Redrafting the 2009 Toronto Maple Leafs first round selection
Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
By James Reeve9 months ago
We’re back once again with another Redrafting the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the first selection in the 2009 class our focus.
The 2009 Draft epitomised the Leafs’ drafting luck throughout the mid-to-late 2000s, with the majority of selections failing to make any real impact in the league. It was also a draft in which the Leafs were forced to forfeit their fourth round selection (118th overall) due to purportedly breaking the CBA at the time.
Outside of the first round, the Leafs selected six players who accounted for 34 total appearances at the NHL level, combining for a grand total of one goal and two assists. Incidentally, those points were all earned by sixth round pick Jerry D’Amigo in one 22-game season with the Leafs before becoming a journeyman across multiple leagues and countries.
However, it is the first selection the team made in the final year of the 2000s that is being reconsidered in this series, and that pick certainly has had an impact on the team and the NHL in general.
Original Pick: Nazem Kadri
With the seventh overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs selected centre Nazem Kadri from the London Knights of the OHL. There’s the infamous footage of then-GM Brian Burke speaking with then-Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray about who the team were going to pick, with the line “That’s who you want? Well, we’re taking him.”
Kadri was selected after a 25-goal, 78-point draft year with the Knights and promptly followed it up with an even more impressive 35-goal, 93-point year, giving the team hope that they had made a slam dunk of a selection and likely had a number one centre of the future on their hands.
What followed for the next three years was a bit of flip-flopping with Kadri’s development, with the Leafs seeing enough of him in the minors to give him sporadic shots in the NHL but then ultimately sending him back down. It contributed to a bit of stagnation in his progress, as four years after his draft he should have become a regular in the NHL roster by then, especially with the Leafs not reaching the playoffs in any of those years.
2013-14 was the year that things finally worked out for the London, Ontario native, as he put up 50 points in 78 games, scoring 20 goals in the process. Kadri would then become a mainstay on the roster from then until 2019, picking up back-to-back 32-goal seasons as well as some notable suspensions in the post-season.
Losing Kadri in those playoff series tipped the Leafs’ hand when they ultimately sent him to the Colorado Avalanche, but he is still remembered fondly by fans of the team and there are many who hoped he had remained, providing offence and his signature peskiness that has lacked since his departure.
Kadri was rewarded with his first Stanley Cup ring this past season, before signing a lengthy deal with the Calgary Flames. He remains a top performer in the NHL and has amassed 533 points (230 goals, 303 assists) in 768 regular season games while also earning a few Selke Trophy votes across his career.
Redraft Pick: Ryan O’Reilly
This was one of the more challenging redrafts so far, as Kadri’s career and impact would still make sense for the Leafs today. Very few players selected after him have come close to being as impactful, but there is one player that just about edges him out and would be the team’s selection this time around.
Ryan O’Reilly is a player that could have provided the Leafs with a similar impact to Kadri, but without the suspension concerns and with more of the proven defensive star qualities. Drafted 33rd overall by the Avalanche, O’Reilly has racked up 687 points (249 goals, 438 assists) in 967 games while also playing for the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues.
He has been top-15 in Selke voting nine times across his career, winning the trophy in 2018-19, while also finishing top-five on three other occasions. Winner of the Lady Byng Award in 2013-14, he has also finished top-10 six further times and has been a true leader and star on his teams, something that Kadri has not quite replicated despite being an important player throughout his career.
O’Reilly helped guide the Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2018-19 and he won the Conn Smythe that year, with 23 points in 26 post-season games. A strong two-way centre, O’Reilly is arguably very close to Kadri in what the Leafs would have wanted or needed, but the way his career has played out, he would have been the pick for the team in hindsight.
Either selection, with a different approach, would have been successful for the Leafs and it was still a disappointment seeing him traded, especially with the subsequent return not having the same impact. If the Leafs opted to take Kadri again, it’s unlikely anyone would complain, but with the selection of O’Reilly, they would have a greater chance of overcoming their early playoff woes safe in the knowledge that he would be able to ice in every game.
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