Toronto Maple Leafs: The Best Drafts Ever, Part I
I know what you're thinking.
Best Leafs drafts? Is this guy for real? Hahahaha, I've never heard something so funny in my life! Is there such a thing as a good Leafs draft? I think I'll go make myself a sandwich.
Okay, so that last part was me. I'm hungry. Sue me.
Back to business. I'm going to take a look at the best draft classes in Leafs' history, and who knows, I might even find one.
I should add that this idea comes from David Heere, who wrote a similar article about the Devils' top draft classes.
But that's where the similarities end. In case you haven't noticed, the Leafs have historically been on the bottom rung of the NHL's draft hierarchy, while the Devils are always near the top.
So without further ado, here is the first half of the Toronto Maple Leafs' Top 10 draft classes of all time—and I warn you, they may be painful:
1. 1996: Tomas Kaberle, 204th overall. This one isn't on the list, because aside from Kaberle, it was absolutely terrible, laced with obscure names like Francis Larivee, Jason Sessa, and Lucio DeMartinis.
But discovering Kaberle in the later stages makes this a successful draft for Toronto, despite the other 13 selections being losers. He's easily the best draft steal in Leafs history.
2. 1985: This one also gets honourable mention because of one player—though the Leafs don't exactly deserve a ton of credit for doing well at first overall. Wendel Clark was the top pick in this draft, and defenseman Jiri Latal, picked at No. 106, played 92 NHL games.
Vincent Damphousse, sixth overall; Darryl Shannon, 36th.
Damphousse is one of the few stars the Leafs have acquired through the draft, though most of his career was spent elsewhere. An excellent playmaker, he racked up more than 400 goals and 1200 points in almost 1400 career games with the Leafs, Oilers, Habs and Sharks. His career high was 39 goals and 97 points with the Canadiens in 1992-93, and the best of his five seasons as a Leaf came in 1989-90, when he posted 33 goals and 94 points.
Shannon played parts of 13 NHL seasons as a stay-at-home defender, seeing time with the Leafs, Jets, Sabres, Thrashers, Flames and Habs.
Russ Courtnall, seventh overall; Jeff Jackson, 28th; Allan Bester, 48th.
What this draft lacked in star quality, it made up for in depth. Courtnall played over 1,000 NHL games with the Leafs, Habs, Stars, Canucks, Rangers, and Kings, tallying 297 goals and 744 points. He enjoyed four seasons in the blue and white before the infamous trade that sent him to Montreal for John Kordic.
Bester might not have been the best goalie the Leafs have ever had. But to this day, he remains my uncle's favourite NHL player ever—and my uncle is a Habs fan, so that's good enough for me. Bester played 219 NHL games, nearly all of them with the Leafs.
Jeff Jackson played 263 games in the NHL—and guess what? He's now the Leafs' assistant general manager, and a damn good one at that. Two other players selected in this draft played over 100 games.
Luke Richardson, seventh overall; Daniel Marois, 28th; Joe Sacco, 71st; Mike Eastwood, 91st; Damian Rhodes, 112th.
Another deep draft for the Leafs, with several role players who would enjoy long big-league careers. Richardson is still kicking around, playing his 20th NHL season last year with Ottawa. He's been a dependable stay-at-home type for a long time, providing his services to the Leafs (twice), Oilers, Flyers, Blue Jackets, Lightning, and Sens. One more full season would catapult him over 1,500 career games.
Eastwood was another reliable pick, spending 13 years as a checking centre with the Leafs, Jets, Coyotes, Rangers, Blues, Hawks, and Pens. His heyday was with St. Louis from 1998 to 2002, when he was an integral part of the team's playoff runs and posted a career high of 34 points in 1999-2000.
Sacco and Marois also had extended stays in the NHL. Sacco played 738 games as a defensive forward with the Leafs, Ducks, Isles, Caps and Flyers, posting 213 points. Marois was a sniper, playing four seasons with Toronto before bouncing around the NHL (Isles, Bruins, Stars), the minors and Europe. He did show flashes of being a bonafide star, racking up a career high 39 goals and 76 points with the Buds in 1989-90.
Rhodes, meanwhile, spent more than 300 games tending the pipes for Toronto, Ottawa, and Atlanta. He is best known for the four seasons he spent splitting duties with Ron Tugnutt in Ottawa. He played a career-high 50 games in both 1996-97 and 1997-98.
Drake Berehowsky, 10th overall; Felix Potvin, 31st; Darby Hendrickson, 73rd; Alex Godynyuk, 115th; Eric Lacroix, 136th.
More depth players for Toronto, with one notable exception. Potvin is one of the very few true starters the Leafs have ever produced. His name still brings back memories for Leaf diehards and casual fans alike. In his six-plus seasons with the Buds, Felix the Cat carved out a reputation as one of the league's best goaltenders. He led the team to two conference finals, and often ranked among the busiest goalies in the league in terms of shots faced.
When the Leafs signed Curtis Joseph as a free agent in 1998, Potvin was unhappy being the backup and was dealt to the Isles. That was the turning point of his career, as he spent the rest of his days on terrible teams in Long Island, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Boston.
Berehowsky was another defensive blueliner who bounced around, spending parts of 13 seasons plying his trade with Toronto (twice - this is a running joke), Pittsburgh (twice), Edmonton, Nashville, Vancouver, and Phoenix. He played 549 games in the NHL.
Hendrickson found a role in the NHL as a third-line centre, playing 10 seasons and 518 games with the Leafs, Canucks, Wild and Avalanche. He potted 64 goals and 129 points. Lacroix, meanwhile, played nearly 500 games as an enforcer and energy player, hitting stops in Toronto, Los Angeles, Colorado, New York, and Ottawa.
Finally, defenseman Alexander Godynyuk didn't do much in the NHL (223 games)—but he helped the Leafs get Doug Gilmour from Calgary, which is enough to get him mentioned.
Al Iafrate, fourth overall; Todd Gill, 25th; Jeff Reese, 67th.
This draft solidified the Leafs' blue line for a long time. Iafrate, one of the hardest shooters ever to terrorize NHL goalies, played almost 800 games as a tough two-way blueliner, racking up 152 goals and 463 points to go with 1,300 penalty minutes.
And unlike most of the players mentioned so far, Iafrate's best days were with the Leafs. He spent seven seasons in Toronto, including a career-high 21 goals and 63 points in 1989-90. He went on to play with Washington, Boston, and San Jose, before retiring in 1998.
Gill was all defense, and that punched his ticket for an NHL career that spanned over 1000 games and 18 seasons. Gill's heyday was also in Toronto, where he spent 10-plus seasons before an awful trade that sent him to San Jose for Jamie Baker in 1996. He went on to play for St. Louis, Detroit, Phoenix, Colorado, and Chicago before hanging 'em up in 2004.
Reese played 174 games in the crease with Toronto, Calgary, Hartford, Tampa, and New Jersey. A career backup, his busiest season came in 1990-91, when he appeared in 30 games with the Leafs. And he saved the Buds' bacon eight years later when, with Cujo and Glenn "Douchebag" Healy both injured, he returned to the Leafs and played two games, posting a win and a loss.
Toronto also drafted Fabian Joseph, a key player on the Canadian Olympic team, who ended up being a bust.
Time for that sandwich, I think.
Don't forget to check in on Monday when the Leafs' five best drafts of all-time are unveiled!
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