The Leafs’ Top 5 Draft Gems

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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to make fun of the Leafs draft record over the
past decade, largely because the team hasn’t been very good. We’ve had two
general managers that have sold a bill of goods regarding size and character
and prioritized getting to know the player’s family over getting to know how
fast he can skate or how hard is shot is. While Burke, Nonis, Fletcher, and
Ferguson are easy targets for ridicule, they did actually manage to unearth
some late round gems in their drafts, something that Ferguson was particularly
good at. While the GMs or possibly Dave Morrison might get a lot of the credit
for these picks, the high number of Europeans that panned out certainly points
to Thommie Bergman being a big part of the success.

While the Leafs certainly had a number of late round gems
prior to the Ferguson era (hello Markov, Berezin, and Borschevsky), we’re going
to limit this list to the 30 team, seven draft era when highlighting The Top
Five Leafs Draft Gems.

5. Viktor Stalberg

Okay, so here’s the situation. I’d love to have Antoine Bibeau, Dominic
Toninato, and especially Andreas Johnson in the top five. And you could surely
make a case that Leo Komarov should be in close consideration to Stalberg as
well, but the fact is Viktor is a sixth round pick who has exceeded 300 games
in the NHL and at his peak value was worth trading for Kris Versteeg at the
peak of his game, albeit a necessary cap dump for Chicago. Stalberg has never
lit the world on fire, but his speed and his ability to play anywhere in the
lineup has added to his longevity. With a bit more of a scoring touch Stalberg
could have really been special instead of a player who’s salary Nashville will
actively be trying to dump this summer.

pizzastalberg

4.  Connor Brown

Erie’s other Connor has been a pleasant surprise since he was selected in the
seventh round of the 2012 draft. He followed up his draft year by passing a
point per game pace and then nearly reached 2 ppg in his overaged year (check
out that roster though). After some criticism that Brown wasn’t so much a
catalyst for Erie’s success and more of a McDavid benefactor, he silenced his
critics by winning the AHL rookie scoring race. While Brown is yet to see a
game in the NHL, he warrants placement on this list because of the hope that he
provides that if we were to revisit these rankings in a couple of years, he’d
be the surefire number one.

3. Carl Gunnarsson

Oh Carl, why did your hip have to become so wonky? Gunnarsson appeared to be an
ideal second pairing minute eater who could be used in any situation. He was
never a heavy hitter or a big scorer, but he was the one Leaf defender who
thought it was worthwhile to learn how to play defense from Francois
Beauchemin. I still have trouble properly expressing my distaste for the Leafs
having to retain salary on him and having to throw in a draft pick in order to
acquire Roman Polak, but I should probably be happy that for 300 games he
played in Toronto he made the defense a little less awful, and that’s not
shabby for a guy taken 194th overall.

2. James Reimer

What really needs to be said about James Reimer? He was an incredibly goalie at
a time when Leafs fans had completely given up on the position. Then he was
concussed and rushed back too early and that caused people to turn on him. Then
management threw him under the bus after a total team collapse in a playoff game
they barely had any business being in if it were not for Reimer, and fans
turned on him more. Then he got the role as the backend of the horse on a
goalie tandem forced to play behind one of the worst teams in the league, and
fans decided they should threaten his wife. All through these events the fourth
round pick has had a smile on his face and acted like he’s truly happy to be on
the Leafs.

1. Anton Stralman

You don’t have to be a fan of calculators to be fan of Stralman. If you follow
hockey with your eyes he’s pretty good too. There was a point when the Leafs organization
had hyped Anton as the 80% Lidstrom and then when that didn’t materialize when he was 22 years old it was apparently time to dump him. To be fair, it was important to have that 2nd round pick so the Leafs could look like they would threaten to offer sheet the Bruins for Phil Kessel, and although they never did that, posturing is very important to Brian Burke.

Of course what happened after the Leafs gave up on him (and
the Flames flipped him and the Blue Jackets gave up on him) Stralman fulfilled
his destiny and became 80% Lidstrom, a sound all situation top pairing
defenseman who has made consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final. He was
originally taken in the seventh round, 216th overall.


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    • Benjamin

      “While the Leafs certainly had a number of late round gems prior to the Ferguson era (hello Markov, Berezin, and Borschevsky), we’re going to limit this list to the 30 team, seven draft era when highlighting The Top Five Leafs Draft Gems.”

  • Benjamin

    If you take a look at Corey pronmans latest article on talent and luck in the draft the leafs are actually on the top end with talent. Seems odd at first but the leafs have picked a bunch of NHL players at the bottom of the draft so they provide more value then Patrick Kane (expected number of games played versus actual). While this may show a hole in pronmans analysis it provides interesting insight into the leafs. Maybe the later round picks are left more to people in the organization other than the top guys which leads to the discrepancy between the so-so success at the top of the draft and the value the leafs are finding at the bottom.

  • nwamaddox

    I broke my hip not long before Gunnarsson did. Granted, I’m not a professional athlete, but it really messes you up, and I’m still not back to 100%. I can see why we traded him.

  • FlareKnight

    Wow….our drafting has sucked over the years.

    I mean Stralman has turned out well and that’s awesome. But really the list right now is pretty iffy. A guy that might be a starter in the NHL (I feel for him, but I can’t give him brownie points because he’s a nice guy), a top 4 D, a forward prospect that looks promising but we don’t know what he’ll be yet, and a top 9 forward.

    Again, our drafting has sucked pretty bad.

    The Panago ads are a bit too blatant, but oh well. At least if ads are going to be shoved in your face they might as well be pizza ads. Not that I ever plan on buying one of those pizzas.

  • dougie88

    Love your Reimer comments….he deserves so much better……..wish him nothing but the best…he truly loves his sport and even after everything, loves being a Leaf hope he is back and comes out fighting..good luck James..

  • dougie88

    Just think of how many more of these picks they could have potentially hit on if they didn’t constantly give them away like candy. Getting past the first round or 2, picks are like throwing darts at a dart board and hoping you hit on something. More picks = more darts!

    At least the new regime puts a premium on draft picks!

  • dougie88

    Agree so much on your Reimer notes
    . All the way down the line – from Burkes’sarcastic ‘statue’ comments, to his having to play ‘second banana” to a goalie not really long enough in the League to be properly assessed, he has shown us a growing maturity, and his work ethic has sustained him. Hopefully, under Babcock, the old Reimer will return. Goalies take longer to peak. He still has full opportunity to become the remarkable goalie, many of us believe he can be.