July 26, 2005 (TORONTO)
-- The answer is 2002. The question? When was the last time the Maple Leafs had a pick in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. As for the answer to your next question ... Alexander Steen, taken with the 24th overall pick.
First of all, everyone understand this ... the Maple Leafs have no shot at Sidney Crosby. That's right - even if they offer up Mats Sundin
, Matt Stajan
, Carlo Colaiacovo
, a first round pick, and a new bag of pucks - the Penguins are NOT going to deal that pick to anyone.
In the second place, with the 21st pick the Leafs also have virtually no shot at any of the players in this year's draft who could conceivably jump in and play in the NHL right now.
So, where does that leave the Blue and White? Well, think of it this way. For starters, that's not the kind of talent the Leafs need right now. Granted, every team in the league wants to be able to add a young stud who can contribute right away, but let's face it, the Leafs need to get younger and it needs to happen now.
Remember, this is a franchise that hasn't had a first round pick in the last two Entry Drafts. The Leafs need an influx of youth for numerous reasons; most of which are obvious; not the least of which is the new landscape in the NHL.
The ""new"" NHL will be younger, faster and higher scoring and if all goes well ... chock-full of talent.
Speed and skill will again reign supreme in this new league that has risen from the ashes of lockout oblivion. Gone are the days of being able to ice a playoff caliber team just because you can outspend the other 29 teams (the Rangers of course being the exception). And, long gone are the days of giving up young inexpensive talent and future first round picks for veterans in their mid-30s with big ticket contracts that can help you win now.
The age of unrestricted free-agency is going down and individual salaries are going down with them. And right along side it ... young, cost efficient talent is not only going to become reality, it will become a necessity - even for the Maple Leafs.
So, who will the Maple Leafs select with their 21st pick on July 30th in Ottawa? If I knew for certain, I would already be using my powers elsewhere. Instead, here are some of the notables who may be available for the Leafs. In no particular order, here's who you might have to look forward to seeing pull on a blue and white jersey on Draft Day. Matt Lashoff
Defence, 6'1, 201lbs
Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Central Scouting Ranking - 12th among North American Skaters
Lashoff was a teammate of another of the defencemen on our list - Jakob Kindl. Lashoff is big, and despite playing in only 44 games for the Rangers, he still collected four goals and 18 assists. Injuries have plagued him recently and it could hurt his stock if only for the fact that scouts haven't been able to get a really good look at him over an extended period of time. Tuukka Rask
- Goaltender, 6'2 - 183lbs
Ilves Jr (Finnish Jr. League)
Central Scouting Ranking - 1st among European Goaltenders
Many scouts believe that Rask could be the 2nd goalie selected in the 2005 Entry Draft behind Carey Price of the Tri-City Americans (who should go in the top-10). Rask made 40 saves for Team Finland in the Gold Medal game of the 2004 Viking Cup in Camrose, Alberta. He also took home top goalie honours and was named tournament MVP. Kenndal McArdle
- Winger, 5'11 - 190lbs
Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Central Scouting Ranking - 7th among North American Skaters
It might be a bit surprising if he falls to No. 21, but if he does, Toronto should take a long look at him. In the '03-'04 season he scored only eight goals in 54 games with the Warriors. But, after a strong showing in the postseason where he collected five points in 10 games, he exploded this past season for 37 goals and 74 points in 70 games to lead the team. He's a hard worker who's tenacious play has caught the eye of many scouts. Alex Bourret
- Forward, 5'9 - 209lbs
Lewiston MAINEiacs (QMJHL)
Central Scouting Ranking - 17th among North American Skaters
While every player in the Quebec League had to deal with the glaring spotlight focused on Sidney Crosby and NOT on them Bourret quietly put together a very impressive season. While he led the MAINEiacs in numerous offensive categories like goals (31), assists (55), points (86), and plus/minus (+27), he also managed to finish 4th on the team in penalty minutes with 172. Andrew Cogliano
- Centre, 5'9 - 178lbs
St. Michael's Buzzers Jr. A (OPJRA)
Central Scouting Ranking - 63rd among North American Skaters
He's a Toronto native who played last season in the Ontario Hockey Association with the St. Mikes Buzzers. But, he for one is hoping that the ""new"" NHL is for real so that his size won't matter near as much. Andrew is a very good playmaker, and his speed is a huge asset. While he's a better passer than he is a goal scorer, he still tallied 36 goals in 49 games for St. Mikes. He has committed to play for the University of Michigan next season - a perennial NCAA hockey power. Jakub Kindl
- Defence, 6'2 - 199lbs
Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Central Scouting Ranking - 18th among North American Skaters
While some scouts had Kindl ranked as high as a top-10 pick coming into this past season, his stock has slipped somewhat and he could slip even further on draft day. When he arrived in Kitchener, he was thought of as an offensively gifted rearguard who might put up some big numbers in the OHL. With three goals in 62 games with the Rangers, that obviously didn't go exactly as planned. But, the Rangers did reach the semi-finals with him on their blueline. Scott Jackson
- Defence, 6'3 - 200lbs
Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Central Scouting Ranking - 21st among North American Skaters
Jackson is a big stay-at-home defenceman that has shown average scoring touch. In his rookie season in the Western Hockey League in '03-'04 he played 66 games and won both Defenceman of the Year and Scholastic Player of the Year awards for the Thunderbirds. Last season he played 72 games, collected 22 points and was a plus-26. From all indications he has the makeup of a future leader, doesn't shy away from the rough stuff (in fact seems to enjoy it), and is rarely out of position.