2002 Leaf Draft Review

By Stephen J. Holodinsky

Tapping into Swedish Hockey Royalty

There they all sat, huddled around their table among many others: GM/Coach Pat Quinn, Director of Player Personnel Mike Penny, new arrival Barry Trapp, a plethora of regional head scouts and Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark who would be there to welcome the selections to the fold. For all the decisions that are made in game or at the bargaining table, what’s done at the draft table ultimately determines the success or failure of any franchise. If you draft well, all things follow from it and based on what the Leafs did on the weekend, their supporters have every right to be happy about the long term future. The ratings are based partially on the pick, but moreso on what the Leafs could have done with their draft position.

To begin with the Leafs tapped into Swedish hockey royalty by taking Alexander Steen, son of the Winnipeg Jets’ Thomas with their first pick of the draft. Steen himself admits he is not a quick fix ‘If I keep developing (I could be there in) a couple, maybe three years.’ As mentioned earlier he brings a fledgling complete game to the table much like his father’s but with a higher upside across the board. However, more important, he’s been around the professional game from an early age and knows how to handle the inevitable media storm that comes with it. In a pressure cooker like Toronto, given their history of standout Swedish players, this is no small thing. Grade: A+.

The second pick sent up an explosion of cheers from across the arena as Belleville Bull Matt Stajan, who apparently brought quite a few supporters with him, found himself being called down to the Leaf table at #57. The forward plays in the ‘last goal wins’ scheme of Bulls so you know his offensive talents are going to get developed. He’ll play it any way you want it done and is a coach’s dream, which sounds a lot like an aging left winger already on the Leaf roster. Many made a much of the fact that Jiri Hudler, who had been falling all day, went with the next pick but he had red flags all over him for his brittleness. The Czech forward recently suffered a serious knee injury and this only a year after suffering a near crippling neck injury. Grade: A.

Toronto’s third pick arrived via the trade route and only after the Minnesota Wild had selected goaltender Barry Brust at #73. When that happened, the Leaf braintrust got on the phones and contacted their counterparts at the Calgary table and arranged a deal which saw the Leafs obtain the next selection. They, in turn, used that to take Swift Current Bronco netminder Todd Ford who was never supposed to be here at this point in the draft. He has the frame to be a potential franchise goaltender and he’s had a promising start to his junior career although he needs to work on his technique a bit. Still a solid draft day move to get him here. Grade: A+.

With a second pick in the third round obtained around corners from the Buffalo Sabres the Blue and White took their first defenseman of the day in Hull Olympique rearguard Dominic D’Amour. Normally when you think of the Q you think offense first but in this particular case you are looking at a blueliner who is more in the Dimitry Yushkevich mold than in the Tomas Kaberle one. He has the mobility and the outlet passing to play a motion offense, but prefers to keep things tidy in his own end. As good as all that sounds, when you have a bonus selection like Toronto did here you can afford to address a need area and if there is one place that Toronto could afford not to draft into, it was defense, especially with Tomas Troliga and Valterri Filpulla still on the board. Grade: C+.

David Turon, the Central Scouting Bureau?s 28th ranked European skater, was the next name called by the Leafs in the 4th round at pick #122. Turon, a product of the Havirov Panthers in the Czech Republic, has pro size (6’2″ and 200 pounds) and developing pro skills. He carries a well rounded transition game, given his age, into this draft and is not afraid of contact. What’s more, he doesn’t give up on a play in front of his own net, which is great to see in a young defenseman. If there is an area that could improve it is in his skating, especially in his first step. You have to wonder if he would have been there had the Leafs traded down into the 5th round though as there wasn’t any buzz surrounding him. The club had already demonstrated their willingness to trade up to get their man with Todd Ford. While Turon may well be the real deal, nabbing someone like Jan Kubista (4/130/Boston) and still being able to get Turon in the upper reaches of the 5th round would have been that much better. Grade: C+.

An intriguing pick it was when the Buds sent in the card with Todd Ford’s Swift Current teammate Ian White on it. Not only did White clobber the competition among defensemen in scoring with 32 goals and 47 assists this past year in the Dub, he did it despite checking in at only 5’9.5″ and 177 pounds. This pick has flyer written all over it and someone was going to make it sooner or later, especially given the success of New Jersey?s Brian Rafalski. The key for White is going to be how wide can he make those 5 feet and 9.5 inches in weight by the time he’s ready for the pro game? At this point worth the gamble. Grade: A

In the 7th, 8th, and 9th rounds Toronto stayed home with their picks and when their turns came decided on over-agers Scott May from Ohio State, Jarkko Immonen from Assat in Finland and Staffan Kronvall from Huddinge in Sweden. May who has already put in two years with the Buckeyes looks to be an agitator type who’s offensive contributions could place him anywhere between the 2nd and 4th lines. He does have some skill, but it remains to be seen as to whether he’ll grow enough to be able to use it at the NHL level. Meanwhile the latter two have been passed over twice in the draft. As it stands now neither are expected to make any immediate waves. Look at both as long term lottery tickets along the lines of Pierre Hedin. They’ll spend substantial time overseas finding their respective games in the pro leagues there and perhaps when they are in their mid-20’s challenge for a spot with the Leafs. Grade: C+.

Holden No Longer in a Holding Pattern

Not only were there players being drafted on the weekend there were players being traded as well. In the case of Toronto long time farmhand Jeff Farkas who’s basically run out of chances with the big club. He was swapped to Vancouver for hard luck forward Josh Holden. Holden has suffered through too many injuries to list here accompanied by the lack of confidence not unlike what Alyn McCauley had after his numerous stints on the sideline. He needs a new start and badly. Don’t be surprised if he earns a spot with the big team out of training camp. He has the grit, the gears, and the offensive game to do so. The only thing he needs to improve a bit is his play away from the puck.

Stephen J. Holodinsky can also be heard regularly on sportsradio CJOK in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

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