Toronto Maple Leafs got surprising value out of late 2007 draft picks

By John-Eric Iannicello
Photo: Selected in 194th overall in 2007, Carl Gunnarson has developed into a solid, two-way defenseman for the Maple Leafs, appearing in over 160 NHL games to date. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

In his last draft with the Maple Leafs, John Ferguson Jr. once again went shopping for goaltending help at the expense of future assets.

After the failed acquisition of Andrew Raycroft only one year prior, Ferguson turned to the San Jose Sharks in an effort to bolster the goaltending position.

A day prior to when the Leafs would have picked 13th overall, Ferguson acquired 30-year-old net minder Vesa Toskala and 27-year-old Mark Bell. The Maple Leafs sent picks 13, 44, and a 2009 fourth-round pick to San Jose in the deal. The 13th overall selection would be moved yet again when the Sharks used it to move up and acquire emerging-star center Logan Couture, ninth overall. Lars Eller would end up being the 13th selection for the St. Louis Blues.

Both Toskala’s and Bell’s careers with the Maple Leafs would be short lived.

Without a first or second round selection, the Maple Leafs made their first selection at 74th overall in the third round. The Maple Leafs made six selections in total during the 2007 Entry-Draft.

Dale Mitchell, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – 3rd round, 74th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Local boy Dale Mitchell (ranked 45th by Central Scouting) recorded 43 goals and 37 assists in 67 games for the Oshawa Generals during his draft year. Despite his lack of size, Mitchell had a strong build and a feisty demeanor. His offensive production the following season would drop to 23 goals and 36 assists in 60 games. He would then find himself part of a deal that sent him to the Windsor Spitfires where he played a key role in capturing back-to-back Memorial Cup championships. Through two seasons with the Spitfires, he managed 49 goals and 62 assists for 111 points in 98 games.

Joining the Marlies full-time in 2010-11, Mitchell played a depth role and appeared in 49 games. He tallied five goals and eight assists for 15 points. That spring, Mitchell suffered an ACL injury in the playoffs that required surgery and subsequent rehab.

This past season, after a summer of recovery, Mitchell has seen the bulk of his season with the Reading Royals in the ECHL. He’s played in 24 games with the club and has been a key offensive threat producing 13 goals and 11 assists.

He’s making a strong case for an AHL call-up should the opportunity arise, and will look to build on a strong first-half. At 22 years old, Mitchell will need to find a niche for himself at the AHL level as the Maple Leafs will soon see more youth join their AHL ranks next season.

Matt Frattin, RW, Fort Saskatchewan (AJHL) – 4th round, 99th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 38

Selected in the 4th round, Matt Frattin (ranked 115th by Central Scouting) was a late blooming scoring forward who was the AJHL Rookie of the Year after scoring 49 goals and 34 assists in 58 games.

He went on to play four seasons for North Dakota in the NCAA and really didn’t make a name for himself until a tumultuous junior season that saw Frattin deal with off-ice incidents. After a reflective break from the team, Frattin returned an improved player. He showed much more dominance, focus and dedication to hockey both on and off the ice.

Frattin’s senior year would be his coming out party. Not only was he a gifted goal scorer, netting 36 goals in 44 games, but he was faster and an extremely physically dominant player. He finished the season with 60 points and received a number of accolades including WCHA Player of the Year and finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

Expectations were high for Frattin after he signed his entry-level deal with the Maple Leafs. His physical attributes, skating ability and knack for scoring had many pegging him into the opening night roster. He was able to steal a spot in camp as a bottom-six forward, but wasn’t able to produce offensively as many had hoped. In 37 games Frattin netted five goals and added five assists. He was eventually re-assigned to the Marlies where he’s since played a key role in the top-six. He has eight goals and three assists in 14 games with the club.

Frattin’s game has translated very well to the pros. Whether or not he’ll be a scorer at the NHL level has yet to be decided. But he has all the tools to be a successful and long-term NHL player.

Ben Winnett, LW, Salmon Arm (BCHL) – 4th round, 104th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Another Maple Leafs prospect selected from the Western Junior A league was Ben Winnett (ranked 90th by Central Scouting). Described as a complete forward with great speed, Winnett was a promising pick that was headed to four years of NCAA development. In his draft year he had tallied 27 goals and 30 assists in an injury plagued 39 game season.

However, Winnett failed to develop the offensive side of the game that many had seen at the BCHL level. In 157 career games with the University of Michigan, Winnett notched 21 goals and added 27 helpers for 48 points.

Winnett’s NHL rights expired at the end of his NCAA career when the Maple Leafs opted not to tender him an offer, and is currently a free-agent. The 22-year-old has since joined the Dayton Gems in the CHL where he has five goals and four assists in 21 games.

Juraj Mikus, D, Slovaki Trencin (Slovakia) – 5th round, 134th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A project pick worthy of a gamble in the fifth round, Juraj Mikus (ranked 27th for European Skaters by Central Scouting) hasn’t quite lived up to the offensive expectations that he displayed early in his career.

During his draft year Mikus was able to put up nine goals and 15 assists in 42 games in the Slovakian U-20 league. The main issue for Mikus was to fill out his frame to become a more dominant defenseman, and to this day it’s still an area that requires improvement. In his draft year, Mikus was 6’4, but an extremely lanky 185lbs.

Joining the Marlies for his rookie season in 2009-10 Mikus established himself very well with five goals and 18 assists in 68 games. The following year he slumped and dealt with various minor injuries, but was still able to contribute four goals and 12 assists in 56 games.

This year, his offensive production has taken a nose dive. While the Marlies don’t produce a ton of offense from their defenders, the 23-year-old was expected to tally more than the four assists he currently has.

Still, Mikus shows flashes of potential that made him an interesting pick in 2007. With added depth and the development of other defensive prospects, Mikus may need to carve his NHL path with another team.

Chris DiDomenico, C, Saint John (QMJHL) – 6th round, 164th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

A feel good story for the draft, DiDomenico was passed over in the OHL draft, but signed on with the Saint John Sea Dogs as a free-agent. Undersized and lacking high-end skating ability, DiDomenico fell to the Maple Leafs in the sixth round. The Woodbridge native put up great numbers during his draft year, leading the Sea Dogs in scoring with 25 goals and 50 assists in 70 games. He finished third in league scoring that year also, behind talents such as Jakub Voracek (PHI) and David Perron (STL).

He continued to produce at a high rate for the remainder of his QMJHL career; finishing with 90 goals and 251 points in 203 games. He was also a member of Canada’s U-20 squad where he scored two goals and five assists in six games.

A promising junior career was threatened by a serious leg injury during the 2008-09 playoffs. DiDomenico had fallen awkwardly into the boards chasing down an icing call, breaking his kneecap and femur in the process. After a long rehab, he returned to the ice in mid February the following season and was a key player for Drummondville down the stretch and in the playoffs.

DiDomenico never did suit up for the Maple Leafs organization as he was dealt in the summer of 2010 in the deal that acquired Kris Versteeg. Since the trade, DiDomenico has just started to establish himself in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs.

Carl Gunnarsson, D, Linkoping HC (Sweden) – 7th round, 194th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 164

Drafted as a 20-year-old, Gunnarsson was already playing in the Swedish Elite League when the Maple Leafs picked him 194th overall. He had appeared in 30 games with Linköping and scored two goals and assisted twice for four points.

Gunnarsson continued to trend upwards at a rapid pace. He spent the next two seasons in Sweden and continued to develop into an all-round defender. He also appeared on the international stage for Sweden at the World Championships before joining the Maple Leafs squad in 2009-10.

He started his North American career with the Marlies, but it only lasted 12 games before he would join the Maple Leafs full-time in November. In his rookie-year, he appeared in 43 games and had three goals and 12 assists to go with a plus-eight rating. He was also sidelined for 22 games due to an elbow injury.

Gunnarsson has steadily progressed into a top-four defender for the Maple Leafs. This season he’s logged an average ice-time of 22-minutes per game and at the age of 25, he’s played in all-situations.