Don Cherry said something nonsensical with no basis in fact, guys. Let’s talk about this.



We’ve heard Don Cherry rail about this type of thing before. It is one of my favourite misinformed Cherry rants (no sarcasm, Don entertains me and makes me laugh regularly and I’d love to become his tweeting scribe if the woman who does it now ever tires or if Don outlives her).

It’s hilarious that Cherry believes Eric Knodel, signed yesterday, is some fancy pants college kid who thinks he is above riding buses like all the Canadian semi-professionals do up north, and in some way Knodel hasn’t earned his way into this low-commitment one-year contract. The guy was a long shot, essentially drafted out of high school because of his ‘measurables.’ It was essentially the same pick as the Barron Smith selection two rounds later in the same draft (a big defenceman, he was the son of Steve Smith who played for the Petes. Being from Peterborough and having seen him play, I could’ve confidently told you he had as much of a chance at an NHL contract as I did). Knodel was a raw project player who played one year in the USHL and four in the NCAA, steadily improving along the way and earning himself an NHL entry-level contract at the end of his college career. It’s a story we should all get behind.

First of all, even if Cherry’s claim was true, there is nothing inherently wrong with it unless we can prove it’s what is leading to poor drafting by the Leafs, or dumb free agent signings, or something. But let’s start with the draft, and run the numbers on this claim that the Leafs favour Americans out of the college system for those who might actually still believe there’s some modicum of truth to it. There are certainly Leafs fans out there who will be taking Cherry’s complaint at face value without knowing the facts.

Let’s start with a Canadians/Americans/Europeans breakdown. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll consider draft classes from 2009-2013 (Burke’s first draft to the most recent one, spanning 1053 picks).

Canadians485 (46%)17 (50%)
Americans279 (26.5%)10 (29.4%)
Euros288 (27.3%)7 (21%)
Total Picks105334

No surprise as this is well documented. The Leafs draft above the League average in terms of Canadians drafted. They also pick above the League average in terms of Americans drafted, and obviously are therefore below the mean in European draft selections. Really, Cherry should be pleased.

As for the whole Ontario players fiasco that took place between Brian Burke, Ron McLean and Cherry when  Burke was still GM, by the way, that was debunked at the time, if you don’t recall. Here is the updated data:

Ontarians Drafted (NHL)Ontarians Drafted (Leafs)
Total198 (1.33 per team per draft)12 (2.4 per draft)

Now, here are the numbers on draft selections out of college, Canadians and Americans included:

Picks from NCAALeafs picks from NCAA
Total (% of Total Picks)321 of 1053 (30.5%)8 of 34 (24%)

(includes both players already with college teams and incoming recruits, numbers per

Seeing as how Cherry seems to think Knodel was an undrafted signing out of college, what this likely links back to in Cherry’s memory is the number of college free agent signings the Maple Leafs have experimented with over the years, Tyler Bozak and Ben Scrivens both being the most successful examples. These “free wallets” were landed after hotly-contested sweepstakes with nearly all 30 of the League’s teams interested, so of course we were and should’ve been ecstatic the Leafs signed both players (both of whom are Canadian, for whatever it is worth) and were successful as active buyers in the college FA market.

Saskatchewan’s Tyler Bozak has been, at a minimum, a serviceable center for Toronto, and is currently their de facto number one having had a good season in between Kessel and JvR. The Leafs flipped Alberta’s Ben Scrivens and another Canadian kid out of the college system, Matt Frattin, to land their number one goaltender of the future in Jonathan Bernier. These two have had a significant positive impact on the current state of the Leafs roster.

Spencer Abbott has been a moderately successful college signing as the Marlies leading scorer, an AHL All Star and call-up option for the Leafs. He is from nearby Hamilton, Ontario.

Among the duds, Brayden Irwin and Tyler Brenner were Ontario boys from Toronto and Linwood respectively. Christian Hanson was their only college signing who is actually from the United States. But he’s the son of the Hanson from Slapshot, and surely Cherry cannot hate on Brian Burke for tapping into that lineage?

Are these undrafted Canadian players, who made the smart decision to go the NCAA route, get an education and wound up making hockey careers for themselves to varying degrees, effectively dead to Cherry once they leave the Canadian hockey system? It doesn’t make any sense.

Take it away, SB Nation’s Travis Hughes:

[quote_box_center]All told, 30 percent of NHL players are former collegiate players, and as College Hockey, Inc. will proudly tell you, that number has skyrocketed in the last six-to-10 years. The NCAA is a viable alternative for many young hockey players who either don’t want to or are not ready to commit to Canadian Major Junior teams at age 15 or 16, especially when an NHL career is far from guaranteed. The NCAA offers both a college degree and a legitimate chance at the NHL, if you’re good enough.

That’s what this really comes down to: It’s not an NCAA vs. CHL thing, or a USA vs. Canada thing. It’s a skill thing. NCAA free agents are good enough to play in the AHL and “take spots from guys slumming it on buses,” and many are good enough to play in the NHL. (Not that midnight bus trips between Ithaca and Potsdam are glamorous or anything.)[/quote_box_center]

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Alec Brownscombe is the founder and editor of, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He's published five magazines on the team entitled "The Maple Leafs Annual" with distribution in Chapters and newsstands across the country. He also co-hosted "The Battle of the Atlantic," a weekly show on TSN1200 that covered the Leafs and the NHL in-depth. Alec is a graduate of Trent University and Algonquin College with his diploma in Journalism. In 2014, he was awarded Canada's Best Hockey Blogger honours by Molson Canadian. You can contact him at