-- The Toronto Maple Leafs came out of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft as a bigger -- and meaner -- organization. General Manager Brian Burke, presiding over his first draft as Toronto's architect, couldn't have been happier.
"Obviously I have been preaching (size)," Burke said. "I don't think any of these players will make us bigger immediately. But I think it shows our commitment to size and toughness, and I think I can predict with some confidence that we are going to take similar strides once July 1 comes.
"This won't address our immediate need for size and toughness -- we'll do that later in the summer -- but I think people should read into it that we are not just talking the talk about this. We intend to be bigger and cruder."
July 1 is the opening of the free-agency season and Burke says his team will be very active. Judging by the route Burke took during the past two days at the Bell Centre, the players he'll target in free agency will be big, ornery and, most likely, North American.
"We'll be involved on July 1," Burke said. "I think doors open for business at noon and that's when we will start to get involved."
Burke selected seven players at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and all but one was at least 6-foot tall. First-rounder Nazem Kadri
, selected at No. 7, was the only one not to weigh at least 190 pounds.
Three of the players -- Kadri, second-round pick Jesse Blacker
and third-round pick Jamie Devane
-- were from Ontario. The other four players -- second-round pick Kenny Ryan
, fifth-round pick Eric Knodel
, sixth-round pick Jerry D'Amigo
and seventh-rounder Barron Smith -- were all Americans.
There were no Europeans selected by the Maple Leafs this summer after years of relying on European talent.
"That wasn't a big accident either," Burke said. "I think European players are important in our League, they provided an element of skill and no team has won a Cup without European players. They are a vital part of things. But I think the mix has to be right, too.
"If you are going to play the way we are going to play, I think you need some pick-and- shovel men and I think we are looking for that type of player here."
That's because Burke, who took over the Toronto job in late November, believes his team needs to play a physical, in-your-face style to be successful. That was the blueprint Burke followed in Anaheim and it translated into the 2007 Stanley Cup, a five-game victory against the Ottawa Senators.
"In Anaheim, we tried to be in double-digit hits every game and we want to hit in all three zones," Burke explained. "Most teams are content to hit in two zones, but we want to hit in all three zones and I think that is reflected in our draft today."
However, none of the players drafted during the past two days are close to helping the NHL cause. Kadri, a proven scorer in junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, is probably the closest to joining the fray, but not immediately.
"Virtually all these guys, including our first pick, are going to need some time," Burke said. "Some of these guys are downright raw. These are guys that are two, three, four years away."
Even though the draft is complete, Burke says there will be no down time before free agency hits Wednesday. He says that he expects to be fielding multiple offers for the services of defenseman Tomas Kaberle.
"I predict my phone is going to start ringing on Monday," Burke said.
With the trades of Chris Pronger (to Philadelphia) and Jay Bouwmeester (to Calgary), the puck-moving Kaberle becomes the most attractive commodity for teams looking to upgrade their blue line.
That doesn't mean Burke is eager to move Kaberle, because he does not want to spend the summer chasing after his replacement.
"I'm going to reiterate that this is a good person, a good player at a good number and we are not going to trade him unless somebody blows our doors off," Burke said. "This is a guy I expect will be back."
But all of that scheming can wait until at least Sunday. Saturday afternoon, Burke walked out of the Bell Centre with a smile on his face, despite the fact that the pro-Canadiens crowd booed his every announcement.
"Everyone is happy after the draft," Burke said. "Every kid you take is going to play; your team is undefeated since the season's (already) ended. It's two days of hope and the reality doesn't kick in for a couple of years. We'll know how this draft works out in about four years."
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor