Maple Leafs offseason prospects update

By Steve MacDowall

After another disappointing playoff exit at the hands of Jeremy Roenick and the Philadelphia Flyers, the Toronto Maple Leafs headed into the offseason with an aging roster and uncertain future. With veterans possibly leaving via free agency, it appeared as though a changing of the guard was inevitable, leading to a possible influx of youth.

Going into the NHL Entry Draft on June 26 and 27, General Manager John S. Ferguson had only seven picks at his disposal, the result of trading picks for immediate help in order to give Toronto better chances at bringing home the Stanley Cup. The plan did not come to fruition of course and the Leafs were left waiting until the 90th pick, in Round 3, to make their inaugural selection.

2004 NHL Entry Draft

With that 90th pick, Toronto selected Justin Pogge from Prince George of the WHL. With Belfour not yet signed, and journeyman Trevor Kidd also headed to free agency, Toronto was very weak between the pipes, having only prospect Mikael Tellqvist at their disposal. Pogge was the WHL Rookie of the Year and was ranked eighth among North American goalies by Central Scouting.

With the 113th pick, Toronto selected 24-year-old checking forward Roman Kukumberg from Trencin of the Slovak Extraleague. It was Kukumberg’s fifth Entry Draft, having gone unselected through his first four.

Turning to their defense corps, the team took Dimitri Vorobiev, from Togliatti of the Russian League, with selection No. 157.

Three of Toronto’s final four draft picks were forwards, and they also drafted another defenseman. Overall a good group was gathered by Toronto’s scouting staff, given what they had to work with, entering that late into the draft. All areas in need were addressed, and a once-grim future grew somewhat brighter.

Prospect Developments

Beginning on July 8, Toronto held its strength and conditioning three-day mini-camp at York University and Reebok Station Seven fitness club. The following players attended:

Forwards: Nathan Barrett, Shaun Landolt, Scott May, John Mitchell, Ben Ondrus, Chris St. Jacques, Kyle Wellwood, Jeremy Williams
Defencemen: Brendan Bell, Carlo Coliaicovo, Dominic D’Amour, Jay Harrison, Tyson Marsh, Ian White, Andy Wozniewski
Goaltenders: Todd Ford, Justin Pogge, J.F. Racine

Transactions

On May 27, Toronto signed three players; defense prospect Dominic D’Amour from the Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL), and free agent defenseman Andy Wozniewski from the U. of Wisconsin Badgers (WCHA). Free agent forward Ben Ondrus who played for AHL affiliate St. John’s in 2003-04 was also signed.

Soon afterwards, on June 1, Toronto signed goaltending prospect Todd Ford out of the WHL to a multi-year deal. He will either be in St. John’s or in the CHL with Memphis.

On August 6, Toronto re-signed top goalie prospect Mikael Tellqvist (selected 70th overall in 2000 by Toronto). This effectively ended any thoughts of pursuing another goalie in the free agent market to serve as Ed Belfour’s back-up or injury replacement.

On August 9, the Leafs announced plans to move their AHL affiliate from St. John’s to Toronto, likely to the Ricoh Center, which had been host to the Toronto Roadrunners of the AHL, Edmonton’s affiliate. The Oilers announced previously this month that the Roadrunners would be moving from Toronto to Edmonton for the 2004-05 season. The Baby Leafs, which would have to be renamed, would start playing in Toronto in 2005-06.

Outlook

After an unsatisfying season in the AHL, the St. John’s Maple Leafs will look to inject new talent into the team and climb back up into the elite in 2004-2005. With Toronto dumping some aging talent from the roster (Robert Reichel, Mikael Renberg, Tom Fitzgerald, Trevor Kidd, and Ron Francis have all departed), highly-touted prospects Carlo Coliaicovo and Alexander Steen may finally crack the Maple Leafs roster for at least a fair portion of the regular season.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.