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Sizing Up Who The Leafs May Choose In First Round

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs

Mike Ulmer has worked for seven news organizations including the National Post  and, most recently, the Toronto Sun. Mike has written about the Leafs for 10 years and wrote Captains, a book about the club's greatest leaders.

(TORONTO) -- There is a depth chart, somewhere in John Ferguson's office.

It catalogues the Toronto Maple Leafs, circa 2009-2010.

"Absolutely, we have a depth chart for three years from now," said the Leafs' GM. "It's for players who are under contract that long and players that we've taken over the last couple of years who we don't project to be free by then."

Key to that chart, of course, is the NHL entry draft.

The June 22nd and 23rd draft in Columbus is about 2009-2010 and far beyond, but the acquisition of first-rate prospects shapes decisions made here and now. For proof look no further than the Leafs choice of Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask 21st in 2005. Last summer, Ferguson traded Rusk to Boston to acquire number one netminder Andrew Raycroft.

In 2006-2007, the Leafs accorded regular lineup spots to Ian White (191st in 2002), Carlo Colaiacovo (17th in 2001) and Kyle Wellwood (134th in 2001).

Within the next few years, the club hopes to graft Jiri Tlusty and Nikolai Kulemin (13th and 44th, 2006), Anton Stralman (216th in 2005) and Justin Pogge (90th in 2004) into the lineup.

Logan Couture one player the Leafs may consider.
(Getty Images)

Draft day is the most important appointment on the hockey calendar, bigger even than the July 1 onset of free agency. A limited number of teams pursue a limited number of top drawer free agents. Everyone gets to draft and a spectacular day can set a team up for a  decade.

When Detroit unearthed late-round gems  Pavel Datsyuk (171 in 1998) and Henrik Zetterberg (210 in 1999), the team came up with successors for franchise player Steve Yzerman, dramatically altered the course of the franchise and salvaged what had been a spotty draft record.

The thinking is that while this year's draft is short on obvious upper end-choices, there is parity through the rounds.

"A lot of veteran people in the draft room are saying this is the hardest draft to predict all the way through," said E.J. McGuire, director of the NHL's Central Scouting Service.

"We argued and went back and forth between Kyle Turis and Patrick Kane for number one, (they chose Turis) but we were split in the same way for numbers 61 through 64 and 105 and 106. The parity is really everywhere in this year's draft."

So what will the Leafs do?

They draft 13th in the first round, a position that has netted Sabres' hotshot Drew Stafford, Capitals 38-goal gunner Alexander Semin and Anaheim goalie J. S.Giguere. The Leafs acquisition of Tlusty out of the same position has looked shrewd over the last months as the Czech youngster shrugged off injury and delivered just less than a point a game in Sault Ste. Marie. The Leafs have a draft in each round, one through seven, except the fourth where the trade for Mikael Tellqvist netted the club a second choice.

The Hockey News well-regarded Draft Preview issue projects London Knight Patrick Kane, American high schooler James vanRiemsdyk, Jr. A player Kyle Turris, Czech right winger Jakub Voracek and gifted Russian winger Alexei Cherepanov  as the top five choices. Give up on any of those guys being available when Ferguson steps to the microphone.

One clue to who the Leafs might go after can be traced to their recent good luck with Europeans. But unlike junior players, European players can take longer to extricate and stalled negotiations with the Russian Hockey Federation make the prospect of choosing a Russian player even more daunting.

Drafting by flag, Ferguson said, doesn't make sense.

"I think anyone who drafts or selects based on country of origin really is limiting themselves," he said. "It's solely about player's skill, upside and drafting the best asset for your club."

If Ferguson does decide to try one more dip in the European pool, he will have fewer options than in past years. The best prospect might be Mikael Backlund, ranked 37th by The Hockey News, a knee injury negatively impacted the smooth skating Swede's ranking. Leftwinger Maxim Mayorov, another offensively gifted one-way Russian, is rated 14th by The Hockey News.

Zach Hamill was the WHL scoring leader with 93 points.
(Getty Images)

Leftwinger Lars Eller, a Dane playing in Sweden has a good skill set but scouts question his drive.

Probably more likely is selection of one of the following 10 North Americans.

They are, in no order of  ranking:

1. Jonathon Blum: D., USA., Vancouver (WHL) Good skating defenceman but at six feet, a bit small.

2 . Angelo Esposito: C., Canada. Quebec (QMJHL) THN rated him ninth. Won Memorial Cup as a 16-year-old. Was once considered a lock for number one  but poor 27-goal season wrecked his standing. Hard to believe he will be available at 13.

3. Ryan McDonagh. D., USA. (High School)  Going to Wisconsin. Probably best US high school player and excellent all round defenceman.

4. Colton Gillies: C., Canada: Saskatoon (WHL) Nephew of Clark Gillies. Good skater with size but scouts say he lacks touch.

5. Tommy Cross: D., USA. (Prep school) Six-foot-three-defenceman. Good two-way player going to play for Boston College.

6. Logan Couture: C, Canada. Ottawa (OHL)  Stock has tumbled, but has great vision and playmaking skills.

7. Nick  Petricki:  D, USA. Omaha (USHL) Has NHL size and meanness. Strong worker with some offensive touch.

8. David Perron,: RW, Canada. Lewiston (QMJHL) Excellent stickhandler and skater. Offensive player. At five-foot-11, Perron is the kind of player who will get a longer look with liberalized scoring rules.

9. Zach Hamill: C, Canada. Everett (WHL) Won WHL scoring title with 93 points but scouts worry about his size, listed at five-foot-10.

10. Alex Plante: D, Canada. Calgary (WHL) Has NHL size and good skating skills for his size. His father Cam was drafted by Leafs. 

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