at the Memorial Cup where he was used in a more defensive role.  He’s a very coachable player and can be used in many different situations.

He still needs to round his game more as he is a very green player in terms of OHL experience.  He has a tendency to lack confidence in his offensive abilities at times and play a risky game.  He has the tools to develop into a second-pairing defender in the NHL.

Jamie Devane, LW – Plymouth Whalers, OHL

Drafted:  Third Round, 68th overall
6’5, 209lbs

One of the draft-day surprises by the Leafs was the selection of Jamie Devane in the third round.  A player who was not ranked by scouting agencies and statistically wasn’t very impressive raised some eyebrows when his name was called.

Devane is one of the toughest youngsters in the OHL, who loves to initiate contact. He had 14 fights this season in the OHL as a rookie. 

The pick draws similarities to the 2006 selection made by the Columbus Blue Jackets when they took big power-forward named Tom Sestito in the third round.  Like Sestito, the Leafs will hope that Devane’s offensive totals spike as he gains more ice time, but at this point he is extremely raw.

Eric Knodel, D – Philadelphia Jr. Flyers, USMAAA
5th Round, 128th overall
6’6, 216lbs

The tallest of the Leaf picks was 6’6 defender Eric Knodel. He plays in the lower leagues which brings more questions into the equation and was passed over in last year’s draft.  Leaf scouts acknowledge that he came onto the scene late and caught the eye of many NHL scouts.  He was ranked 205th in the final rankings by Central Scouting for North American skaters.

Knodel is a very large player and moves well for his size.  He has shown an offensive ability with 45 points in 51 games with the Flyers.  He initiates physically and has an active stick in the defensive zone.  He’s a long-term project with interesting upside.  He will have a big test ahead of him next year as he moves to Des Moines of the USHL and possibly the NCAA the year after.

Jerry D’Amigo, RW – USA Under-18, NTDP
6th Round, 158th overall
5’10, 196lbs

The Leafs went back to the USNTDP near the end of the draft. D’Amigo was projected as a top 90 selection by many scouting agencies, but fell to the sixth round on draft day.

D’Amigo compares to another Leaf prospect Dale Mitchell.  A competitive heart and soul player, D’Amigo doesn’t take nights off.  What he lacks in height, he makes up for in smarts and character both on and off the ice.  His skating requires some work, but the effort he displays each game outweighs any skating deficiencies he may have.

"I’m a grinder,” D’Amigo said. “I know I’m not too big but I definitely play bigger than I am.”

He was a standout at the U-18’s in Fargo where he led Team USA in points with 13 in seven games.  In the regular season he scored 23 goals, 33 assists for 56 points in 53 games.  He was second on his team in points and led the team in assists.

He’s expected to go the NCAA route and attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where he’ll have the opportunity to see a good amount of ice time. 

His CHL rights belong to the Kitchener Rangers. 

Barron Smith, D – Peterborough Petes, OHL

7th Round, 188th overall
6’5, 205lbs

The last selection of the 2009 Entry Draft for the Leafs was defenseman Barron Smith from the Peterborough Petes.

The big, rugged defender only played 34 games in his first season due to the inability to secure a full-time role on a deep London roster and an injured shoulder.  He was traded in early November to Peterborough in a deal that sent goaltender Trevor Cann to London. 

Smith is a long-term project with the potential to be a bottom-pairing, hard-nosed defensive defender.  He has a strong work ethic, an edge to his game and is still growing into his body.  Next season will be integral in his development as a prospect as he has the chance to rebound from a tough first year in the OHL.

Barron is the son of former Edmonton Oiler Steve Smith.