A closer look at the team and their farm system will examine their perspective strengths and weaknesses.
Goaltending: Well, there’s Cujo and………..Glenn Healy? Jimmy Waite? Jamie Hodson? Not impressive company. Undoubtedly one of the shallower parts of the system. Two things that might bring a glimmer of hope though are 1999 7th round pick Vladimir Kulikov who, at 18, stunned the club brass last year at the Leaf Prospects Camp and the fact that Jamie Hodson’s unimpressive season just passed was due more to injury than anything else and perhaps deserves a mulligan for that reason. Still, they need more than that.
Defense: On the big club there are three blueliners that stand out as being players that won’t be going anywhere soon for no reason at all in Dimitri Yuskevich, Kaberle, and Markov. They can get by with the other three being Alexander Karpotsev, Gerald Diduck, and Cory Cross, but the back half of the rotation needs an upgrade. Fortunately, the defense corp is the one of the deeper parts of the pipeline. Petr Svoboda and Dimitri Yakushin are merely the front runners in this race. Other names to look out for in the future are Allan Rourke, Peter Reynolds, Vaclav Zavoral, and Tommi Rajamaki. Yakushin has a good chance of making the team out of training camp, and while Svoboda is a longer shot because he has yet to play in the CHL or the AHL, it should be noted that neither Kaberle or Markov had either when they came in.
Left Wing: Another relatively strong spot in the prospect pool, the Buds’ portside brigade can boast such names as Jeff Farkas, Adam Mair, Frantisek Mrazek and Konstantine Kalmikov. And lucky that it does because the left side is rather barren after you get past Jonas Hoglund, Dimitri Khristich and Igor Korolev. Valk is expected to be claimed in the expansion draft and if anyone sees either Wendel Clark or Kris King suit up for Toronto next season, they should check their calender to see what year it is. Expect one of Farkas, Mair or Kalmikov to break camp with the big club in 2000/2001.
Center: The Leafs have no problems here as their top 4 of Mats Sundin, Yannick Perreault, Nik Antropov and Kevyn Adams are all either in the prime of their careers or are working their way towards it. Behind them they have several multi-positional players (Khristich, Darcy Tucker, Igor Korolev) who can all play the middle if needed. The system isn’t nearly as rich in this area. The top prospect, Luca Cereda, had a miserable season in Switzerland and it looks like he will play in Peterborough next year in an attempt to make a break with the past. Don MacLean, the other name on the list, neither skates or passes well and may be best suited to a conversion to the outside.
Right Wing: Compared to the left side, this position is barren at the minor league level. The best hope, Mikael Hakansson, is the defensive conscience of his line in Sweden and although he has some skills offensively, alone they aren’t enough for him to make the big show. An intriguing name in the farm system is that of Alexei Ponikarovsky. A power winger much in the same mold physically as Frantisek Mrazek, he has the work ethic to make it as at least a 3rd line checker. If he can improve on his offensive skills, he’ll go even farther up the chart. Up top, the situation is better than the left side, but not overwhelmingly so. Steve Thomas, Sergei Berezin, and Darcy Tucker man the top three spots and while Tie Domi was indeed protected in the expansion draft, the thinking is he will be dealt in the off-season.
1st Round Possibilities
Martin Samuelsson-RW-MoDo Jr-Quick, gritty forward, with a goal-scoring knack who’s injuries dropped him somewhat on the draft lists. Not expected to be there at 24.
Alexei Mihknov-W/C-Yaroslavl 2-Most often compared to a more mobile Nik Antropov, this behemoth is also expected to be gone before it is the Leafs’ turn
Libor Ustrnul-D-Plymouth Whalers-Defensive masher in the mold of Derian Hatcher but with better wheels
Brian Sutherby-C-Big, hard nosed pivot who excels at two way play and is quite adept with his stick in the garbage goal area.
Shane Endicott-C-Seattle-Another big man in the middle, Endicott has a very good face-off record and a mean streak. Downside is his slow first step.
Others we’d like to see in later rounds (in no particular order):
Jared Aulin-C-Kamloops-Has the requisite offensive skills and is feisty, but as a first year junior didn’t get the ice time he needed when Kamloops made their Memorial Cup run. Needs to work on his defensive positioning and gain some weight.
Ben Knopp-RW-Moose Jaw-Another CHL rookie, Knopp had a standout year being as it was his first in major junior. Gritty, with a very good scoring touch, his age (19) counts against him.
Agris Saviels-D-Owen Sound-Has the frame to pack on 10-15 more pounds and the skating ability. Outside of that no real strengths, but no real weaknesses either. Can only surprise.
Jared Newman-D-Plymouth-Has been compared to Adam Foote by his coach Peter DeBoer. Needs to gain 20 pounds, but has good instincts in both directions
Samu Isosalo-RW-North Bay-Big Finnish power winger who missed nearly half of his rookie year. Still totaled 42 points in 48 games.
Olli Malmivaara-D-Jokerit/Tuukka Makela-IFK-There is a lot to be said for how well coached Finnish defensemen by the time they leave Scandinavia. These two are no different.
Kenneth Bergqvist-RW-Brynäs-A big rookie in the Swedish Junior League, Bergqvist comes with all the offensive skills included. His physical and defensive play could use some work and he is older than many at 20 years old, but with his skills he is worth a low round flyer.
Johan Backlund-G-Skellefteå -Bigger goaltender who is just now starting to make a move. Needs to improve his quickness a bit but if he does, watch out. He has everything else including the attitude needed to round out his game.
Herman Hultgren-D-Brynäs-A defenseman with good size and a mean streak, had a great WJC showing off until recently unknown offensive skills. Due to Brynäs being absolutely loaded on the blueline, Hultgren was relegated to the 7th defenseman role.
Thomas Greilinger-LW-Schweinningen-Greilinger came out of the German 3rd division to make the National Team this year, the first player ever to do so. A possessor of very good offensive skills all the way around, he has signed with the Schwenninger Wild Wings in the 1st division this year. Has a very good size to speed ratio. Definitely worth a late round pick.