No Late-Round Draft Hit Haunt the Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 13: (l-R) Bryan McCabe
TORONTO, ON - NOVEMBER 13: (l-R) Bryan McCabe /

Tomas Kaberle was the most recent Toronto Maple Leafs’ late-round draft hit. The year was 1996, over 25 years ago.

Sure, they have developed low-draft picks that have contributed down the lineup, but for our purposes, a “hit” means a player becoming a star (i,e a top five or so player on a team).

And we aren’t just talking one good season – they also need to play that role for multiple seasons. Considering those criteria, the Leafs have repeatedly missed their chances to find a hidden gem.

The 1996 NHL Draft marked the third consecutive year that the Leafs made a successful late-round pick. The drafting of Kaberle that year followed previous late-round successes of Danil Markov (9th round 1995), Fredrik Modin, and Sergei Berezin (3rd and 10th round 1994). (Note: all draft statistics from

The Leafs’ late-round picks since then? A long list of players with minimal impact. They have not developed any long-term top-six forwards or top-four defensemen, let alone stars.

No Late-Round Draft Hit Haunt the Toronto Maple Leafs

A look at recent Stanley Cup winners reveals contributions from stars that were drafted late.

The two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning is the most obvious example. First-round selections Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Andrey Vasilevskiy were augmented by Brayden Point, a top-line player drafted in the third round of the 2014 draft.

While not stars, Alex Killorn (3rd round 2007), and Ondrej Palat (7th round 2011) made significant contributions to the Lightning for a long time. Nikita Kucherov is a consistent MVP candidate drafted in the second round of the 2011 draft. (Note: all Lightning draft statistics courtesy of

Last year’s Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights boast Mark Stone as a late-round star. Credit the Ottawa Senators for drafting and developing him, but Vegas recognized his importance and obtained him in a trade.

Conn Smythe trophy winner Jonathan Marchessault went undrafted to the NHL and was picked up by the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. They developed him into a playoff MVP of a championship team.

Jordan Binnington backstopped the St. Louis Blues to a title as a third-round pick. Brayden Holtby did the same for the Washington Capitals in 2018 as a fourth-round pick.

The big teams of the 2000s all had big stars who weren’t drafted in the first round – Chicago had Duncan Keith, Pittsburgh had Kris Letang, and the Kings had Jonathan Quick.

Starting from the 2005 NHL Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs late-round contributors have included names like Anton Stralman, Leo Komarov, Carl Gunnarson, Connor Brown, and Pierre Engvall. All bottom of the lineup players, and not a star to be found.

At least Markov, Modin, and Berezin had spurts of playing “up” in the lineup. Markov didn’t help much offensively but was consistently in the top four on defense. Modin had some years of riding shotgun on Mats Sundin’s wing. Berezin frequently appeared on the top two lines and once scored 37 goals in a season.

Luckily, the Leafs have made many excellent first-round picks, starting with defenseman Morgan Rielly in the 2012 NHL Draft.

William Nylander (2014), Mitch Marner (2015), and Auston Matthews (2016) continued their first-round successes. This has set them up to be consistent contenders for a long time.

Developing a star player outside of the first round is not mandatory to build a winner. Yet, it can’t hurt. It defies the odds that the Leafs have gone this long without hitting on a long shot.

The aforementioned 2018 Capitals were littered with first-round picks. Interestingly, the Leafs’ playoff success (or lack thereof) has mirrored Washington. A perennial contender with multiple first or second-round playoff disappointments.

In recent years, the Leafs also traded away many of their first-round picks chasing playoff victories. This makes it all the more important for the organization to find some late-round gems.

Next. Top 5 Marlies Players to Keep An Eye On This Year. dark

Maybe a Toronto Maple Leafs late-round draft hit can give them the boost they need for postseason success.

History suggests, don’t bet on it.