I've always wondered what people outside of North America thought when they saw the symbol of Canada, the maple leaf, not as it appears on our flag but instead... blue. The team's original maple leaf was green, which makes sense. Apparently there was talk in the mid-1920's about going red and white, also a sensible colour for a team with a maple leaf on it. Yet according to Wikipedia, which I'm told is always 100% accurate (/sarcasm font), the Leafs chose blue because "blue represents the Canadian skies". Unfortunately, the only time I've ever seen a blue leaf it was in the movie Avatar.
1st Pick Last Year: Nazem Kadri (7th overall) – It’s not out of the ordinary that a player returning to junior experiences a bit of a “NHL hangover” and that seemed to be the case for Kadri after an impessive camp with the Leafs. He was still a point per game player but that was below expectations for Kadri. After the World Junior Championship he seemed to find his form scoring 25 points in January, his most prolific month of the season. In the playoffs he was on fire scoring 27 points in just 12 games.
The Good: Nikolai Kulemin (44th overall, 2006) – Toronto snapped up the talented Russian when a lot of other teams in the league would have shied away fearing the lure of the KHL. However, Kulemin played two more seasons in the Russia then joined the Leafs in 2008-09, scored 31 points as a rookie and added 36 more this past season. That’s pretty decent contribution from a second round pick let alone one that took some bravery to make.
The Bad: Jiri Tlusty (13th overall, 2006) – As it has played out, taking Tlusty at that point of the 2006 draft wasn’t great but it wasn’t as bad as some other teams made out that year. The Leafs got 74 NHL games out of the Czech forward but only 20 points. He might be remembered more in Toronto for his naked self photography than anything else. He was dealt to Caroline in 2009-10.
The Unknown: Mikhail Stefanovich (98th overall, 2008) – By all accounts the Belarusian is blessed with talents most players can only wish for. Unfortunately, Stefanovich’s work ethic has come under fire during his 3-year QMJHL career with the Quebec Remparts. Part of that may be the same thing that Kadri went through; a NHL hangover. He scored 25 goals with the Remparts last season but that was a huge drop off from the 49 that he potted in 2008-09. He is signed and ready to start his professional career but whether that’s in the NHL or on the farm still remains to be seen.
Coming Down the Pipe: Kadri is far and away the top prospect for the Leafs unless you want to include Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson. The line then starts with an array of NCAA trained players including Tyler Bozak, Viktor Stalberg, Jimmy Hayes, Jerry D’Amigo, Matt Frattin, Kenny Ryan and Christian Hanson. Dale Mitchell can provide character and effort while defencemen Keith Aulie and Andrew MacWilliam shore up the back end. The Leafs are thin in goalie prospects behind Gustavsson (add recent signings of Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas as noted in comments).
Draft Trends: There was a time when Toronto took a lot of Europeans but that seems to have come to an end under Brian Burke. Last year all 7 picks were North Americans and even in 2008 where the team did take a German and a Belarusian, both were expected to play in the CHL (Jerome Flaake didn’t and was not signed by the team). Burke has a terrific amount of respect for the US-NTDP and chose two players from the U18 squad last year.
2010 Prediction 62nd overall:
Freddie Hamilton (Niagara) – The IceDogs forward doubled his offensive production from his rookie campaign and ended this past season with 25 goals and 55 points. With both parents being former Olympians, Hamilton clearly comes loaded with sport genetics. Aside from his natural athletic prowess, Hamilton is also a dynamo academically boasting a 99.5% average in school.