Although the fruits of this past weekend’s lottery will not be realized for several seasons, this draft was important to a new regime understandably anxious to continue the fine work previously done by Hedberg and Smith. Additionally, many players previously drafted (Hodson, Rourke, Gagnon, Warren, Ponikarovky and Travnicek) will graduate to the St John’s roster in the fall thus leaving several holes to fill at the lowest levels of the organizational depth chart.
Here is a thumbnail assessment of the newest Maple Leafs.
1. Brad Boyes (Erie Otters) – Offensively gifted pivot who fell to the Leafs at number 24 due to a perceived lack of size and/or dynamic skating ability. The Leafs have implemented a formal development program for their youngsters during the past couple of years and have already graduated several key players (Antropov, Kaberle and Farkas to name but a few) who were also once regarded as questionable prospects. Brad is a prime candidate to join this group in that he is highly intelligent and possesses elite hockey sense. Watch for him to become a dominant scorer and team leader at the junior level during the next two seasons and eventually to become the #2 center in Toronto (behind Antropov) by 2004.
2. Kris Vernarsky (Plymouth Whalers) – This centerman impressed scouts greatly during Plymouth’s recent playoff run. He possesses good size, skating power and aggressiveness, leading the Whalers to utilize him primarily in a checking role. Many envision this job for him in the NHL as well, but the player doesn’t necessarily agree. A former member of the American elite hockey development program, he feels that more offensive production will be realized when he graduates onto one of his team’s scoring lines. Time will tell, but this player seems to be a very safe and smart selection by Toronto in Round 2.
3. Mikael Tellqvist (Djurgarden, Sweden) – The Leafs clearly felt a need to replenish the goaltending ranks during this draft and actually selected two of them in Round 3 (see J-F Racine below). The selection of Tellqvist was a major surprise in that he was completely overlooked in the final CSB rankings. This much is known about him; he missed the World Junior Tourney because of injury, he is already 20 years old and he played sparingly yet strongly in the Swedish Elite League during this past season. Given Toronto’s recent ability to uncover unknown gems in Europe (Markov, Kaberle, Berezin, Antropov etc.), I wouldn’t bet against this guy.
4. Jean-Francois Racine (Drummondville) – Ranked second by Central Scouting amongst this year’s CHL goaltending prospects, Jean-Francois possesses good size and athletic ability but, as with most 18-year-old goalies, is still very raw. Reports indicate that Toronto plans to add an organizational goaltending tutor to the coaching staff this summer and this move would certainly benefit youngsters like Jean-Francois Racine.
5. Miguel Delisle (Ottawa) – Big, abrasive and talented right winger actually left the 67’s for a short period this past season in a dispute over his place on the team. Everything seems to have been nicely patched up since then and Coach Kilrea now predicts 100+ points for this youngster in the 2000-01 campaign. Products of the Ottawa junior program generally become very well rounded players and, given Miguel’s obvious natural gifts, this pick could represent a real steal for the Maple Leafs in Round 4.
6. Vadim Sozinov (Novokuznetsk, Russia) – Very little is known about this player beyond the fact that he was a former playmate of Nik Antropov in far off Kazakhstan. Apparently Nik was consulted before this pick was made and the Leafs have to be hoping that Vadim will become a very pleasant surprise in the coming years, just as his countryman was in 1999-00. As stated earlier, the Leafs seem to have developed a strong scouting network throughout Europe in recent years, no doubt due to strong work in this area by former scout Anders Hedberg. This is especially true in remote regions of the former USSR where travel can be difficult (and dangerous) thus making the job especially challenging and the rewards potentially greatest there.
7. Markus Seikola (TPS, Finland) – For some reason, the Leafs recent scouting strengths in Europe haven’t extended into Finland with Janne Gronvall and Tommi Rajamaki being primary examples of Finnish picks that didn’t produce any positive results for the club.
8. Lubos Velebny (Zvolen, Slovakia) – In contrast to their Finnish counterparts, the Maple Leafs’ Czech and Slovak defensive picks have produced far more positive returns in recent years. Tomas Kaberle is already a fixture on the Leaf blueline, hulking Marek Posmyk was a key ingredient in the acquisition of Darcy Tucker last season while youngsters Svoboda and Zavoral are both very highly regarded. That said, it is known that Leaf scouts were particularly pleased to grab this prospect on the second day of the draft. Possibly another steal from Europe?
9. Alexander Shinkar (Russia) – Unranked pivot is said to possess the full array of offensive gifts so often associated with Russian players. Alex is also said to have grown by some 3 inches and 25 pounds during the course of the 1999-00 season and this may have confused many scouts that saw him only earlier in the year.
10. Jean-Phillipe Cote (Cape Breton) – Once a highly regarded defense prospect who was outstanding during last year’s under-18 championships in Slovakia. Struggled mightily during this past season with two clubs in the QMJHL. The Leafs are hoping that he can find his game again next season and were willing to gamble a pick in the final round.