The rebuild â€˜officiallyâ€™ began June 20th, 2008.
â€œThe Toronto Maple Leafs are proud to select, with their first pick in this yearâ€™s draft, from the Kelowna Rockets â€“ Luke Schenn.â€
Weâ€™ve all heard those words, and likely relived that moment on Youtube. Mike Penny and his staff were all too happy to pick their future defensive stud. It was a moment that would tell the hockey world exactly what the Maple Leafs were going to be; big, tough and physical. No more pushing us over.
A year later and Burke was pronouncing the name, Nazem Kadri, to choruses of boos in the Bell Centre.
Having gone without a first round pick, following the controversial Phil Kessel trade, Leaf fans around the world have gone antsy. Itâ€™s no secret that the bulk of teams build their core through young players, mostly through the Entry Draft and sometimes getting lucky via trade. However, a year later and Toronto holds two picks, calming the collective nerves of those who follow the revered Blue and White.
So who might this future member of Leafs Nation be? Which player can we expect to possibly suit up with the Maple Leaf crest on his chest in the next couple of years? Letâ€™s take a look at some names that I believe Burke could target come June.
While not being an overly explosive skater, Phillips knows how to score. Playing alongside the likely Top 10 pick, Jonathan Huberdeau, at times, Phillips has really made a name for himself this season, rising into most first round discussions. Whether playing the wing on Huberdeauâ€™s line, or centering Saint Johnâ€™s second line, Phillips has put together a 95 point campaign, 38 of them being goals. The Fredricton native is known as a steady faceoff man with a talented pair of hands and a good read for the game. Pure scorers usually hold a lot of favour in scoutâ€™s eyes, and Phillips could be a guy who could get the job done.
This USHL Defender was wowing NHL Scouts a year ago, as a mobile two-way defender who was as capable as any in a shutdown role. At 6â€™4, 200 lbs, Mayfield boasts size along with his tremendous skating ability. Not only that, but Mayfield has good hockey sense and puck skills, leading some to wonder if he could have an offensive impact in the NHL. Playing in Youngstown of the USHL, Mayfield had a season to forget, with a lack of any real coaching or team support. Playing upwards of 35 minutes a night at any given time, Mayfield looked sluggish later in games and forced mental errors. Something of a project pick, it would be in Torontoâ€™s (or whoever takes him) best interest to get Mayfield into a new hockey program ASAP.
Another American, Miller impressed scouts with a monstrous Under 18 tournament this past month, helping his US Squad along to gold. The thing that impresses most about the Ohio born center is his top end speed when he gets room. Watching him during the Under 18â€™s, I jokingly remarked â€œMiller si so fast, he makes fast people lookâ€¦ not fast.â€ To go along with the skating, Miller has good size at 6â€™1, a good shot and a real knack for the game. Scouts remark that when Miller is at his best, is when his head is on straight and heâ€™s thinking, rather than doing. Miller is a good option after the 20 mark for a team looking for a playmaking option down the middle.
If you havenâ€™t already, do take a look at Alex Tranâ€™s piece on Mark Scheifele. There is some talk of him possibly being available around where Toronto is likely to pick.
But what of this talk of â€˜trading up?â€™ In recent interviews, Burke has admitted that his scouting staff is determined to pick twice in the Top 40. With two firsts and a high second round pick (39th Overall) in their bag, Burke has been rumoured to be attempting to trade up; likely into the top 15 if at all possible.
Ranked to go somewhere between tenth and fifteenth overall, Mark McNeill made a name for himself this season. Arguably the second best available player for the WHL, after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, McNeill shot up the lists from a late first round selection earlier in the year. A big kid at 6â€™2, 210 lbs, McNeill is a â€˜Burke-type Playerâ€™ if I ever saw one. A strong two-way center, McNeill uses his size to his advantage to protect the puck. Heâ€™s a playmaker by trade, but isnâ€™t exactly a flashy player. He keeps the game simple. Going into the corners to fetch pucks, driving to the net to finish off a play, or setting up his winger in a scoring position, McNeill is that all-around forward. Some questions surround his overall offensive ability, but having played a checking role with Team Canada at the Under 18â€™s, McNeill should be able to play that at the NHL Level, if his offense never pans out. He has soft hands a strong hockey IQ, and draws favourable comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf. Need I say more? The Prince Albert Raider was able to propel his club to a playoff spot without much in the way of a supporting cast. Itâ€™s no wonder scouts love him.
Whoever Burke comes out with in the first round, Dave Morrison and his staff will be more than happy to introduce him with the Leafs sweater draped over his shoulders. Always a proud day in all thirty organizations, letâ€™s all be excited for the future of the Buds.