Toronto Maple Leafs Desperately Need to Find a Diamond in the Rough

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect - Nick Robertson (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect - Nick Robertson (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs recent drafting has been outstanding.

Ever since Kyle Dubas took over as the General Manager, the Toronto Maple Leafs have focused on skill above all else, and this has led to some excellent prospects.

The Leafs traded down to add both Travis Dermott and Rasmus Sandin, while adding another lottery ticket to their portfolio.  The Leafs also drafted Timothy Liljegren and Nicholas Robertson, in the first and second rounds, respectively.

Together, they give the Leafs a decent group of young players who can hopefully support the highly drafted core of Nylander, Marner, Rielly, and Matthews in upcoming years.

What the Leafs haven’t been able to do is turn a second round pick (or lower) into a star since 1996 and Tomas Kaberle (Credit to Jame Mirtle for reminding me about this in a recent article on the athletic).

Ever since Mirtle wrote about this, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I even wrote about it about a year ago when I suggested that Travis Dermott – a second round pick- could be the Leafs version of Kris Letang/ P. K Subban/ Duncan Keith etc.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Need a Star

I suppose Travis Dermott could suddenly explode, or that Nick Robertson could be that player, or maybe even Andreas Johnsson,  but the fact is, the Leafs desperately need it to happen.

Look at the teams that have been successful over the long term in recent NHL history:

Chicago: Keith, 2nd round

Pittsburgh: Letang, 3rd round

Boston: Patrice Bergeron, 2nd round

Tampa: Nikita Kucherov, 2nd round.  Braydon Point, 3rd round.

Detroit: Zetterberg 7th round, Datsyuk 6th round

LA: Jon Quick 3rd Round , Jake Muzzin 5th round

Vancouver: Alex Edler, 3rd Round, Alex Burrows not even drafted

More or less, these seven teams have, at times, been the dominant NHL teams for years at a time since the NHL lockout in 2005.  They all – save the Canucks and (at least for now) the Lightning – have Cup wins, and Vancouver lost in the final, while Tampa appeared twice.

And what do they all have in common?  And what are the Leafs missing?

A superstar player chosen after round one.  Because you can only get so many top five picks before you get too good to get top five picks.  And because the salary cap demands you find star players on cheap deals while your highly drafted guys are getting paid.

Travis Dermott could still end up being a reliable top-pairing player (his stats from the 3rd pairing are excellent) but I doubt he becomes a superstar.   Andreas Johnsson was a legitimate first liner in his one full season, but I doubt he’s a perennial all-star who ends up in the hall of fame.

The Leafs tendency to draft for size and the ability to at least make the NHL can be seen to have held them back for a decade.  Even for all the errors they made since the late 90s, if they had taken more late round risks, they would have had way more success.

This is one reason I think we should all be fans of Kyle Dubas and his philosophy of drafting longer shot players with high skill levels; of finding value in passed over smaller players.

in 2016 and 2017 Mark Hunter ran the Leafs drafts and reverted back to the formula of drafting for size and low ceiling.  After the first round, these are pretty brutal drafts – the Leafs still have Joseph Woll (g) Adam Brooks, and Ygor Korshkev, but none are going to be stars.

Infamously, Hunter supposedly refused to yield to Dubas on drafting Emil Bemstrom, who played solid for Columbus in this year’s playoffs and is the highest scoring player from beyond the first round of that  draft.

Since 2018, with Dubas in charge, the Toronto Maple Leafs have drafted for skill, but there hasn’t really been the time to see if it will pay off yet.  So far Semyon Der Arguchintsev is looking good, he just spent the year playing with Nick Robertson and posted 75 points in 50 games.

Both Mikhail Abramov and Nick Abruzzese are making waves after a strong past season as well.

Next. 5 Reasons to Believe in the Leafs. dark

At this point, Nick Robertson looks to be the best bet to break the curse, but the bottom line is that the Toronto Maple Leafs went 24 years without developing a star player  after the first round, and if you want to know why they haven’t won a damned thing in that time, start there.