Maple Leafs 2005 draft evaluation

By John-Eric Iannicello

The Maple Leafs went into the 2005 draft with a need to add quality depth to their system, specifically goaltending. The goaltending depth only consisted of Justin Pogge and Jean-Francois Racine – both considered long-term projects at the time.

In the 2003 and 2004 drafts, the Maple Leafs were without their first-round selections, so the need to come away with something tangible to build around in 2005 was vital to their future success.

They entered the draft with six selections starting with the 21st overall selection. Trades for veteran talent such as Brian Leetch, and Ron Francis left the Maple Leafs without a second and fourth-round selection in 2005. Two of their six picks are currently playing in the NHL – just not for the Maple Leafs, and only two of the selections remain Maple Leafs property today.

Tuukka Rask, G, Ilves (SM-Liiga) – 1st round, 21st overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 50

Rask was the top-rated European goaltender in the 2005 draft and arguably the best goaltending prospect in the draft. When the Maple Leafs selected him 21st overall, they acquired a goaltender who gave the Maple Leafs someone to build around for the future.

The following year, Rask began to establish himself as one of, if not the best goaltending prospects in the world. With Ilves he posted 2.09 goals against average, and also an impressive .926 save percentage. It wasn’t until the World Juniors in 2005-06 when he became more widely known.

Justin Pogge and Rask both displayed top-level goaltending in the tournament. Rask, although finished with a bronze, was named the tournament’s top goaltender and was on the tournament All-Star team.

Not long after that though, at the following NHL draft the Maple Leafs made a calculated decision and traded Rask to their division rival Boston for 26-year-old, former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft. Buying low and selling high the Maple Leafs hoped that with a change of scenery they would get a legit starting netminder to enter the following season with. But Raycroft was unable to bounce back to his Calder form and was eventually bought out by the club.

Rask would spend the following two seasons with the Providence Bruins, adjusting to the North American style of game. In the 102 games, Rask played in the AHL, he had a 60-33-6 record, 2.43 goals against, and a strong .911 save percentage.

Today, Rask has continued to improve his game and is starting to bud into the star goaltender many thought he would become. While some may argue his stats are inflated due to the defensive style Boston plays, Rask has put up top goaltending numbers (1.97 goals against, .931 save percentage) in 45 games this year while carrying the Bruins to a playoff spot.

At 23, Rask is only starting to scratch the surface of his potential.

Phil Oreskovic, D, Brampton Battalion (OHL) – 3rd round, 82nd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 10

Selected in the third round, it was no secret that a player of Oreskovic’s talent was more suited in a pre-lockout NHL. Still, the Maple Leafs selected the 6’3 defender, hoping he would develop into a strong shut-down defender down the line.

Oreskovic played two more seasons in the OHL before making the jump to the pros. He completed the 2005-06 season with Brampton where he recorded a career high in penalty minutes with 202. For his efforts, he was named best defensive defender, and best body checker in the Eastern Conference OHL Coaches Poll.

After the 2006-07 season, Oreskovic made the jump to the pros, playing both in the ECHL and AHL. In the ECHL he played for the Columbia Inferno where he recorded four points in 13 games. The rest of the year he spent with the Marlies playing in 54 games and amassing 68 penalty minutes.

Oreskovic continues to play a key role for the Marlies and is the same hard-nosed defender he was when he was drafted. He’s also seen a short stint with the Maple Leafs, and in 10 games in 2008-09, Oreskovic scored once and assisted on another while also collecting 21 penalty minutes.

While questions still surround his overall skating ability, it’s an area that has improved in his time with the Marlies. At 23, he’s looking like a depth defender in the Maple Leafs system.

Alex Berry, RW, Boston Jr. Bruins (EJHL) – 5th round, 153rd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

In an effort to bolster their size within their prospect pool, the Maple Leafs selected 6’2 winger Alex Berry out of the EJHL. He was a member of the championship Boston Jr. Bruins team where he scored 21 goals and 31 assists in 63 games.

The following four seasons Berry spent playing in the NCAA with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Berry wasn’t very productive offensively until his senior year when he recorded 11 goals, 19 assists in 37 games.

Berry signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs at the end of the 2008-09 season and played 55 games with the Toronto Marlies the following season. He also saw time with the Reading Royals in the ECHL, playing in five regular-season games and 16 through the playoffs.

At 24 and currently a depth player on a weak Marlies roster, Berry is unlikely to ever reach the NHL level unless he’s able to turn himself into a quality utility forward.

Johan Dahlberg, LW, MoDo Jr. (Sweden) – 6th round, 173rd overall
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Another player who was selected to add a bit of muscle to the Maple Leafs system was Swedish forward Johan Dahlberg.

For the Maple Leafs, Dahlberg ended up being the worst pick of the 2005 draft. Selected from the MoDo Jr. team, Dahlberg failed to raise his level of play high enough to compete on the biggest Swedish hockey stage – the SEL.

In 2005-06, Dahlberg returned to Sweden’s junior league and scored 18 goals, and 27 assists while racking up a whopping 194 points in only 41 games. While he moved to the men’s division for the 2006-07 season, he was unable to establish himself as a legit player on Sundsvall, only recording two goals and two assists in 44 games. Again, Dahlberg’s stats spiked when it came to penalty minutes with 101.

The following three seasons Dahlberg played in Division 1 with Hudiksvalls HC. Through 71 games Dahlberg has 25 goals and 24 assists while also collecting 192 penalty minutes. He’s also under contract with Hudiksvalls HC for the 2010-11 season.

Anton Stralman, D, Sk"vde IK (Swe-1) – 7th round, 216th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 161

The best value pick the Maple Leafs made in 2005 was selecting lanky Anton Stralman in the seventh round out of Sweden’s second tier league. Stralman was eligible to be selected in 2004, but opted out in hopes of being selected higher in 2005.

Shifting away from the big, bruising types that they selected in the three picks prior, the Maple Leafs opted to go with skill – and it paid off. Stralman was seen as a slick puck-moving defender with a hard shot from the point; his weaknesses included his inconsistency in his physical play and defensive lapses.

It wasn’t until the 2006-07 season when the hype started to surround Stralman after a successful season with Timra in the SEL and impressive play on the international stage. Coming to Toronto only perpetuated the hype further as is the case for most Maple Leaf prospects. Expectations were high on Stralman, his name was being bantered about in the same breath as legendary Swedish defenseman Niklas Lidstrom, and many were penciling him as the successor to Tomas Kaberle.

Not only was Stralman not the second coming of Lidstrom, but Kaberle outlasted Stralman. When Brian Burke was hired one of his first moves leading up to the trade for Phil Kessel was dealing the 23-year-old Stralman to acquire a second-round selection in 2011. Stralman was waiver eligible, and after bringing in a few defensive bodies via free agency, Stralman was seen as the odd man out – a controversial move for a team that was looking to build with youth.

Stralman’s stay in Calgary was also short, after failing to win a roster spot in camp he was shipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a third-round selection in 2010. Stralman found his stride in Columbus, developing into a top-four offensive defender putting up six goals and 28 assists in 73 games to lead all Blue Jacket defenders in scoring. On the other hand, he was also a team-worst -17 which was attributed to the amount of ice time he had (averaged 20 minutes a night) and his weakness in the defensive zone.

Today, Stralman faces much of the same weaknesses he was labeled with in 2005, but his ability to put up points allows him to keep a roster spot on the Columbus blue line and at 23 he still has a bright future ahead of him.

Chad Rau, C, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) – 7th round, 228th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

With their last selection, the Maple Leafs gambled on a pure offensive forward in Chad Rau. Although he wasn’t the biggest player, and questions surrounded his skating he had the natural ability of putting the puck in the back of the net.

Selected out of the USHL, Rau had a very productive season, scoring 31 goals and 40 assists in 71 games for the Buccaneers in 2004-05.

The next four seasons, Rau spent at Colorado College, and in 159 career NCAA games he hovered around a point per game, scoring 73 goals and 67 assists. Still, there were questions around his ability to keep up at the pro level.

Although Rau had a very successful college career, the Maple Leafs did not tender him a contract and he was signed to a professional deal by the Houston Aeros for the 2009-10 season. Rau had a very productive first year with the Aeros; he scored 19 goals and 19 assists in 79 games (fourth in team scoring).

With his early AHL success he was signed by the Minnesota Wild to a two-year entry-level deal.