Maple Leafs: Mark Hunter’s Sorry and Pathetic Drafting Legacy

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: (l-r) Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: (l-r) Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter of the Toronto Maple Leafs attend of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs would be a lot better today if they had drafted better at the start of their rebuild.

Say what you want about the Burke/Nonnis era, they left the Leafs Morgan Rielly and William Nylander, plus a skeleton of quality players the team could have used more effectively to compete during the early years of Matthews and Marner’s career.

Back in the years when the Leafs lost to Washington and their first loss to Boston, I would constantly write about how they were blowing an opportunity to win with JVR, Bozak and Kadri; that they should have been trying harder to win right away while the big three were on their ELCs.

At the time people said that I was wrong, and symbolic of the constant “win now” attitude the media always foisted upon the team.  To my mind, it was just an unfortunate coincidence that I was echoing the media I grew up disliking, because the salary cap dictates you should go for it whenever you have young stars on entry level deal.

I took a lot of crap for those articles, but time has proven me correct (a common theme).  Don’t get me wrong, I like what the Leafs have right now, but it’s hard not to think about what could have been if Hunter and Lamoriello had been more proactive in signing their players, if players like Hainsey and Zaitsev were moved out for better players.   I would argue that not giving the GM job directly to Kyle Dubas before hiring Lamoriello is one of the worst moves in Leafs history.

But I digress.  What I want to talk about today is how the Leafs drafted so poorly during those years that it’s killing them now, when they could really use some NHL prospects on ELCs.

Mark Hunter Was a Disaster

Hunter was – as far as I know – in charge of the Leafs drafts in 2015, 2016 and 2017.  During these years,  he may not have had total autonomy, I don’t know, other than anecdotally.  I do remember this story from Jack Han at the Athletic 

"Emil Bemstrom was drafted in the fourth round, 117th overall, by Columbus in 2017. Leading up to that draft, I was told that then-Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas pushed hard for him but was overruled by fellow assistant GM Mark Hunter — who ran the Leafs draft — and his staff. (Hunter disputes this, saying he did not prevent the Leafs from selecting Bemstrom.)"

One thing I do know is that after Hunter left, the Leafs draft strategy changed to focus on speed and skill, while ignoring the Keaton Middleton types that Hunter was famous for wasting draft picks on.

In 2015, the Leafs drafted Marner and Dermott.  Credit were it’s due, as I remember Hunter as a strong proponent of Marner over Hanifin (although its impossible to imagine Dubas doing anything differently).  We also know that it was Dubas who orchestrated the Dermott trade. (Not his finest hour, Travis Konecny would look pretty good in the Leafs top six.).

After that, it’s a joke.  Seven picks, the best of which is Dymtro Timashov’s 45 NHL games played.  Might as well have traded every pick. (all draft info from

In 2016, the Leafs had an incredible 11 picks.  This should have set them up for years just by random luck alone, but oh my god does this draft suck…..after #1 overall pick Auston Matthews, obviously.  A pick, however, my Gramma would have also made.

The other ten picks? Like you know how you win in Keno on the big board if you don’t hit ANY numbers?  This is what the 2016 draft looks like for the Leafs.  Except without the payout, obviously.  I actually really like Adam Brooks, but if that’s the best you can do with ten picks……..

2017? I’ll give him a pass on Timothy Liljegren because any time a non hockey related thing drops someone from a top five pick to the bottom of the first round, that’s just a good value move to take him.

But after that? Again, yikes. Zero combined NHL games from the other six, and other than maybe the goalie, not much chance of seeing any of them in the NHL any time soon.

So, three drafts, and, ignoring the first round, 24 picks, the best of which is Travis Dermott.  After Dermott, the 45 NHL games of Timashov are the highlight, and other than Adam Brooks and the long-shot goalies Ian Scott and Joseph Woll it’s an o-for.

Absolutely awful legacy, and it really hurts the Toronto Maple Leafs today.  Even just Emil Bermstrom would help immensely.  Think about it: Hutner was so bad that the player he refused to let Dubas draft in the 4th round would be his best draft choice, after the first round.

It’s hard to stress just how bad this hurts the current team.   For years, teams like the Bruins and Penguins supplemented their NHL Elite Status by always having quality rookies no one had ever heard of before to come in and make up for the high salaries of the stars.

Next. Remember Lou's Ridiculous 1950s Rules?. dark

No offense to Pierre Engvall or Adam Brooks, two guys who are perfectly capable 4th line players, but you’ve got to land a gem who can crack the higher parts of your lineup every once in a while. For the Leafs, they haven’t done that since Tomas Kaberle, and their inability to find their own Bergeron, Kucherov, Weber or Keith lower in the draft is what holds them back today.