Maple Leafs 2009 draft preview

By Stuart McDonald

Top 10 Prospects

1. Justin Pogge, G
2. Dmitri Vorobiev, D
3. Mikhail Stefanovich, C
4. Jimmy Hayes, RW
5. Chris DiDomenico, C
6. Viktor Stalberg, LW
7. Chad Rau, C
8. Dale Mitchell, RW
9. James Reimer, G
10. Ben Winnett, LW 

This is a huge draft for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brian Burke, former General Manager of the Stanley Cup winning Anaheim Ducks, is looking to turn around a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2003-04 season. Burke, now president and GM of the Leafs, has already made a huge impact on the organization already with numerous personnel changes including director of player personnel, AHL coaching staff, and pro scouts.

Burke indicated he would replenish the goaltending position via the draft or free agency if the Leafs can’t land Swedish free-agent goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Burke has already hired Anaheim’s goalie coach Francois Allaire and has moved former Leafs goalie coach Corey Hirsch to a scouting/player development role. Former backup Curtis Joseph won’t be re-signed.  

Burke has already said he’s interested in drafting both Brayden Schenn and John Tavares and could move up to acquire either player. The Leafs could potentially land Schenn with their seventh pick if he is still available. Aside from the seventh pick, Toronto also has the 50th pick (from the New York Rangers) and the 58th pick (orignally Carolina’s) in what is considered a very deep draft. Toronto also has their own picks in the third, fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.

The Leafs had rights to Tampa Bay’s fourth rounder but lost it after giving Jonas Frogren a signing bonus that violated the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Team Needs – backup goaltending, first line forwards, defensemen with grit

How the Leafs use their second-round picks depends on whether they sign Gustavsson to back up Vesa Toskala. If they don’t sign Gustavsson, the Leafs could move one of their second-round picks to acquire an NHL backup. The Leafs have some forward depth but very few, if any first-line forwards. Look for Burke to address this through free agency as the Leafs have a lot of cap room. Although the Leafs have some blue line depth, they need a lot more grit on their back end.

Organizational Strengths – young forwards

After signing free agents Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozek to go with young forwards Mikhail Grabovski, Jiri Tlusty, Nikolai Kulemin and John Mitchell, the Leafs have six young forwards who could make the club in 2009-10. Add Mikhail Stefanovich, Jimmy Hayes, Chris DiDomenico and Viktor Stalberg to the mix and the Leafs have a decent group of young forwards throughout their organization. 

Organizational Needs – goaltending depth, forwards with size, blue line prospects

The Leafs have no top blue line prospects unless Dmitri Vorobiev can overcome his heart problems and his aversion to playing in North America. If they can draft either Tavares or Schenn with their first pick, look for Toronto to shore up their blue line prospects with their later picks.

Since Burke doesn’t appear to have faith in Justin Pogge, a good goaltending prospect would be helpful. The Leafs also need a lot more grit throughout their entire organization.

Draft Tendencies

Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison has been with the club since 2007, however, look for Burke to put his stamp on this Leafs team at the draft. Burke likes players with grit and character so expect the Leafs soft blue line to change considerably starting with this draft. In the last four seasons, Burke’s Ducks have drafted big power forwards Bobby Ryan and Eric Tangradi, two-way forward Logan MacMillan and big defensive defensemen Mark Mitera and Brendan Mikkelson. Judging by last season’s draft, Morrison is on the same page as Burke. Toronto did not draft a player smaller than 6’2 with their eight picks in the 2008 draft.   

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No. 7 Brayden Schenn, C, Brandon (WHL)

Schenn is a gritty, two-way forward from the WHL who should go somewhere between fourth to seventh in the draft. Schenn’s brother Luke is the new face of the Leafs. Having the two youngsters playing together in Toronto would be an excellent marketing and rebuilding opportunity. If Burke doesn’t trade up and Schenn is still available, there’s little doubt Toronto will draft him.