Rewind a year to Ottawa, when interim GM Cliff Fletcher was preparing to make his last great splash. Trading up to secure hard hitting blueliner Luke Schenn, a player unto which the Leafs hoped to bank their revival, set in motion a summer of upheaval paving the way for Brian Burke to step in mid-season. For many the draft of 2008 marked an era of realization, that change was required and perhaps finally the Leafs were going to commit to a full scale rebuild based on the youth model in Pittsburgh.
Naturally for such expectations to become tangible, the Leafs were going to have to shake their dismal record of development. As of June 20th last year, only five of the thirty two players drafted since 2003 had made the big boys team compared to thirteen in the Stanley Cup finalist Penguins stable and seventeen in the soon to be resurgent Chicago.
Of course those numbers have improved in hindsight. Kulemin, Mitchell and Oreskovic all saw action in light of Fletcherâ€™s summer driftwood cleanout, and that goes without mentioning Luke Schenn.
Eventually taken fifth overall, many expected the fresh faced shutdown specialist to see limited ice time if taken out of the CHL at all. Yet with the Leafs eyeing up NHL ready talent going into 2008, Schenn went on to star in a maligned defensive corps whose numbers were proportionally a product of poor goaltending compared to defensive breakdowns. In fact, prior to the end of season malaise that took over after the playoffs began slipping out of reach; the Maple Leafs spent the majority of the season in the top half of averaged shots against and Luke Schenn, who tallied 21 minutes and 32 seconds of ice time a game, was a leading component in arguably Torontoâ€™s most consistent department.
It goes without saying then that Schenn, an nineteen year old Saskatoon boy now branded savior, has had the smoothest transition to the NHL than any Maple Leafs draftee for over a decade, but the former Kelowna Rocket was just one of eight players taken in last years draft. With all eyes now focused on the Bell Center Entry Draft 2009 perhaps now would be a good time to look at the development of those who have just completed their first seasons within the system.
Selected: 1st Round, 5th Overall
Junior Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)
GP: 70 Goals: 2 Assists: 12 Points: 14 PIM: 71
Born: November 2nd 1989 Birthplace: Saskatoon, SK
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 216lbs
NHL Projection: Already there.
From 20th overall in his WHL bantam draft, Schenn has gone from little known stay-at-home D-Man to dependable, hard hitting NHL defender extraordinaire. One of many to make the immediate step from the draft to the big time league-wide last season, Schenn time and time again played well ahead of his years. With his low offensive numbers, understated play and playoff free surroundings Schenn was perhaps undeservedly overlooked for Calder consideration and, although tiring toward the end of the season, remained a key component in a Toronto side showing the early signs of potential.
Having long transcended the moniker of â€œprospect,â€ Schenn is facing an altogether different path of development to those selected alongside him. Having earned assistant captaincy honors in his last year at Kelowna, Schenn will be seen as a potential leader in years to come.
While many believe he could be used as trade bait for the upcoming draft, Burkeâ€™s idiosyncratically pragmatic response to repeated rumors still ere on the side of keeping him in Toronto. Only time will tell if Burke really wants to push for a top three pick in 2009.
Meanwhile Schenn used his early seasons end to push for a place in the 2010 Canadian Olympics team. Taken to the 2009 IIHF World Championships with team Canada, his first senior junket after a successful international junior career, Schenn played in all nine games leading to defeat in the championship game. Averaging just 6 minutes 53 seconds and scoring one assist, Schenn found his role severely diminished after playoff failures Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Braydon Coburn joined the team.
With two years left on his entry level contract and supposing he is not shipped in favor of a higher draft pick in years to come, Schenn has shown his ability to play an integral part in the resurgence of the Maple Leafs.
Selected: 2nd Round, 60th Overall
Position: Right Wing
Junior Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Boston College (NCAA)
GP: 36 Goals: 8 Assists: 5 Points: 13 PIM: 22
Born: November 21st 1989 Birthplace: Boston, MA
Height: 6â€™5â€ Weight: 210lbs
NHL Projection: In time a possible third line power forward.
One of several 2008 alumni going the NCAA route, Jimmy Hayes watched his stock fall precipitously in a draft year marred by inconsistencies in his play, not to mention surroundings. An early top rated prospect out of USNTD evaluation camp in 2007, Hayes split time as an overager in the USNDT Under 18 program and the Lincoln Stars of the USHL in 2007-â€™08 before falling to rank 65.
Self described as a power forward in the mould of Keith Tkachuk to whom Hayes is a second cousin, those who followed the young Bostonian through the US development program and USHL believe he was a victim of overhype.
With a big frame and smooth hands, the consensus has been that Hayes overzealous ranking came from projections his hockey sense would develop in sync with his body. Instead many now see Hayes as a youth who developed a big frame early on and used his physicality to overpower those in his age bracket; then got left behind as others caught up.
Unfortunately 2008-â€™09 did little to quiet his naysayers. Retaining the inconsistent offensive displays from his time in the USHL, Hayes struggled to assert himself on a Boston College team where he was used sparingly on the third and fourth lines and at times looked overwhelmed at college level.
Perhaps suffering from the intense focus, Hayes has yet to truly improve on the weaknesses attributed to his ISS ranking plummet. His awkward skating, a side effect of his height, still looks as if it needs significant work and while his work ethic is unquestioned his lack of hockey sense can leave him isolated from games. While his great hands have at times proven good when behind the net, Hayes still needs to apply his physicality to be truly effective as a power forward.
Nonetheless, for those keen to pan Hayes he was the only 18 year old freshman to make Bostonâ€™s offensive unit and eleventh on team scoring was certainly no slight on a rookie collegiate player. Still penned in as the big draft disappointment, Hayes will improve over the long development cycle NCAA hockey affords. With a sharper onus on his skating and physical application Hayes could yet surprise, the key will be his sophomore efforts.
Selected: 4th Round 98th Overall
Junior Team: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
GP: 56 Goals: 49 Assists: 27 Points: 76 PIM: 17
Born: November 27th 1989 Birthplace: Minsk, Belarus
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 202lbs
NHL Projection: Second line centerman aided by a new found zeal for the game
The only Belarusian selected in the 2008 draft, Stefanovich entered as the QMJHLâ€™s top scoring rookie and a standout performer from the 2008 CHL Prospects game. Regarded early on as a potential top ten selection; Stefanovich was later panned by scouts for his inconsistent output and lapsing work ethic. Subsequently passed over for Saturday deliberation, the Leafs pounced while other GMâ€™s sought out the muffin cart.
Twelve months on and if Hayes was a gamble waiting on the river card, Stefanovich is looking the archetypal steal of day two. Seemingly rejuvenated by his draft selection Stefanovich upped his offensive production exponentially this season while transforming himself into a rounded team player within the Quebec Remparts organization. Eventually finishing 17th overall in scoring, Stefanovich was the QMJHLâ€™s third highest goal scorer in a season slightly shortened while away at the World Juniors Division 1A tournament.
Noted for a tight and compact skill set alongside a mix of natural size and strength Stefanovich is still working on a lolloping skating action which tends to stunt his acceleration. Regardless, with a hockey sense many describe as second to none, the revitalized junior has shown a greater willingness to get involved in the dirty zones in front of the net while still making his name as a sharpshooter.
Now on a fast track to the NHL, some are already touting Stefanovich as a future line mate to fellow countryman Mikhail Grabovski.
Whether the Leafs choose to bring him up to a professional level next season waits to be seen, another year in the CHL wouldnâ€™t hurt to toughen him up. If Stefanovich can put big numbers up in the flagging Q next year expect him to be in contention straight out of training camp in 2010.
Greg Pateryn (Traded July 3rd 2008 to the Montreal Canadiens alongside a second round pick 2010 for Mikhail Grabovski)
Selected: 5th Round 128th Overall
Junior Team: Ohio Junior Blue Jackets (USHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: University of Michigan (NCAA)
GP: 28 Goals: 0 Assists: 5 Points: 5 PIM: 32
Born: June 20th 1990 Birthplace: Sterling Heights, MI
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 212lbs
NHL Projection: Chances improve by the season, shaping into a defensive defenseman with clout
Noted as a sizeable defensive presence, Pateryn was a much sought after commodity when the University of Michigan started inviting to interviews. Having played in the 2008 USHL all-star game, the former Michigan All-State and Rice Warriors captain advertised a good blend of physicality and offense with defensive defenseman sensibilities. Matched with a good transitional passing game, Pateryn was a prototypical Red Berenson enrollee whose heavy hitting could light up a crowd.
Becoming the first of a triumvirate of picks in the 5th round for Toronto, Pateryn had hardly touched base when he found himself traded away to a Montreal organization that had shown considerable interest in the Michigan native prior to selection.
Having expected to play out another season with the Junior Blue Jackets, the highly thought of D-man found himself in the NCAA a year early. Compared favorably to the likes of Niklas Kronwall and Dion Phaneuf Pateryn, who often played on the powerplay in the USHL, was used reluctantly from the start of the season after the Wolverines were decimated by injuries.
Initially struggling with the pace of the collegiate game, Pateryn became a useful depth defender whose raw game came on leaps and bounds in his plugging role.
Now scaling the Canadiens prospect ladder, Pateryn could be one of those what-have-we-missed-out-on draftees. While the mechanics of the trade have worked well so far with Grabovski a highlight in a season full of lows, Pateryn remains a popular long shot in Canadien circles while Grabovski remains potential trade bait.
Selected: 5th Round 129th Overall
Junior Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Chicoutimi Saguenees (28 games) Prince Edward Island Rockets (24 Games)
GP(Total): 52 Goals(Total): 24 Assists(Total): 37 Points(Total): 61
Born: January 24th 1990 Birthplace: Chateauguay, QC
Height: 6â€™4â€ Weight: 210lbs
NHL Projection: A once at-best fourth liner moving up in the world.
A number one rated QMJHL midget prospect who fell to tenth overall, Champagne repeated the trick of early expectations and stinted latter development when he attracted NHL draft scouts.
At one point ranked amongst the top twenty for 2008, it took somewhat longer for Champagneâ€™s name to go up on the draft board alongside the Maple Leafs badge. This apparent failure was oftentimes attributed to a player of undeniable pedigree who struggled to tap his potential.
Indeed prior to his trade from Chicoutimi to PEI, Champagne was on course for another underwhelming season. However, upon receiving increased ice time and responsibility with the Rockets, Champagne finally found the second gear he had so often threatened and some of the weaknesses in his base game such as his skating, puck handling and physical application appeared to improve with his renewed confidence.
Now valued as a realistic prospect still armed with a fantastic faceoff, Champagne has learnt to control games with his size and hockey sense and has begun to get dirty in front of net where his newfound physicality has proved a boon.
In many ways the slate is now clean for Champagne. Still a couple of years from NHL ready, the Quebecois has to prove he can be an offensive leader consistently. While his two-way play and hands are safe he has to show the same drive he did in his new surrounds next year. If he does, the sky is the limit for a player who could yet slip into obscurity.
Selected: 5th Round 130th Overall
Position: Left Wing
Junior Team: Koln Sharks (DEL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Koln Sharks (DEL)
GP: 43 Goals: 5 Assists: 11 Points: 16
Born: March 2nd 1990 Birthplace: Guben, Germany
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 187lbs
NHL Projection: Third line energy player.
As is so often the case with draftees from Germany, a nation which drills their young sportsmen with the basics, Flaake is one of those rarest of juniorsâ€¦ a great, lightning fast skater with technically proficient stick handling and offensive awareness.
Having dominated the junior development league scoring 80 points in 36 games before earning a call up to the seniors as a seventeen year old last year, Flaake saw his ice time and numbers increase exponentially as an 18-19 year old this season in the DEL. Playing alongside and against seasoned veterans on a weekly basis Flaakeâ€™s 16 points, up from just one single assist last year, was good enough for 13th on his team while posting an plus 2 on a Koln side that has suffered one of its worst seasons in living memory.
While many may struggle to get excited by Flaakeâ€™s seemingly meager DEL totals, when matched up against players of a similar age at the IIHF World Junior Championships, Flaake tallied a team leading five points on a German side that could only manage 9th overall on route to relegation.
Expected to stay in Germany to honor his contract with the largely North American veterans of the DEL, it goes without saying Flaake could tare up the WHL where he reportedly wishes to play. With Koln unlikely to release his contract however, Flaake is committed to another year in Europeâ€™s slowest major league.
Whether Flaake needs CHL experience remains a matter of conjecture, with the rumblings around Koln suggesting he will not be renewing his contract at seasonâ€™s end Flaake could realistically be playing in the AHL come 2010. In the meantime he remains a real find who still needs to work on his two way game and physique. If those final pieces fall into place his previous exposure to professional hockey will prove a head start over many juniors reaching the NHL.
Selected: 6th Round 158th Overall
Junior Team: Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Boston University (NCAA)
GP: 12 Wins: 6 Losses: 4 Save%: .897 GAA: 2.13
Born: July 24th 1989 Birthplace: Chilliwack, BC
Height: 6â€™4â€ Weight: 195lbs
NHL Projection: A great story that could still have a Hollywood ending.
With the resurgence of James Reimer in the Maple Leafs system Grant Rollheiserâ€™s mountainous path to the NHL seems even more formidable than when he was drafted a year ago. As a freshman at the NCAA championship winning Terriers, Rollheiser played just 12 games behind fellow rookie Kieran Milan.
Still, having not made the midget team in his native Chilliwack, the tall gangly netminder has come along way to third ranked goaltending prospect in an NHL organization and much of the feedback in light of a freshman year marred by an early injury has been positive.
From Junior B to NCAA championship backup in three seasons its little wonder the Leafs prior to draft where impressed by the affable youngsters phenomenal work ethic not to mention his six foot four frame. Having made giant leaps through a career of steep learning curves, Rollheiser will enjoy some consistency next year as he battles for the starting role in Boston.
Were he to become number one next season Rollheiser, an extremely late developer who had his pick of universities last spring, will have three full years to reach his still uncapped potential before having to think about turning pro. With so much time in the long game that is netminder development, Rollheiser has established his stall well. If he can continue taking the same kind of strides he enjoyed in the Canadian junior system Rollheiser could become a future pro at some level. Whether that is NHL level remains to be seen.
Selected: 7th Round 188th Overall
Junior Team: Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
2008-â€™09 Team: Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
GP: 57 Goals: 8 Assists: 21 Points: 29 PIM: 220
Born: March 25th 1990 Birthplace: Calgary, AB
Height: 6â€™2â€ Weight: 214lbs
NHL Projection: Missing out on a season of collegiate hockey will set him back but an impressive improvement in numbers in an otherwise unspectacular league.
Confirmed for the University of North Dakota when drafted by the Leafs, the raw defensive defenseman found himself back in the junior A loop this year when the Fighting Sioux couldnâ€™t find him a place on their roster.
Still marked as a tough stay at home kind of blueliner MacWilliam, whose impressive Junior A resume includes roster spots on the CJAHL prospects team, AJHL South Division All-Star team and gold medal winning 2007 Team Canada West, will be desperate to play collegiate hockey next year.
Those chances were certainly not harmed by his impressive offensive upturn this season improving to 29 points over 13 the year before while adding an impressive amount of grit to his already rugged game. With a great character marred by awful skating MacWilliam remains a distant project buried in the Leafs system. A few seasons with the Sioux could decide where his career leads.
That said, if one quote speaks volumes for MacWilliam itâ€™s this scouting report from Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting Dave Morrison â€œCharacter guyâ€¦ Heâ€™d block a shot with his face.â€