Leafs 2003 draft evaluation

By Scott Mitchell

If an outsider was looking for a reason why the Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect stable hasn’t produced as many thoroughbreds as other organizations, they could point to the 2003 draft as concrete proof.

It was a trade in March that began the dismal 2003 draft for then head coach/GM Pat Quinn. By dealing Alyn McCauley, Brad Boyes, and a first round draft choice to the San Jose Sharks for Owen Nolan, the Leafs didn’t get to the podium in Nashville until the 57th pick of the draft. It didn’t go so well from that point.

The selection that was sent to the Sharks ended up being used to take Moncton winger Steve Bernier. One pick later New Jersey selected Zach Parise. Two picks after that Anaheim chose Ryan Getzlaf. Brent Burns, Mike Richards, Corey Perry, Patrice Bergeron, Matt Carle and Shea Weber would all be selected between picks 16 and 57 and go on to become NHL regulars. Not one of them in a Leafs’ uniform.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. But even if the Leafs had a pair of bifocals perched on their collective noses, they surely could have done better in a loaded 2003 draft.

After ending the day with six prospects added to the system, the organization lauded the abilities of Doherty, Martin Sagat, Konstantin Volkov, John Mitchell, Jeremy Williams and Shaun Landolt

As we sit here in 2008, the Leafs’ 2003 draft has a total of 20 National Hockey League man games to its credit. All by Jeremy Williams. Doherty, Sagat and Landolt are no longer Leafs’ property, while Volkov never came over from Russia and isn’t considered a prospect, and to this point, Williams and Mitchell look like career AHL‘ers. 

David Backes, Dan Carcillo, Lee Stempniak, Nigel Dawes, Joe Pavelski, Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Shane O’Brien and Jaroslav Halak were all selected after Doherty.

John Doherty, D 
Second round, 57th overall – Phillips Andover, Mass (HS)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Totals: 0

Billed as a big, bruising blueliner with the necessary foot speed and offensive skills to succeed at the NHL level, Doherty struggled to get a sniff. He attended the University of New Hampshire and Quinnipiac University for three unproductive seasons before trying his hand at pro hockey. In the last two years he has bounced around the UHL, ECHL and CHL, playing 37 total games for four different teams.

Martin Sagat, LW
Third round, 91st overall – Trencin Jr. (Slovakia
NHL Status: Bust 
NHL Totals: 0 

Sagat had all the tools. NHL size at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds; speed; and good goal scoring ability with a nose for the net. After he was drafted he made the trek overseas and suited up in the WHL for the Kootenay Ice for two seasons. In his second season he scored 17 goals and added 46 assists for 63 points in 72 games. His playoff performance was even more impressive as he led the Ice with eight goals and 22 points in 16 playoff games. In the fall of 2005, Sagat seemed to be adjusting well to pro hockey and finished his first AHL season with 13 goals and eight assists for 21 points in 60 games. The next season he dropped to four goals in 71 games and left for Europe after the season. He scored two goals in 29 games last season in the Czech League.

Konstantin Volkov, RW
Fourth round, 125th overall – Dynamo Jr. (Russia)
NHL Status: Bust 
NHL Totals: 0

Volkov was another prospect who was thought to have good offensive potential. Ice time was scarce in Russia with the Moscow Dynamo Juniors but North America never really seemed to appeal to the Russian winger. He has never scored more than seven goals in a season in Russia.

John Mitchell, C
Fifth round, 158th overall – Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
NHL Status: NHL Prospect 
NHL Totals: 0 

The Leafs ended the 2003 draft with three straight selections of Canadian Hockey League players. Mitchell, a two-way center, had just completed a solid second season with the Plymouth Whalers that included a solid playoff showing. He improved each of his four seasons in the OHL and continues his progression as a full-time Marlie in 2005. He has played three full AHL seasons and showed the same learning curve he did as a junior, improving his play each year. He still hasn’t had a shot with the big club but will head into the 2008 training camp as a contender for a fourth line job.

Jeremy Williams, RW
Seventh round, 220th overall – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
NHL Status: NHL Prospect 
NHL Totals: 20 games

Toronto’s best pick of the draft has overcome odds at each level he has played at. A smallish winger with a cannon of a shot, Williams battles defensive inconsistencies, skating issues and an all-or-nothing type of game on a nightly basis. He overcomes these deficiencies with above average offensive instincts. He scored 93 goals in his last two seasons with the Broncos, which left no doubt that the kid can score. During his AHL time he has battled injuries and has been passed over many times by the Leafs when reinforcements were needed. But, when he does show up, Williams has produced with four goals in 20 games despite limited ice time. An indication that he is still seen as a valuable commodity came this spring when the Leafs decided not to risk losing him on waivers once the NHL season was over, even though it meant he would miss the AHL playoffs where the Marlies were one of the favorites. His best, and last, shot may come this fall.

Shaun Landolt, C
Eighth round, 237th overall – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Totals: 0

After playing five seasons in the WHL and two seasons toiling in the minors, Landolt lit it up this past year – in Italy. Considered a fringe prospect to begin with, Landolt managed to get into four games with the Marlies during the 2005-06 season. He registered two minor penalties. He scored 20 goals and added 29 assists in 42 games this past season with Vipiteno in Italy.