Brian Burke still believes in John Tavares.
Dragged down by a supposedly poor playoff performance, Tavares’ stock has slipped in the eyes of some NHL talent evaluators. Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman and even Brampton Battalion centreman Matt Duchene may be ahead of him on some team’s draft lists.
But 10 goals and 21 playoff points in 14 playoff games, Tavares’ harvest over three OHL playoff rounds, isn’t exactly chicken scratch. And Burke, the Leafs’ president and general manager is hardly deterred.
“A couple of teams might have dropped him, certainly we haven’t,” Burke said. “I don’t think an 18-year-old kid who doesn’t live up to certain expectations in one series should see that affect his draft status. We are hopeful that has affected his draft status with other organizations.”
Burke raised eyebrows when he spoke publicly of his intention to try to trade up to grab the 18-year-old Tavares.
The New York Islanders own the first overall choice with Tampa Bay and Colorado choosing second and third. The Leafs own the seventh choice.
Burke insists he is undeterred.
“We would not have said we wanted to do this if there wasn’t a good chance that we could do it,” he said. “Obviously it wasn’t a bold prediction as much as a pledge to our fans that we are going to continue to try and advance our pick.”
The Leafs remain in negotiations with Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson
, but so far have not been able to land him. That will have a bearing on whether or not the team qualifies Marlies goalie Justin Pogge.
“Whether we qualify Justin Pogge depends on what happens between now and when the qualifying offers go out,” he said. “We are talking about options, Jonas Gustavsson
and some other options and whether we qualify Justin or not remains to be seen.”
Burke is optimistic about Viktor Stalberg, a Swedish left winger who finished his third year at the University of Vermont before playing two playoff games with the Marlies.
“He leaps out at you on a hockey rink because he’s got size and beautiful footspeed,” Burke said. “When you’ve got a guy that big with that much speed, it gets your attention. I think he’s got a chance to be a good player.”
The Leafs landed Stalberg with a fifth-round choice in the 2006 draft.
Burke said former American collegians Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak
will be training in Toronto over the summer to better acclimatize themselves to playing here in the fall.
“Christian got a number of games in the NHL and I think that will be invaluable to him. With Tyler, his knee wasn’t 100 per cent, but if I look at the development of Tyler Bozak
over the last couple of years, I’m not worried about him making the next step. I think he’s ready to do that now."
Hanson played five games with the Leafs this season. He had a goal and an assist and a minus-2.
“I’d be surprised if they are both not a factor in the organization by the midpoint of the season,” Burke said.