Maple Leafs 2004 draft preview

By Doug Evinou

Maple Leafs Top 10 Prospects

1. Carlo Colaiacovo, D
2. Alexander Steen, C
3. Brendan Bell, D
4. Jay Harrison, D
5. Kyle Wellwood, C
6. Ian White, D
7. John Mitchell, C
8. Martin Sagat, LW
9. John Doherty, D
10. Jeremy Williams, C

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ scouting team won’t be very busy on the first day of drafting in Raleigh, N.C. this month, as the club swapped their first and second round picks in trade deadline deals the past two seasons. General Manager John Ferguson Jr., hired late last August, will oversee his first draft for the club, and will rely heavily on the advice of his scouting staff. The team is led by head scout Barry Trapp, as well as assistant general manager Mike Penny, and they have enjoyed some success in the middle rounds the past few years, unearthing promising prospects such as forwards Kyle Wellwood and John Mitchell, and defenseman Ian White in recent drafts.

Team Needs

The Leafs’ rather geriatric line-up is in need of a serious infusion of youth, most notably in the areas of scoring forwards and goaltending. Unfortunately, these needs won’t be immediately addressed in this year’s draft unless Ferguson Jr. finds a way to trade into the early half of the first round. Any players they do find will be a couple of years away.

Organizational Strengths

The Leafs own two blue-chip prospects in Swedish center Alexander Steen and St. John’s rearguard Carlo Colaiacovo. The Maple Leafs have great depth along the blueline, with players like John Doherty, Jay Harrison, Staffan Kronwall, Dominic D’Amour and Brendan Bell providing combinations of size and skill that could be put to use in the future. White and Wellwood have great skill and have displayed their abilities at the AHL level, but questions remain about both player’s lack of size. Goaltender Mikael Tellqvist has served notice that he is ready for NHL duty, although it is debatable whether he will be able to assume the starting job in the future, or if he may be better suited as a back-up.

Organizational Weaknesses

The recent emergence of players such as Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky in Toronto has lessened the bleak outlook up front, although the team still needs to stockpile promising forward prospects to replace aging stars such as Gary Roberts, Mats Sundin, Alex Mogilny and Owen Nolan. Jeremy Williams, Martin Sagat, Wellwood and Mitchell provide some promise behind Steen, but none are sure-fire NHLers. Depth in goal behind Tellqvist is extremely thin, with only ECHL standout J.F. Racine and WHL grad Todd Ford under contract, and both looking like long-term projects at this juncture.

Draft Tendencies

The Leafs have traded a number of their early picks in recent years in an attempt to load up for the NHL playoffs. As a result, it is difficult to pin down any specific draft strategies of the current scouting regime early on in the draft. The club surprised many last year by reaching for U.S. prep star Doherty with their first pick (57th overall), as the team’s scouts had seemed to be focusing in on Canadian Junior leagues and Sweden in recent years. With no early picks, Trapp and Ferguson Jr. will be hard-pressed to find a perfect combination of size, skating, talent and hockey IQ in this year’s draft, and will be looking to find players that possess one or two of these skills in abundance and the character to develop the remaining areas over the next few years through hard work and quality coaching.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): The Leafs traded their first round pick to the NY Rangers (24th overall) in the Brian Leetch deal.