It is no secret that the Toronto Maple Leafs have not drafted well over the past decade. But the 2002 draft was an exception, producing two forwards and a defenseman who are major contributors on the current roster. And another defenseman is being given every opportunity to prove his worth.
The Leafs chose nine players in 2002. Three are NHL regulars with Toronto, two patrol the AHL’s Toronto Marlies blueline, two are still toiling in the AHL in other teams’ farm systems, one plies his trade overseas in the Czech League and another started between the pipes for Toronto’s ECHL affiliate, the Columbia Inferno last year.
Among the 30 NHL teams, the Leafs got the most total value out of the 2002 draft, averaging 59 NHL games per pick.
Alexander Steen, C
1st Round, 24th overall – Vastra Frolunda HC, Sweden
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 157
If the 2002 draft were replayed today, Steen would hear his name called in the top 10, rather than 24th overall. The son of former Winnipeg Jets great Thomas Steen, Alex has proven that his ceiling is much higher than thought at the time. Steen stepped into the Leafs lineup after a lockout season spent playing with the likes of Peter Forsberg, the Sedin twins, and Markus Naslund, and he did not look out of place in the least. He was one of Toronto’s most consistent players, in an otherwise disappointing season. He finished with 18 goals and 45 points in 75 games. The 2006-07 season provided a bit of a sophomore jinx for Steen as he struggled mightily during the first three months of the season. Despite skating on the top-two lines on a night-in night-out basis, Steen managed only four goals and six assists in the first 40 games of the season. But by January Steen was heating up, scoring six goals and 11 points in 12 January games. He finished with 25 points in the final 42 games, including 11 goals. While his 2006-07 season of 15 goals and 35 points in a full 82-game schedule seems like a step back, there were telling signs that Steen is still developing. Steen was widely regarded as a prospect with good but not great offensive skills, accountable defensively, and a possible future captain, like his father. Nothing has changed. He should continue to skate in the Leafs’ top six for years to come.
Matt Stajan, C
2nd Round, 57th overall – Belleville Bulls, OHL
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 232
Stajan was the first of the Leafs’ 2002 draft class to arrive in the show and he has steadily progressed since the fall of 2003. Stajan’s game is defensive accountability and a smart puck-moving game up the middle. There aren’t many times you’ll find him turning the puck over in the neutral zone or losing his man in a scoring area. Stajan kills penalties and scores timely goals using an underrated set of hands. The main thing holding him back from becoming an elite penalty killer and checking line center is his slight build at 6’1 and a wispy 180 pounds, which makes him easy to knock off the puck and he has trouble matching up with bigger, more physical forwards. Given more ice time by Paul Maurice this season, Stajan posted a career-best 39 points in 82 games. His 10 goals fell shy of his 15-goal 2005-06 season. Stajan has been the subject of many trade rumors over the past couple of seasons but the Leafs’ brass has resisted trading the versatile center. While Stajan has more than enough puck ability and speed to thrive in today’s NHL, he has the look of a solid 15 or 20-goal scorer who contributes quietly in many ways. Stajan scored 85 and 94 points, respectively, in his last two junior seasons so there is offensive talent to work with. All in all, Stajan has outpointed every other 2002 second round pick, other than Jarret Stoll, who was taken 21 picks earlier.
After a solid first pro season with the Pensacola Ice Pilots of ECHL in which he posted a 2.32 GAA and a 19-4-2 record, it has been all downhill for Ford. In Ford, the Leafs’ envisioned a big, tall, standup goaltender with enough athletic ability to use his big frame. Instead, Ford has continued to have holes in his game and has posted GAA’s of 3.64 and 2.98 over his last two ECHL seasons. In a strong goalie draft, Ford was the 10th goaltender taken, long after the likes of Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward and Hannu Toivonen. He is a group II free agent this summer and the odds are against Ford becoming anything but an adequate AHL goaltender.
Dominic D’Amour, D
3rd Round, 88th overall – Hull Olympiques, QMJHL
NHL Games Played: 0
D’Amour was drafted in the third round with the idea he would develop into a rough and tumble, puck-moving defenseman. It has not happened. D’Amour finished of his career in the Q with a spectacular 15-goal, 53-point effort, with a robust 211 PIMs to go along. In parts of three AHL campaigns he has translated that Q success into a total of 98 games played and 18 points. D’Amour stands 6’3 and 220 pounds but his physical game has been somewhat non-existent, and he has spent only 144 minutes in the penalty box during those 98 games. D’Amour is a group II free agent this summer and with the influx of young talent vying for spots on the Marlies’ blueline, he may find himself with another organization next season.
It’s safe to say Turon’s foray onto North American soil did not go the way the Leafs had planned. After being drafted out of the Czech League, Turon appeared in 36 games with the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL in 2002-03, posting three goals and six assists. Over the next three seasons Turon bounced from team-to-team and league-to-league trying to find his niche. He suited up for five teams in three different leagues over that span. After a 2005-06 season split between the Pensacola Ice Pilots and the Toronto Marlies, Turon returned to the Czech league in 2006-07.
Ian White, D
6th Round, 191st overall – Swift Current Broncos, WHL
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 88
After drafting Ford, the Leafs went right back to the western Saskatchewan city of Swift Current to pluck White with the 191st selection. If there was ever a blueprint for progressing and improving it is Ian White. Generally looked at as an undersized, one-way defenseman who could help out a power play, White has blossomed into a puck-moving defenseman who is no longer a liability in his own end. Still undersized – but not as much in the new NHL – White has gained much-needed bulk over the past three years and now successfully uses his 5’10 185-pound frame to angle off defenders and move the puck smartly. White progressed from 26 to 38 points during his two AHL campaigns and, this season, was successful in sticking with the Leafs after a solid 12-game stint to finish off the 2005-06 season. White played 76 games in 2006-07 and led all rookie blueliners with 26 points. A potential free agent this summer, White was rewarded with a new three-year contract in May and should continue to climb the ranks from undersized afterthought to top-four NHL defenseman.
Scott May, C
7th Round, 222nd Overall – Ohio State University, NCAA
NHL Games Played: 0
Drafted as a playmaking center out of The Ohio State University, May played only 50 games in the Leafs’ organization during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons before being let go. During those forgettable 50 games, May posted one assist in 21 AHL games. He did put up 28 points in 29 games with the Leafs ECHL affiliate during the 2004-05 season but it was not enough. Since then May has bounced around the AHL on Professional Tryout Contracts (PTO) and the ECHL. Last season, he posted 10 points in 28 games with the Iowa Stars.
After three full seasons in the Finish Elite League, Immonen came to North America as a member of the New York Rangers organization. Traded to the blueshirts as part of the Brian Leetch deal in March of 2004, Immonen impressed in his first AHL season in 2005-06. With the Rangers top affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack, Immonen scored 30 goals and 40 assists in 74 games, earning a six-game stint in New York in which he scored two goals. He followed his impressive rookie campaign up by scoring 20 goals and 26 assists in 54 games this season before suiting up in 14 games with the Rangers. He scored one goal and five assists in those 14 contests. Like many centers from Finland, Immonen is a smart, two-way player. He also excels on faceoffs and has shown a deft scoring touch. While the Leafs could have done better than receiving 15 games of an aging Leetch for Immonen, at least the foresight to draft him was there. Immonen is ranked as the Rangers fourth-best prospect and should challenge for a job this fall.
Staffan Kronwall, D
8th Round, 285th Overall – Djurgardens, Sweden
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 34
If you can get a legitimate NHL prospect with the seventh-to-last pick of a draft, you’ve done well. Kronwall is the bigger and less-talented little brother of the Detroit Red Wings Niklas Kronwall. A late bloomer, Kronwall doesn’t use his 6’3 215-pound frame as he should and his game suffers for it. Moving the puck and playing a sound positional game is the name of Kronwall’s game and when he is on he does it as well as anyone. Kronwall came to North America as 22-year-old in the fall of 2005 and has been on the verge of cracking the Leafs’ top-six defensemen ever since. Had it not been for an ankle injury this past fall, it could have been Kronwall establishing himself as a regular instead of Ian White or Carlo Colaiacovo. After spending 16 games with the Marlies in 2005-06, Kronwall plugged the Leafs injury-ravaged blueline for the second half of the season, appearing in 34 games. While he only garnered one assist and 14 PIMs, he came as advertised, playing a strong positional game. This season he appeared in 47 games for the Marlies and while he struggled after returning from injury, he found his game down the stretch and was one of the better Marlies defensemen. He finished with three goals and 17 points. The Leafs had enough faith in the big Swede to reward him with a new two-year, one-way contract last week, meaning they expect him to challenge for ice time with the big club next season and not just patrol the Marlies’ blue line.
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