The Importance of Hitting on An Unexpected Star
Before getting to the countdown, please indulge me on this because I think it’s one of the most under-discusses aspects of the Leafs and their quest to win a Stanley Cup in the Auston Matthews Era, and I can’t think of a better place to discuss it than a top-ten prospect countdown.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not developed a significant prospect, that they drafted outside of the top 10, into a star player since Tomas Kaberle debuted in 1998.
This is something that almost every single recent Stanley Cup
As we approach the 25th anniversary of Tomas Kaberle’s NHL Debut it’s important to remember that almost every losing season that the Toronto Maple Leafs have had in the last 25 years can at least be partially attributed to them being completely unable to develop a star player that wasn’t gifted to them at the top of the draft.
In 1998 Tomas Kaberle was 20 years old, and had just been drafted in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. He played 30 minutes in his NHL debut, the season opener against the Red Wings. (Stats and information for this article from hockey-reference.com)
For contexts sake, that would be something like 2021 5th rounder Ty Voit playing 20 minutes on the top line in this year’s first game.
Tomas Kaberle is an outlier for sure – players picked after the top of the first round, let alone the seventh, just do not routinely become stars. Be that as it may, you cannot win if you can’t surround your expensive stars with stars you weren’t supposed to get.
For example, here is every team that made 2008 and 2018, and the star player(s) they weren’t supposed to have.
- Detroit Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg, 7th round, and Pavel Datsyuk, 6th round.
- Pittsburgh Penguins Kris Letang, 3rd round.
- Chicago Blackhawks Duncan Keith, 2nd round.
- Philadelphia Flyers Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux and Mike Richards who were all 1st Rounders but who were all picked after the top 10.
- Vancouver Canucks Alex Burrows (never drafted), and Alex Edler, 3rd round pick.
- Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron, 2nd round, and Brad Marchand, 3rd round. Also Milan Lucic, 2nd rounder and David Krejci 3rd round..
- New Jersey Devils Patrick Elias, 2nd round.
- Los Angeles Kings Jonathan Quick, 3rd round.
- New York Rangers Marc Zuccerelo (undrafted).
- Tampa Bay Lightning Tyler Johnson (undrafted). Nikita Kucherov 2nd round. Later they would also have Brayden Point, 3rd round.
- San Jose Sharks Joe Pavelski, 7th round.
- Nashville Predators Roman Josi, 2nd round.
- Washington Capitals Brayden Holtby, 4th round.
The list goes on after as well: Jamie Benn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Brendan Gallagher, William Karlsson and Rielly Smith (not technically drafted by Vegas, but they are an expansion team) and Carter Verhaeghe.
With the possible exceptions of the 2021-22 Colorado Avalanche and the Las Vegas Golden Knights, every single team in the NHL that has made the Stanley Cup Finals since the 2008 season has had a star player on their roster that they drafted outside the top 10 (and in most cases the second round or later).
The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t made the Stanley Cup Finals during this time, and it is probably not a coincidence that they also haven’t had a star player that they drafted, other than Tomas Kaberle, become a star.
Obviously top picks Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly do not count, because the entire point I’m trying to make here is that you need to augment those players with stars you weren’t supposed to get.
The Leafs have wasted an incredible amount of draft picks since they drafted Auston Matthews, but their current system is pretty good considering that they haven’t picked higher than 15th since they took Auston Matthews 1st overall in 2016.
How good is, at this point, anyone’s guess. If any of these players become stars, then it’s going to be the first time that’s happened in a quarter-century. Kyle Dubas’ legacy rests in large part on what happens with the following ten players.
If any of them is a star, then the Toronto Maple Leafs will be much closer to finally winning that elusive championship.