The Toronto Maple Leafs went into the 2003 Entry Draft looking to add size, skating ability and talent to the organization. Armed with only five selections, and without their first round pick, which was traded to San Jose in the Owen Nolan deal, Barry Trapp, the Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting, faced a difficult challenge in his first run at the draft table with the team. Trapp was determined to make each selection count, promising to only take players that the club’s scouts had a good read on.
The Maple Leafs have slowly been rebuilding their farm system since Pat Quinn took over the managerial reins, but the club is still short of quality prospects up front who have the potential to take over the scoring responsibilities when the likes of Mats Sundin and Alex Mogilny retire. As a result, Trapp surprised many by selecting University of New Hampshire recruit John Doherty rather then a young forward with their first pick in the second round. If there is one definitive area of strength within the organization, the team is loaded with young defense prospects, with the likes of Carlo Colaiacovo, Brendan Bell and Max Kondratiev, amongst others, on the horizon.
While Leafs fans were disappointed the club couldn’t snatch a young scoring phenom with the first pick, it’s important to note that none of the young blue liners in the Leafs system possess the package of size and skating that Doherty brings to the table. At 6-4 and growing, it is surprising how well Doherty can skate. Doherty was succinct in describing his skill set.
“I’m a big kid, a big defenseman, right hand shot; I skate well, can move the puck well.”
Dean Boylan, Doherty’s coach at Phillips Andover Academy, thinks the Leafs got a good one in his former star rearguard.
“I believe that John Doherty has a tremendous upside. He has excellent skills to go along with very good size and athleticism.”
Doherty knows that he’s had it easy playing against less capable competition in prep school this past year, and is ready for the challenges of college hockey and the possibility he may have to change his game style.
“(My style is) a little bit offensive, but that’s probably going to change a little bit when I go to UNH. It’ll definitely be an adjustment, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. It should be good.”
As for weaknesses in his game, Doherty thinks that he needs to spend some time in the weight room, as well as tighten up his defensive play.
“I need to get bigger, stronger. I need to work on my play in the defensive zone. That’s probably it.”
While it’s difficult to see what the future will hold for Doherty, the Maple Leafs are hoping he can develop into the big physical presence they desperately lack along the blue line somewhere down the road. And there is a whole lot of truth to the adage that you can never have too many quality young defensemen.
After the selection of Doherty, Trapp and his scouting staff turned their attention to addressing the organizations needs up front. The Leafs swung a deal with Minnesota, trading down from their 78th pick in the third round and acquiring the Wild’s third (91st) and fourth (125th) round picks. The move gave the Leafs a sixth pick in the draft, and allowed the team to select two young European forwards that the team’s scouting staff regarded highly. With the third round pick, the Leafs took Martin Sagat, a young power forward from Slovakia who plays for former Leaf Robert Svehla’s Dukla Trencin organization. Sagat had an impressive turn with Slovakia’s Under 18 squad this spring, where he collected four points in eight games, and he also earned a brief try-out with Trencin’s senior team as a 17-year-old, after starring for their junior team this season.
Sagat was subsequently drafted by the Kootenay Ice in the CHL’s Import Draft in late June, and is expected to suit up in the WHL next season. He has great size at 6-3 and 191 lbs, and uses his strength to create offensive scoring opportunities. Sagat is a good skater, and should be able to make a successful transition to the Canadian junior game. The Maple Leafs addressed the organization’s need for size and strength up front with the selection of the multi-talented Slovak.
The Leafs took Russian forward Konstantin Volkov with the second pick acquired from Minnesota. Tommie Bergmann, the Maple Leafs chief European scout, was very high on Volkov, whom he compares to a young Igor Larionov. Volkov has blazing speed, and is a very creative offensive player. He scored 48 points in only 36 games for Dynamo’s junior team this past season, and should be a favorite to suit up for Russia’s World Junior squad this coming season. The only concern with Volkov is his size; at 6-0 and 174 lbs, there is some concern whether he will be able to withstand the rigors of professional hockey.
In the fifth round, the Maple Leafs made their first selection from the Canadian junior ranks, picking up Plymouth Whalers forward John Mitchell. The 6-2 center is a solid playmaker that has the potential to develop into a really nice two-way forward. Mike Vellucci, Mitchell’s coach in Plymouth sees a lot of potential in the young forward.
“I think that he has all the tools to play in the NHL. He is big and strong. He sees the ice well and can score. He has improved his defensive play as well.”
Mitchell was thrilled to be selected by the Maple Leafs, a team that is close to his hometown of Oakville.
“Not to go the first day was a bummer, obviously, but just to go anywhere is great. And to go to the Toronto Maple Leafs, well, it’s not quite my hometown, but it’s only an hour away. So, yeah, it’s awesome.”
The Whalers are facing the graduation of many of their top players this year, including top scorer Chad LaRose, so much more will be expected of Mitchell next season.
“I’ll probably have more of an impact on my team next year. So it’ll be a lot of hard work this summer to get prepared for next season.”
Mitchell believes that he has a good shot at playing in the NHL some day, and thinks the key will be adding strength and playing more physical.
“I probably just (have to improve the) physical aspect of my game. I can hit a lot, but I just want to get more weight on my body; that way, I can throw it around a little more working in the corners and stuff like that. If I can get more weight on my body, I’m sure I’ll be able to play for the Maple Leafs someday.”
The Leafs next selection was in the seventh round, where they continued to add speed and offensive ability to their organization by nabbing 19-year-old forward Jeremy Williams of the WHL Swift Current Broncos. Williams, a teammate of Maple Leafs prospect Ian White, absolutely exploded offensively for the Broncos this year, scoring 41 goals and 93 points in only 72 games. Brad McEwen, the Broncos head coach, was quick to praise Williams abilities.
“Jeremy has very good offensive skills. He shoots the puck very well, sees the ice well, and competes hard in the scoring areas. He is a player with a lot of upside.”
At 5-11 and 184 lbs, Williams is slightly on the small side for professional hockey, but he brings a competitive spirit to the table, as evidenced by his 117 PIMs last season. McEwen thinks there are a few things Williams must work on to make it to the big leagues.
“To succeed at the next level, Jeremy must work on his conditioning a bit, and needs to show the same commitment to defense as he does to offence.”
With their final selection in the draft, the Leafs took Calgary Hitmen forward Shaun Landolt in the eighth round. Landolt is an aggressive player who, at 6-1 and 202 lbs, has the size to cause teams havoc in both zones. He is a good skater who the Hitmen relied on for consistent penalty killing and constant energy. While he probably doesn’t have much offensive upside in the big leagues, the Abbotsford, British Columbia native did manage to chip in 40 points for Calgary last season.
While it will take years to properly assess the quality of the 2003 draft crop that Barry Trapp and his scouting team acquired in Nashville, it’s fair to say that this group of players is a talented bunch that have the skating abilities and size that the team was looking for going into the weekend. The team’s commitment to replenishing the farm system continued to move forward with the addition of these six players, which should give the club’s fans ample reason to be excited about the future in Toronto.