While Hockey’s Future has yet to release their top 10 organizational prospect rankings, the highly-respected source for prospect information has released their 11-20 and 21-30 lists. To the pleasant surprise of many, the Leafs aren’t on either of them.
Adding to the joy, division rivals Buffalo, Montreal and Ottawa have all already appeared in the 13th, 16th and 21st positions respectively.
Call it a small victory, but this is quietly a watershed moment for Leafs fans as supporters of an organization consistently berated by mainstream pundits and opposition fans for their – somewhat overblown – underperformance at the draft table.
It is likely that the Kessel trade will see the Leafs significantly slip down these rankings in the next few years. Unless a certain Czech blue-liner is on his way out, there will likely not be any first round-drafted talent entering the system in the next two seasons. Additionally, the likes of Tyler Bozak, Carl Gunnarsson, Viktor Stalberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Christian Hanson are still considered prospects at this time. However, to have the acquisitions of Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel supplemented by an up-and-coming “top 10″ prospect group is most promising no matter the semantics.
It speaks to Burke’s all-compass ability to rebuild his club by importing young talent. Three of the above mentioned players were all acquired through trade or free agent signings; impressive in itself. While a great season (not to mention playoff) from Nazem Kadri has him ranked 13th in HF’s top prospects list posted in late March, in terms of prime young talent Burke has decided to invest in the more established likes of Kessel and Phaneuf. Where Burke, and John Ferguson Jr., have done well is in accumulating prospect depth, one of the criteria by which HF ranks organizations.
Jesse Blacker and Jesse D’Amigo both had impressive post-draft year campaigns. Chris Didomenico and James Reimer took steps forward in proving their value to the organization. Despite a return to junior this season, Dale Mitchell can’t be forgotten about. Jimmy Hayes, Keith Aulie, Mikhail Stefanovich, Phillipe Paradis and Kenny Ryan continue to offer potential.
Burke’s relentless pursuit in acquiring the likes of Bozak, Hanson and Gustavsson and his continued endeavours, relative to the likes of Mats Zucarrello-Aasen (who opted for NYR after Burke extended a two-year offer) and Jussi Rynnas among others, gives us promise and belief that we won’t constantly struggle to make up ground on lost picks. Although it’s unlikely the Leafs crack the top five when the final rankings are revealed, it all gives us something to take solace in as we sit on the sidelines of post-season hockey.