Toronto is now on the clock. The 1999 first round selection of the Toronto Maple Leafs is center, Luca Cereda out of Switzerland, of all places. A place which is not exactly the Mecca of NHL prospects. Once you dive into Cereda’s potential, you see why coach Pat Quinn was smiling as he shook Luca’s hand just after his choice was announced. After a rough week in the management department of the Leafs, it was nice to see that familar smile on the coach’s face.
Luca has excellent size at 6-2, 200 lbs. with a thick, powerful lower body. He is very strong on the puck, almost impossible to knock off of it. He is a playmaking center first, but is not afraid to shoot the puck when it is available. He loves to lead the play, hold onto the puck until the last second, before dishing it off to a teammate in better position to score. He has demonstrated very good vision on the ice and excellent hockey instincts. He does have a wicked wrist shot and a nice, quick release. He has soft hands for work near the net. He is a quick skater, but not a burner. His lower body strength and balance should make him very strong along the boards. He has not shown a tendency to be a big physical presence, but he doesn’t shy away from physical play either as he battles for position. He is a responsible 2-way player who is a strong faceoff man.
He played in 69 games last season at the Swiss junior level and then at the highest Swiss level with Ambri in the Swiss-A league. He quickly became his team’s #1 line centerman on a team with former NHL players Oleg Petrov, Paul DiPietro (ex-leafs player) and defenseman, Leif Rohlin. He was the chief setup man for the team’s leading scorer, Petrov. Luca was the rookie-of-the-year in the professional Swiss-A league.
He represented his country in the under-18 and under-20 tournament and was a first-team all-tournament player at the under-18 tournament in Germany, scoring 1 goal and 7 assists in 7 games. He was described as a man amongst boys in that tournament. He scored 1 goal, 0 assists in 6 WJC tournament games in Winnipeg in December for Switzerland, with 16 shots on goal and 10 PIM. The goal he scored was a short-handed goal. He won only 45% of his faceoffs, despite having some known skills in this area.
Luca has not yet turned 18 and is still a raw, developing talent playing in a Swiss system which is still relatively new in the “world’s hockey system”. He has the physical attributes, the developing hockey instincts and the skills to make it in the NHL someday. Most impressive is his lower body size and strength. He has the thick, lower body and legs of a power-skater in the “Eric Heiden”-mold. He might not have blinding speed, but he has the power, strength and balance to be an excellent skater in traffic and along the boards.
He apparently also has the desire to make it in the NHL as he has exhibited a strong work ethic. Luca stated that “Ten years ago in Switzerland, there was the mentality that you earn a lot of money here and so players weren’t ready to pay the price to play in the NHL Now a lot of young players are ready to sacrifice. There is another mentality now.” Pierre Page, former NHL GM, saw Cereda emerge this season and blossom into a skilled, power forward prospect. Luca went from obscurity to the 14th top European prospect according to NHL Central Scouting by the end of the season. Some scouts question his chances of making the NHL because of the low level of regard the Swiss hockey system has worldwide. Toronto assistant GM and the director of amateur scouting, Anders Hedberg said at the draft when interviewed by ESPN, “Talented players are talented players no matter where they come from and Luca is a skilled player.” Luca may spend another year in Switzerland, but it is possible he will make the transtion to North American hockey by playing with an OHL team following their July 8th draft.
Luca may project to be a 2nd or 3rd line, physical NHL center who can score 15-25 goals, but if he is teamed with a pure goal-scorer like Sergei Berezin, he could add 50+ assists due to his good playmaking ability. The Leafs will bring this talented, but raw young man along slowly.
The Leafs’ second round choice, 60th overall, is defenseman, Peter Reynolds, who played with the London Knights in the OHL the past two seasons. At 6-3, 195, Peter has good size. He is good in front of his net, relying on positioning and stickwork more than a big physical presence. However, he can make the big hits when needed. Reynolds has good hockey instincts and is very active and inspirational in his play. He sometimes does cough up the puck, but overall he is a good puckhandler
He is an excellent skater, particularly laterally and is very good at moving the puck in the transtion game from defense to offense. He will jump into the offensive play and has the potential to contribute on the board offensively, as he has a good shot from the point. He scored 2 goals, 25 assists with London in 98-99 with 55 PIM in 59 games in the OHL. He added 2 goals and 3 assists in 23 playoff games. He had 0 goals and 8 assists in 62 games in 97-98.
Reynolds was a gold-medal winner for the Ontario under-17 and the Canadian under-18 teams last season. He was the captain for the Ontario team. He played for team-Orr in the Hockey prospects game this season.
Peter has the potential to be a good 2-way defenseman in the NHL with the ability to contribute offensively, but he will most likely be more of a stay-at-home type blueliner. He emulates the play of Los Angeles defenseman, Rob Blake. He must continue to work on building a little more upper body strength to add to his physical play. He certainly has a decent shot at becoming an NHL deffenseman and adds to the young blueline prospects throughout the Leafs’ system. Peter fits the philosophy of the Leafs’ team as they continue to stockpile defenseman who can move the puck efficiently and with quickness out of the defensive zone and into the attack.
The Leafs traded their 3rd-round selection in this year’s draft to Los Angeles in the Yanic Perreault trade, but they did have two fourth round selections. With the 108th overall selection they took Mirko Murovic, a left-winger out of the QMJHL. Mirko has good size at 6-2, 190, excellent skating ability and the hand skills to be a potential scorer. He has not yet put everything together however, to become the big scorer envisioned. He is strong along the boards and is active on the puck. He has a good shot and is particularly effective at deflections in front of the net. He is a responsible defensive forward as well and aids in the transition game.
The Montreal-born forward was the 67th ranked North American skater by the CSB in their end of the year ranking. He has played 2 years with Moncton where he was named rookie of the year on his team following the 97-98 season. He potted 10 goals and added 15 assists for 25 pts. in 54 games that year. He increased his productivity to 21 goals, 33 assists for 54 pts. in 69 games in 98-99. Nine of his goals were on the powerplay. He added 1 assist in Moncton’s four game loss to Rimouski in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. He played for team-Orr in the hockey prospects game and had an assist.
Mirko has the size, strength, skills and work ethic to become an NHL player. Whether he makes it as a scorer or a checker or at all will depend on how his game and potential come together over the next few seasons.
The Leafs’ second choice in the 4th round, 110th overall was defenseman, Jonathon Zion out of the Ottawa 67′s program in the OHL. Zion is a 6-0, 187 lb. 18 year old offensive defenseman. He is at his best in an up-tempo, free-wheeling game. He was ranked the 72nd North American skater by the CSB at the end of the season, which was down 7 spots from the mid-term ranking. He was Ottawa’s scholastic player of the year this past season.
Zion is a good skater with deceptive speed. He is an excellent puckhandler who can really move the puck in the transition game. He is a good stick-checker, who will use his body as well, despite a lack of prototypical size and strength. He scored 4 goals, 19 assists for 23 pts. in 53 games in 1997-98. He also had 20 PIM as well. He scored 8 goals, 33 assists for 41 pts. in 60 games in 98-99. Four of his goals were on the powerplay. He added 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 pts. in Ottawa’s 9 OHL playoff games this past season.
The track record of Anders Hedberg has exhibited a consistent talent for finding late-round, diamond-in-the-rough players. The Leafs’ fifth round selection, at the 151st spot in the draft might just be such a player. The Leafs chose Czech. defenseman, Vaclav Zavoral. Zavoral is the 10th best European prospect as rated by the CSB.
He is a 6-3, 198 lb., 18 yr. old who has the potential to be a fine 2-way defenseman. He is a mobile defenseman with good lateral movement. He is particularly adept at skating backwards and thrives in defensive 1-on-1 situations. He uses his size and strength to major advantage as he is a strong body-checker and clears the front of the net extremely well. He is very dependable in the defensive zone and has played and excelled in all special team situations.
He played for Litvinov in the Czech. junior leagues the past two seasons. He scored 4 goals, 9 assists for 13 pts. in 48 games in 97-98 and followed that up with 2 goals, 12 assists for 14 pts. in 51 games last season. He had 42 minutes in penalties last season as well.
Zavoral is a strong, physical 2-way blueliner who can also move the puck out of the defensive zone quickly and efficiently. He has an excellent work ethic and has exhibited leadership capabilities as well. He has the potential to be a solid NHL defenseman in future years as he polishes and further develops his game. He just might possibly be a steal for the Leafs in the 5th round of the draft.
Jan Sochor, a right-winger who played in the Czech. Sr. league last season for Slavia Proha was chosen in round 6 by the Leafs. Vladimir Kulkov was chosen in the 7th round.
The choice of Pierre Hedin in round 8 is an intriguing one. He might be another late-round find by the Anders Hedberg and the Leafs’ scouting staff. Pierre is older, having turned 21 on February 19th. He is a 2-way defenseman who played the past two years with Modo Hockey in the Swedish Elite league. He played with the Sedin twins and Tomas Kaberle’s brother, Frantisek. The Leafs noticed him while scouting Modo’s other players.
While playing in the WJC for Sweden in 1997, Pierre was named to the first All-Star team for that tournament. He doesn’t have great size at 6-0, 187, but he is a tough defenseman, having 26 PIM in 29 league games for Modo in the 1997-98 season. He finished the 97-98 season with 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 pts. in 38 total games.
He was considered one of Modo’s top defenseman on this past year’s first place club. In 54 total games with Modo in that Swedish Elite league, Pierre scored 7 goals, 5 assists for 12 pts. in 98-99. He is nearly a finished product and it would not be surprising to see Pierre make a strong impression in Toronto’s preseason training camp prior to the 99-00 season. We shall see where he ends up this next season, but he could be another steal this late in the draft.
The Leafs’ final selection in the 9th round was Peter Metcalf.
The Leafs chose 5 European players and 4 North Americans in this draft. In Cereda they possibly have acquired a future 2nd or 3rd line forward. In Reynolds, they obtained a good, 2-way defenseman who has a good combination of size and speed, but might be classified as more of a stay-at-home blueliner. In Murovic, they have acquired a speedy, strong winger who has some scoring potential. In Zion, they have a potential offensive defenseman who can really move the puck. But of all the picks, the ones of Zavoral in the 5th round and Hedin in the 8th might push this draft over the top as a successful one. These two European defenseman are strong, puck-moving defensemen who are also very solid in their own zone. They may be the “late-round gems” Anders Hedberg has been known to find in the draft.
Obviously, not all of the Leafs’ picks will make the NHL, and even though there might not be an “elite” or “superstar” player in this team’s draft, they may come away with 3 or 4 future solid NHL players.
Sources: Canoe online, Hockeysfuture, NHL.com, The Toronto Star article by Ken Campbell June 27th, 1999