With interim GM Cliff Fletcher at the helm (prior the arrival of Brian Burke) the Toronto Maple Leafs made eight selections at the 2008 NHL-Entry Draft including a coveted top-10 selection.
The mantra at the time for Fletcher was to add more size and skill to the Maple Leafs system. They did so by adding eight players who all measured in at over 6'2 feet. Fletcher swung for the fences on a few picks, and made a move to secure a top-five selection which would end up being tough-stay-at-home defender Luke Schenn.
Fletcher selected players from a mix of positions and various leagues. He selected four forwards, three defenders and one goaltender. Three players from major junior, two from junior-A, two from the USHL, and one from the DEL.
Of the players selected, only Luke Schenn has suited up for the Maple Leafs while three others were later traded, and three more had their NHL rights relinquished.
Luke Schenn, D, Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – 1st round, 5th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 316
Drawing comparisons to Adam Foote in his draft year, Fletcher moved up from the seventh spot to select Schenn by trading the 7th and 68th pick in 2008 and a second-rounder in 2009, to obtain the New York Islanders' fifth-overall selection. Seen as part of the drafts 'Big Four' defenders, the Maple Leafs believed they acquired a corner-stone rearguard in Schenn, someone they could build their defensive core around. Though he possessed great leadership and an elite physical game, questions surrounded Schenn's ability to produce offensively, at least enough to warrant such a high selection.
Schenn went on to produce fairly solid numbers for the Maple Leafs improving his totals in each of his four seasons. He particularly impressed in his rookie debut, and made the NHL All-Rookie Team during the 2008-09 season.
But since his rookie season, even though his numbers offensively saw steady improvement, Schenn was never able to transform himself into the cornerstone defensive talent the Maple Leafs thought they had drafted. After four seasons with the club, Schenn was dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for former 2007 second-overall select James vanRiemsdyk in an effort by each team to bolster areas of weakness.
Jimmy Hayes, RW, Lincoln Stars (USHL) – 2nd round, 60th overall
NHL Games Played: 31
One of many high risk, high reward picks the Maple Leafs made at the 2008 NHL entry-draft, Jimmy Hayes was a player who saw his stock drop throughout this draft year. With size, speed and skill he looked like an ideal selection for a system that lacked such players. Although he had great size at 6'4 200lbs, he was not a bruiser. In fact, he drew comparisons in style to current Maple Leaf forward James vanRiemsdyk.
Hayes went on to play three seasons with Boston College where he broke out in his sophomore season with 13 goals and 35 points in 42 games. That summer, in 2010, the Maple Leafs moved Jimmy Hayes to the Chicago Blackhawks for the 43rd selection which ended up being Brad Ross. The move was made in an effort to acquire a more physical forward with skill to the Maple Leafs system.
Since joining the Hawks, Hayes has seen 31 NHL games and has produced five goals and four assists. He has produced well at the AHL level scoring 15 goals and adding 25 assists over 70 games in the past two seasons.
Another player who fits in the 'boom-or-bust' classification would be Belarusian forward Mikhail Stefanovich, who too did not last long in the Maple Leafs system. Among the most skilled in the draft, Stefanovich had question marks surrounding his commitment and intensity levels. After a strong junior career that saw him score 210 points in 171 games, the lure of the KHL by his hometown team Dinamo Minsk was too powerful and the enigmatic forward left North American pro hockey. He then was dealt to the Dallas Stars for once highly-touted free-agent Fabian Brunnstrom. His rights have since been relinquished by the Stars, and Stefanovich has seemingly made himself a strong career in Belarus leading his team Gomel in points.
Greg Pateryn, D, Ohio Junior Blue Jackets (USHL) – 5th Round, 128th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The first pick of three in a row, as quickly as the Maple Leafs selected Greg Pateryn, they shipped him out. A tough defensive-defenseman in a similar mold as Schenn, Pateryn was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens later in the summer (along with a second-round pick) for 24-year-old enigmatic forward Mikhail Grabovski. Grabovski, who had rumoured issues with Canadiens staff and teammates, turned his career around and has since established himself as a key top-six forward on the Maple Leafs. Pateryn played four full-seasons at the University of Michigan before joining the Canadiens' AHL affiliate the Hamilton Bulldogs.
Joel Champagne, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL) – 5th Round, 129th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Joel Champagne provided the Maple Leafs with a potential bottom-six checking center with his 6'4 frame and strong work down low. Questions at the time of his selection were centered on his overall offensive ability and his skating. While Champagne's offensive touch improved over the years, his skating continued to be a major area of weakness and the Maple Leafs relinquished his rights after failing to come to terms with the forward. After his junior career he took a shot at an Austrian league, but that ended quickly. He returned to North America and has spent the last two seasons bouncing between the AHL and ECHL.
Jerome Flaake, RW, Cologne Sharks (DEL) – 5th Round, 130th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
Looking for a potential late-bloomer in the developing German elite league, the Maple Leafs gambled on top-ranked German forward Jerome Flaake. Billed more as a 'jack of all trades master of none', Flaake failed to assert himself in any one area of the game. He had great size to go with his strong skating ability but he never developed much offensively. There were issues with ice-time during his second season in the DEL and were whispers that he could make the jump over to the WHL where his rights were owned by the Prince George Cougars. At 22-years-old, Flaake is still plying his trade in the DEL and is performing well leading the Hamburg Freezers in scoring. With teams always in the hunt for free-agent prospect talent, he could draw interest from some clubs.
A huge project when he was selected, not much was known about Rollheiser. Playing on a poor team in the BCHL, Rollheiser impressed scouts with solid netminding numbers. The fact he was committed to Boston University also was a positive for his long-term development. Unfortunately, Rollheiser was unable to really assert himself in a starters role and was beat out by Kieran Millan (COL). Rollheiser only appeared in 31 games through four seasons and at the conclusion of his NCAA career the Maple Leafs did not tender him an entry-level contract. He has since joined the Utah Grizzlies in the ECHL where he is seeing more consistent action.
Andrew MacWilliam, D, Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL) – 7th Round, 188th overall
NHL Games Played: 0
The Maple Leafs last pick of the 2008 draft remains the only player still in a part of the Maple Leafs system. Like many late round picks, MacWilliam was a five-year project who was expected to complete all four-years of NCAA hockey before making a turn to the pros. After returning to Camrose as a 19-year-old, MacWilliam joined North Dakota the following seasons where he is currently in his senior year (and captaining the team). The big, rugged defensive-defenseman has limited offensive ability as shown by his modest point totals over the last four seasons. He will need a contract offer at the conclusion of this season or he will join a long list of 2008 Maple Leaf picks that have had their rights relinquished by the club.