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Restocking The Cupboard Bottom Up

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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Dave Morrison for MVP.

Morrison is the Leafs Director of Amateur Scouting, a smart, plain talking guy who despite years in the business still harbors a love of arena popcorn.

Here’s the deal: when Brian Burke assumed management of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he mapped out his plan for player acquisition. There are only three ways of doing this.

1.    Free agency.
2.    Trades.
3.    The entry draft.

Free agency has brought Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Tyler Bozak, Jonas Gustavsson, Colby Armstrong, Clarke MacArthur, Darryl Boyce, Brett Lebda and Colton Orr.  Two more, Christian Hanson and Marcel Mueller could make the big-team next year.

The Leafs have enjoyed fair success in free agency.  MacArthur is the club’s top scorer. Armstrong has been good. Bozak is coming around. Gustavsson has been up and down.   Komisarek has disappointed and Beauchemin is neck and neck as the minutes leader for a struggling defence.

The trade front has netted Phil Kessel, Kristopher Versteeg, Dion Phaneuf, J.S. Giguere and Fredrik Sjostrom. Mikhail Grabovski  came to the Leafs in a deal orchestrated by former GM Cliff Fletcher.

The Leafs have acquired by trade the team’s top offensive threat Kessel and Versteeg who is clearly superior to the player he was traded for: Viktor Stalberg.

Phaneuf bears little likeness to the Norris Trophy contender who was the linchpin in Calgary,  but considering the Leafs lost Niklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Jamal Mayers, Phaneuf would have to be very bad indeed to make the trade anything but an upgrade for the Maple Leafs.

Here’s the funny part. The Leafs have enjoyed excellent success in the draft and that’s where Morrison comes in. 

No team has proven the value of hitting late than the Detroit Red Wings, but with two firsts and a second gone in the Kessel deal, the emphasis becomes even more pronounced. Look no further than Tomas Kaberle, drafted 204th in 1996 to understand the importance of converting that late pick into a real prospect. With Zdeno Chara, Marco Strum and Pavel Kubina, Kaberle proved to be one of just four excellent players in the draft.

The Leafs final pick in the 2007 draft, Carl Gunnarsson is skating on the Leafs blue line right now. Juraj Mikus, drafted 134th in that same year should play in the NHL. Matt Frattin, a sharpshooting senior winger at the University of Dakota has 20 goals in 25 games and is in contention for the Hobey Baker Award.  Stalberg, chosen in the fifth round, netted Versteeg.  Jerry D’Amigo, just 20, has 11 points in 33 games with the Marlies and remains a real prospect.

Jesse Blacker, a third-rounder in 2009, turned heads at rookie camp and as a member of the Owen Sound Attack. He remains a distance away but he is a point a game player on an excellent Owen Sound team.

Long term, the fifth round can be as important as the first.

The Leafs seven first-rounders in their lineup, Giguere, Kessel, Armstrong, Komisarek, Phaneuf , Sjostrom and Luke Schenn.

That exalted first round has given the Leafs a terrific goalscorer, a former franchise goalie, a struggling defencemen, a 15-minute a night rearguard, an excellent agitator, a strong penalty killer and a defenceman on the rise.

Considering the three draft choices delivered Kessel, easily the club’s most talented player, it falls to Morrison to restock the cupboard from the bottom up.
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