The Maple Leafs wrapped up a busy two days in St. Paul, Minnesota, adding a total of nine young draftees to the organization, eight of whom boast Canadian or American passports. With the nine selections, the Leafs targeted four forwards, four defensemen and a goaltender. While this year’s crop likely won’t yield much star power, the multitude of draft picks should help bolster organizational depth and provide at least a couple valuable contributors in a few years time.
With the trade deadline jettisons of Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg, the Maple Leafs managed to add a pair of late first round selections in a draft with plenty of depth. The team paired its 30th and 39th overall selections together to move up and select rugged American power forward Tyler Biggs at 22nd overall. Drawing comparisons to the likes of Milan Lucic and David Backes, Biggs should provide the kind of skilled toughness and downright nastiness that should make the NHL club a heckuva lot tougher to play against.
While the Stuart Percy selection may have been a bit of surprise at 25th overall, the consensus among league scouts seems to be that the Maple Leafs have added a quietly underrated defender with considerable upside. The Penguins’ chief OHL scout described Percy as a player who “plays with a great deal of poise, is extremely intelligent, and has the ability to control the game with his mistake-free hockey”. Percy may be a bit of an unknown right now, but an increased role next season in addition to a World Junior representation for Canada could really solidify his standing as one of the game’s up and coming blueliners.
With their subsequent selections, the Maple Leafs added a couple of intriguing players on the upswing. With their 3rd round selection, the club chose Sudbury Wolves’ forward Josh Leivo, a solid all-around player who boasts good size, strong skating ability, and a developing set of offensive skills. The young winger seemed to get better and better with each passing month and delivered an impressive playoff performance with 13 points in 8 games played. The organization then turned to Thommie Bergmann, nabbing Swedish defenseman Tom Nilsson in the 4th round. Nilsson is a bit of a sleeper here as one of the youngest players in the draft class. The stay-at-home defenseman has drawn comparisons to Nicklas Kronwall for his in-your-face style of game and tremendous hitting ability.
Heading into the draft, it could be argued that the Leafs greatest organizational needs were likely size amongst the forward corps as well as natural goal scoring ability. The club did manage to address the need for size and toughness in a “Biggs” way, but was unable to add some much needed goal scoring punch.
Beyond Matt Frattin and perhaps Greg McKegg, there aren’t a whole lot of Maple Leaf prospects who can consistently put the puck in the net. At this point, it looks like the club will focus on a scoring by committee approach with plenty of secondary offensive options like Brad Ross, Jerry D’Amigo and Tyler Biggs. Perhaps a move up the draft board for Sault Ste. Marie sniper Daniel Catenacci (77th overall to the Sabres) or Edmonton scorer Michael St. Croix (106th overall to the Rangers) would’ve addressed some of that need.
As a whole, the Maple Leafs also seemed to shy away from the European ranks a little bit, where teams such as the Red Wings have notoriously hunted for riskier, high upside prospects in the later rounds. A player such as Swiss forward Gregory Hoffman (103rd overall to the Hurricanes) for example, a highly skilled scorer who delivered an impressive World Juniors performance, might have been an intriguing gamble in the middle rounds.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, the Maple Leafs seem to have gone into the draft with the strategy to come away with at least a couple sure-fire NHL contributors and have likely succeeded in doing so with the Biggs and Percy selections. For the most part, the team has stuck to its recent draft philosophy under Brian Burke, targeting primarily high character players from the North American ranks with a very specifically defined set of skills. Size, toughness, physical play and work ethic were likely at the top of that list. When evaluating this particular Maple Leafs draft class years down the line, you probably won’t find a whole lot of star power, but the organization should reap the benefits of several capable young players on cheap, controllable contracts.