What was once old is new again in Hog Town. It was supposed to be another step in building the organization for the long haul. But 24 hours before GM John Ferguson Jr. was scheduled to step to the podium in Columbus, Ohio, with the 13th selection in the first round, it turned into something much different. The philosophy Leafs management had preached over the last four years of developing their own prospects and building organizational depth was replaced by the win-now philosophy that had delivered no results over the past 40 years.
After stressing a commitment to youth and player development, Ferguson Jr. did exactly the opposite the morning of the draft by dealing his first-round pick (13th overall), second round pick (44th overall), and a 2009 fourth-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for goaltender Vesa Toskala and winger Mark Bell.
While the trade left the Leafs devoid of a pick in the first two rounds of what was considered a weak draft, what it does give the Leafs is a someone who, given a full slate of games, could turn into the top-tier goatender they have been searching for.
In 78 career NHL games, all with San Jose, Toskala has a 65-28-10 record, 2.34 goals against average and .914 save percentage†with eight shutouts. He had a 26-10-1 record with a 2.35 GAA last season.
Ferguson quickly signed the 30-year-old native of Finland to a two-year $8 million contract that will begin in 2008-09. In Bell, the Leafs acquired a player of enormous talent but also a player who has battled off-ice issues, which many have said led to his down year this past season. Brought in from Chicago to play alongside Joe Thornton, Bell responded with a career-low 21 points and was a healthy scratch at times during the latter portion of the season and throughout the playoffs. The 27-year-old was thought to be on the verge of a breakout year after notching a career-high 25 goals and 48 points in 82 games in 2005-06. Bell is also no stranger to the physical side of the game as he 537 career penalty minutes in 410 NHL games. The 6’4 210 pounder can play all three forward positions and is known as a responsible defender. But the big question with Bell is whether or not he is going to show up on any given night.
The trade marks the second straight year that Ferguson Jr. has made a draft weekend deal to bring in a goaltender at the cost of a first-round pick, as he dealt former No. 1 Tuukka Rask to Boston at the 2006 draft in Vancouver for last year’s starter Andrew Raycroft.
When the Leafs finally did get back to making selections instead of trading them away, they were left with their own picks in Rounds 3-7 and an extra pick in the fourth round – thanks to the Mikael Tellqvist trade with Phoenix – for a total of six selections.
If there was a theme to the Leafs’ selections it was long-term potential over short-term results. The Leafs brass decided to go with high-upside players instead of taking the well-trodden path and making safe selections.
Dale Mitchell, RW – Third Round, 74th overall – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
5’8, 207 pounds
Etobicoke, ON – April 9, 1989
Ranked 45th overall by NHL Central Scouting, the Leafs scooped up the hometown product with their first selection of the draft in the third round. The stocky winger scored 43 goals and 37 assists playing on the Oshawa Generals second line, providing support scoring for the top line featuring John Tavares and 2007 second-rounder Brett MacLean. While Mitchell is not projected as that type of big-time scorer at the pro level, his strong lower body and tenacious playing style make him tough to knock off the puck and a good player down low with the ability to cycle the puck and drive the net. He is also an above-average skater. Mitchell is the Leafs’ safest pick. He has a ceiling of a good second-liner and the floor of an excellent third-liner who can contribute from shift-to-shift and game-to-game.
Matt Frattin, RW – Fourth Round, 99th Overall – Fort Saskatchewan (AJHL)
5’11, 187 pounds
Edmonton, AB – January 3, 1988
The Leafs scouting staff went off the board a little bit with the selection of Frattin in the fourth round. Frattin was ranked 115th by NHL Central Scouting but had only recently shown up on the NHL radar after winning Rookie of the Year honors in the Alberta Tier II league. The 19-year-old scored 49 goals and 34 assists in his inaugural junior season with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders. Frattin is a natural goal scorer with a great set of hands in close. Frattin is a bit of a project and could be a hit or miss type prospect. He will need to improve his skating to be successful at the next level. Frattin will ply his trade with the University of North Dakota this coming season.
Ben Winnett, LW – Fourth Round, 104th Overall – Salmon Arm (BCHL)
5’11, 173 pounds
New Westminster, BC – April 3, 1989
With their second selection of a Tier II player in as many picks, the Leafs went to the league that developed third overall selection Kyle Turris in selecting Winnett. The wispy left winger scored 27 goals and 30 assists in only 39 BCHL games and teamed with Oilers’ first-round pick Riley Nash to lead the Silverbacks. Winnett was ranked 90th overall by Central Scouting. His main asset is his world-class speed to go along with a good set of hands and some shiftiness. Also not afraid to go in the corners and grind it out for possession of the puck, Winnett plays a complete game that has come a long way in just over a year. After two years with the Silverbacks, Winnett has committed to attend the University of Michigan in the fall. He is a long-term project with a lot of upside.
Juraj Mikus, D – Fifth Round, 134th Overall – Slovaki Trencin (Slovakia)
6’4, 185 pounds
Trencin, Slovakia – November 30, 1988
Another long-term project, Mikus has all-around potential from the back end. Impressive length at 6’4, the big Slovakian has a lot of filling out to do as he is listed at 185 pounds. He dominated the Czech Junior league with nine goals and 24 points in 42 games, including an impressive plus 32 rating with 72 penalty minutes. He didn’t fare as well with the big boys going pointless with a minus-2 rating in 22 games in the Slovakian Extraliga in 2006-07. Mikus has above-average skill in every facet of the game. He can move the puck, has a decent set of hands, good vision, a good point shot and can mix it up when need be. He was ranked as the 27th European skater by Central Scouting and is another project to keep an eye on with a tremendous upside.
Chris DiDomenico, C – Sixth Round, 164th overall – Saint John (QMJHL)
5’11, 165 pounds
Toronto, ON – February 20, 1989
The third-leading scorer in the Q this past season – behind first round selections Jakub Voracek and David Perron – DiDomenico led the Saint John Sea Dogs in scoring during what was an awful season for the expansion team. The diminutive center scored 25 goals and added 50 helpers in 70 games, after going undrafted in the OHL draft and receiving an invite to Sea Dogs camp. DiDomenico shows excellent hockey sense and great intangibles, but whether or not he can overcome his small stature and average skating ability is a concern. DiDomenico is excellent on faceoffs and is a good penalty killer. If he is able to add muscle to his frame and continue to play a smart, two-way game he could surprise.
Carl Gunnarsson, D – Seventh Round, 194th overall – Linkoping HC (Sweden)
6’2, 190 pounds
Orebro, Sweden – November 9, 1986
The Leafs went searching for the next Swedish late-round gem with their seventh-round selection. Gunnarsson was passed over in the draft for three straight years before being selected this time around. Considered an all-around defenseman with good puck-moving abilities, the Leafs noticed Gunnarsson’s improvement during the frequent stops to monitor the progress of 2006 selection Anton Stralman. In 30 games, he posted only two goals and two assists, but has the ability to take care of his own end and make a smart outlet pass. If the same type of improvement is made this season, Gunnarsson may emerge from darkhorse selection to bona fide prospect.
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