Maple Leafs’ Entry Draft Preview

By Randy Nicholson

Who’s Calling the shots: – Mike Penny is preparing to supervise his first Entry Draft as the Leafs’ Director of Player Personnel. Penny has been active in hockey management since 1969 and previously worked along side his current boss, Pat Quinn, for many years in Vancouver. Quinn himself does very little actual scouting and generally defers to his Personnel Chief on draft day.

The Support Team: – Penny is ably assisted in the Personnel Department by the Leafs’ Amateur Scouting Director Mark Hillier, who is also attending his first draft in this position. Hillier’ primary responsibility has been to cover the North American scene (along with a staff of 5 full time scouts and several other part-timers) but also makes frequent trips to Europe where Thommie Bergman and Leonid Vaysfeld lead a highly productive scouting operation.

Draft Day Tendencies: – During the past 10 seasons, the Maple Leafs have made 9 selections in the first round – 5 from Canadian Major Junior Hockey, 3 from Europe and 1 from the USJHL. Their emphasis on European players is growing, however, with 2 of the team’s previous 3 top picks coming from overseas. During the same time period, Mike Penny made 10 first round picks for the Canucks with 6 coming from Canadian Major Junior Hockey and 4 from Europe.

The Philosophy: – There are no real secrets here. As with virtually every other team, the Maple Leafs are firmly committed to the “best player available” philosophy. Nothing else would make much sense, given the fact that tangible fruits of this weekend’s proceedings won’t be realized for many years to come. That said, the organizational depth chart would dictate the selection of scoring forwards over defensemen and/or goaltenders if all other factors were completely equal.

Recent Results: – The present management team assumed control of a farm system containing few legitimate prospects several seasons back. By hanging onto their own premium selections, acquiring additional picks through trades and allocating considerable resources to player development activities, the organization’s overall rating has been rising steadily during the past 2 years. There has been particular success in the later rounds, mainly with European players. Although there are several good prospects now moving through the pipeline, much work remains to be done before the Maple Leafs can even pretend to rival the industry leaders in Jersey, St. Louis and Colorado.

The Targets: – The following list contains the names of the players most likely to be tabbed by the Maple Leafs on Draft Day. These aren’t necessarily the best players available – we’re prepared to concede that many of the biggest names (including Kovalchuk, Spessa, Chistov, Svitov, Weiss, Sjostrom, Ruutu, Koivu, Komisarek, Hamhuis and Blackburn) will be gone long before Toronto’s turn arrives at #17.

Players are listed below in alphabetical order…

Colby Armstrong (RW – Red Deer, WHL): Armstrong is a prototypical North American winger who can skate, score and play with plenty of abrasiveness. Optimists see a player who will be an effective 2nd line forward. Pessimists see a player who will never be big enough to take his junior hockey game to the pro level. The optimists may be right but Colby likely won’t be the “safest” pick available when the Leafs’ turn comes.

Carlo Colaiacova (D – Erie, OHL): Colaiacova is an extremely mobile defender who plays a smart disciplined game in his own zone. The only knock on him is that he’s still fairly light at 184 pounds. Carlo has yet to display the offensive skills generally associated with similarly proportioned blueliners who succeed in the NHL.

Tim Gleason (D – Windsor, OHL): Gleason possesses extraordinary speed and maneuverability – quite possibly the best wheels in this entire draft class. He is also quite tough and plays the game with a noticeable edge. Unfortunately, these are the only 2 areas in which he has yet been able to demonstrate NHL calibre ability. Still, his skating is so outstanding that some team will certainly take a chance on him before the first round ends.

Igor Knyazev (D – Spartak, Russia): Knyazev is yet another example of the classic Russian defender – (relatively) short, stocky, very mobile, tough and efficient. Many scouts say that he is perhaps the most NHL ready blueliner available this year. The Maple Leafs are said to be particularly enamoured with this player.

Chuck Kobasew (RW – Boston College, NCAA): Kobasew is a Canadian player with a Russian name who plays at an American school. He has recently been climbing many draft boards following a strong showing at this year’s NCAA Final Four. A strong skater with limited quickness, Kobasew fights hard to occupy the premium scoring areas near the opponent’s goal. NHL scouts must determine whether or not he is likely to do this as successfully once reaching the professional ranks, given his limited size.

Mark Popovic (D – St. Michael’s, OHL): Popovic is a superb skater who adheres to a low risk style behind his own blueline. He also demonstrates above average offensive skills and toughness whenever the game situation requires these attributes. Popovic is considered to be a very “safe” pick due to this wide talent base. The Maple Leafs has recently begun to administer psychological tests to prospective draft choices and Popovic’s scores are rumoured to have been right off the charts.

R. J. Umberger (C – Ohio State, NCAA): Umberger is a power forward who has just completed a successful (36 points in 33 games) freshman season at Ohio State. He moves reasonably well, is very competitive and owns a heavy shot that is released quickly and accurately. If he can pack on a additional 20 pounds prior to graduation, he could be very special. As it is, he is the top-rated American forward and a certain first rounder.

Jeff Woywitka (D – Red Deer, WHL): Woywitka is another defender with a very wide range of skills. He is a polished skater, a good outlet passer, sound in his own zone and physical whenever he needs to be. As with Knyazev and Popovic, Jeff is certain to become a solid NHL rearguard.