Pat Quinn didn't get to watch much of the 2002 World Junior Hockey Championship because he was on a road trip with his Toronto Maple Leafs, but the general manager and head coach knew exactly what was happening at the tournament in the Czech Republic.
With an eye-opening 10 Leafs prospects participating, Quinn and the rest of the Maple Leafs brass had much more than just a passing interest in the tournament.
But Quinn and the front-office staff - including assistant to the president Bill Watters, director of player personnel Mike Penny and director of amateur scouting Mark Hillier - aren't assuming the Leafs' future is set because so many draft picks were included in such a high-profile event.
The number was almost 11, but goaltender Jan Chovan, the 213th pick overall at last June's National Hockey League Entry Draft, was cut from Slovakia's roster on the eve of the tournament.
No other NHL team boasted the participation of that many prospects. The Chicago Blackhawks were second with seven.
As Quinn sees it, the participation of so many Leafs prospects indicates that Penny, Hillier and the Leafs' scouting staff did their due diligence in mining North America and Europe for picks in the 2000 and 2001 drafts.
That number of 10 is even more impressive when it's noted that it represents nearly half of the Leafs' 22 selections in the past two summers.
"It's a heck of a good step for us," Quinn says. "But there's nothing guaranteeing that these kids are going to be really good ones. At least at this stage, they are being recognized."
Two Leafs first-round picks from the past two years - centre Brad Boyes, 24th overall in 2000, and defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo, 17th overall last June - played for Canada, as did defenceman Jay Harrison, 82nd overall in June.
Boyes, who has the best chance of playing for the big club one day, rose to the top in the Czech Republic. A native of Mississauga, Ontario, who turns 20 in April, Boyes was second in scoring for Canada with nine points in seven games. In a fine display of perseverance, he shrugged off a bout of mononucleosis and emerged as Canada's best all-round performer.
Known for his play-making skills, Boyes also has a scorer's touch and has improved on his foot speed.
"He's a bright light for us," Quinn says. "But again, there are no guarantees. He is a slight guy (6 feet, 181 pounds) and there are other areas he needs to work on. But he showed really well against élite competition. That bodes well for our future."
The 6-foot-1, 184-pound Colaiacovo, Boyes' teammate with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, acquitted himself well in his first world junior. The Toronto native didn't stand out, but he didn't look out of place, either.
Colaiacovo has the ability to be a strong two-way blue-liner. His passes often are seamless and he makes smart decisions in the defensive zone.
Harrison of Whitby, and a member of the OHL's Brampton Battalion, is a tough customer whom the Leafs maintain shouldn't have been available when they picked him in the third round last June. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Harrison uses a nasty approach to his advantage.
Hillier, who attended the world junior with Penny, said he fully expected the Leafs' top picks to be named to their respective nations' rosters for the world junior, but it was satisfying to see a number of lower-round choices participating.