Two defencemen stood out in Hillier's mind - Finland's Markus Seikola, 209th overall in 2000, and Russia's Maxim Kondratiev, 168th overall in 2001.
Seikola, 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds, possesses a heavy shot off the point and has been playing a regular shift for TPS Turku in Finland's Élite League the past two seasons. Kondratiev, 6-foot-1 and 176 pounds, moves well and is sound in his own end.
"Seikola has come a long way," Hillier says. "I expect to see an upside from Colaiacovo, but it's nice to see it from guys such as Kondratiev."
American centre Kris Vernarsky, picked 51st by the Leafs in 2000, has been groomed as a dependable defensive-minded player with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. Despite his propensity for worrying about the defensive zone first, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of Detroit had four points in seven games in his third world junior appearance.
A pair of Leafs prospects laced up their skates for the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Left-winger Jaroslav Sklenar, 6-foot-1, 169 pounds and taken 183rd last June, had a brief stint with the OHL's Ottawa 67's earlier this season before going back to his native country because he was homesick. He brings offensive skills and speed to the table.
Sklenar's teammate Tomas Mojzis was the Czech Republic's seventh defenceman and didn't get much ice time. Mojzis was picked 246th overall last June.
Slovakia couldn't use Chovan but did employ 6-foot-1, 189-pound defenceman Lubos Velebny, chosen 168th in 2000, and 6-foot, 169-pound centre Ivan Kolozvary, taken 198th last June.
Velebny skates for the Belleville Bulls of the OHL and is known for his offensive repertoire; Kolozvary also can score but needs to gain at least 15 pounds of muscle before he makes an impact.
"We have to remember the ultimate test for these young players is to make it to the next level," says Watters, who's also unwilling to count the Leafs' eggs before they hatch.
"We don't want to throw any water on the fire of enthusiasm. We have to let the cycle complete itself."
"We were fortunate to have 10 guys participate in this past world junior tournament," says Penny. "It was a compliment to the scouts and the organization.
"The world junior tournament gave us the opportunity to see these guys at a high level of competition. And for the most part, a lot of the kids who play at that level do sign contracts and take a legitimate shot at playing in the NHL. We're going in the right direction."
Terry Koshan is a hockey writer for The Toronto Sun