If you read my last article for the Leafs Worst First Draft Picks of the 1990's, you will notice how bad all these high draft picks turned out. Many of them, with the exception of Nik Antropov, never really even made an impact in the NHL.
The Leafs also traded high draft picks some years in hopes of getting help right away (Tom Kurvers for a first round pick turned into Scott Niedermayer, trading the sixth overall selection in the Wendel Clark trade turned out to be Roberto Luongo).
But in a time of negativity and utter disdain towards the Leafs, this Leafs writer is trying to take a positive spin on things.
I have compiled a list of some of the best draft picks the Leafs have selected in the new millennium (Years 2000-2009). These players can be selected anywhere in the draft, however, a greater emphasis and ranking will be put on players taken later in the draft.
PHOTO: You may see these two players among the listed. These two players were traded as part of some of the worst trades in franchise history, but were among some of the Leafs best draft picks of the new millennium.
You may be wondering why he's even in the list, when I could have put guys like John Mitchell or even Mikael Tellqvist here.
Blacker's arrival isn't expected for a year or two, but he's already shown he has a good two-way game fit for the NHL. In the preseason he strutted his stuff and showed why the Leafs are so high on him.
He was returned to his junior team, the Owen Sound Attack, and is currently helping them to one of the better records in the OHL this season.
His 2010 statistics are great, as in 23 games played he has scored six goals and added 14 assists for 20 points. At almost a point per game pace for a defender, Blacker's future looks promising with the Leafs.
On the active roster?
Not yet, but should be a fixture in a few years.
It has been a slow start for Gunnarsson this year, but in the season previous, "Gunn" was one of the Leafs better defenders, and a mostly steady influence on the back end. In his rookie season, he led the Leafs in plus-minus and accumulated 15 points in 40 games. In an 82 game season, he was on pace for around 30 points.
However, this season has been a sophomore struggle for Gunnarsson as he's only notched one assist in 14 games, but it seems like he's starting to at least play better lately, which is something seeing as how most of the Leafs team is playing like they're skating in molasses.
On active roster?
Gunnarsson is currently in the Leafs bottom two defensive pairing, playing alongside another blue chip Leafs prospect Keith Aulie.
Kyle Wellwood, despite his small size and limited skating ability, had a knack for finding the open man and finding the back of the net. When he was on, he was a power-play machine. Along with Darcy Tucker and Mats Sundin, the Leafs power-play was nearly impossible to stop.
Tucker parked in front of the goalie, Wellwood off to the side waiting to make a cross crease pass, Sundin scattered all over the ice. Not to mention, the back end with Tomas Kaberle and 20-goal scorer Bryan McCabe, the Leafs power-play would make their current edition of penalty killers tremble in fear.
But due to his lack of speed and bad defensive play, Wellwood is now out of the NHL playing in Russia. In 18 games, he has but three goals and one lonely assist as his hockey career appears to be fading into thin air.
Taken in the fifth round, only NHL'ers like Ryan Clowe, Brooks Laich, Kevin Bieksa and Jussi Jokinen were taken after Wellwood, but for what it's worth, Wellwood was a great draft pick for where he was picked in 2001.
Jerry D'Amigo is a smallish skilled winger who will probably evolve into one of the Leafs better all around players and best skaters for years to come—if they don't trade him first.
D"Amigo was a college standout for RPI and gained most of his notoriety in last year's World Junior Hockey Championship, winning the gold medal for a stacked United States squad that featured NHL'ers like John Carlson, Derek Stepan and Kevin Shattenkirk.
D'Amigo arguably may of been the best player on the American squad though.
Jerry is currently playing on the Toronto Marlies this year and could see himself released by the team so he can play in the 2010 World Juniors in nearby Buffalo, New York. He only has three goals and five assists in 23 games so far for the club, playing in limited ice time.
At 5'11" D'Amigo is still a bit small in height, however, he's pushing 210 pounds, so it appears D'Amigo is growing into a large frame, and hopefully will be a fixture with the Leafs in the coming years. He would already be ranked among the larger Leaf forwards as well, only Nikolai Kulemin is bigger in the Leafs top nine currently.
On active roster?
Not yet, although D'Amigo is very close to making it unless he's dealt.
Carlo's tenure with the Leafs was filled with injuries, but there was no denying the kid had loads of potential. Coming into the 2001 Draft, Colaiacovo was drawing comparisons to then Senators defender Wade Redden, but due to a number of injuries, never really lived up to the hype with the Leafs.
Where Colaiacovo was picked was a pretty good spot for the Leafs to take him and players taken after him in the first round never really had better careers than Carlo (Colby Armstrong, Shoane Morrison, Tim Gleason).
It was starting in the second round where the likes of Derek Roy, Mike Cammalleri, Jason Pominville and Jay McClement were picked. Tomas Plekanec, Ryan Clowe and Patrick Sharp were taken a bit later in that draft. However you can argue all 30 teams missed the boat to take these guys in the first round, so I don't put much blame on the Leafs for a bad selection here at 17.
This season, Colaiacovo has been limited to only 15 games with St. Louis, but has three goals and six assists for nine points. Not great numbers, but they are very respectable and would put him near the top in Leafs scoring from the back end, despite playing about nine fewer games.
On active roster?
He was dealt as part of the Lee Stempniak deal with St. Louis. Stempniak would later be dealt to the Coyotes for D Matt Jones and fifth and seventh round selections (Daniel Brodin, Josh Nicholls).
Anton Stralman, who is not really known for his even strength play, was one of the NHL's better power-play quarterbacks in the NHL last season.
Last season with the Blue Jackets, Stralman scored six goals and added 28 assists for 34 points in 73 games. Most of those points came on the power-play.
However, this season has been an epic struggle for Stralman, only getting six assists in 18 games with the Blue Jackets. Given where he was taken, I would still consider him a huge steal that late in the draft.
Patric Hornqvist was taken last overall in that draft, so the Leafs may have picked the wrong Swede here.
On active roster?
Dealt as part of the Wayne Primeau deal with Calgary prior to last season (2009-10).
Viktor Stalberg, who was drafted out of Sweden (Frolunda Juniors), was an afterthought when he decided to play hockey for Vermont in the NCAA. It was this move that changed his career for the better, as the 6'3" 200-pound winger would prove he could make it in the North American style of game.
Stalberg, who is blessed with great wheels and some offensive upside, never really found his touch in limited time with the Leafs last season, often John Mitchell'ing it, getting a point blank chance and missing the net.
Stalberg is now a top six winger playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for Chicago Blackhawks.
On active roster?
He was dealt as part of the Kris Versteeg deal. Going along with him were prospects Phillippe Paradis and Christopher Didimenico. The Leafs received Versteeg and Billy Sweatt. Sweatt would not sign with the Leafs and agreed to a contract with the Vancouver Canucks not too long afterward.
Ian White was one of those diamond in the rough picks in 2001. If The NHL remained a big man, old guy league, where physical play and brute strength were big parts to the NHL game, Ian White would probably not be playing in the NHL.
But since the lockout, and the shift in gameplay in the NHL, White has found himself a home on the backend in the league. At 5'10 180 pounds, "Whitey" isn't the biggest guy out there, but he plays with a big heart.
A comparison for him right now would probably be Joe Corvo, as both possess a rocket from the point and are generally good puck-movers. However, they are both prone to brain farts in their own end, such as turnovers and bad plays.
White was maybe the Leafs best draft pick for where he was taken, from the 2001 Maple Leafs draft.
On active roster?
Dealt as part of the Dion Phaneuf trade with Calgary. Was eventually traded by the Flames along with Brett Sutter for Anton Babchuk and Tom Kostopolous. White makes his home with former Leafs coach Paul Maurice's Carolina Hurricanes.
Nikolai Kulemin was taken in the second round of the 2006 NHL draft but probably deserved to be taken higher due to the uncertainty of taking Russian players at the draft.
Getting "Kooley" over to North America was a struggle early on, but the Leafs today are reaping the benefits from a great pick. Kulemin, when he was in Russia, was often paired with Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin as both of them were dominant, especially in the 2006 World Juniors in Vancouver.
Kulemin at 6'2" 200 pounds is a good candidate for a power forward role with the Leafs and is really starting to bloom in front of Leaf fans eyes.
So far this season, Kulemin has seven goals and six assists for 13 points in 22 games with a struggling Leafs squad. Kulemin has the potential to be a perennial 25-goal scorer and 60 point man in the NHL if he puts his mind to it.
On active roster?
Yes, playing in the Leafs top six along with linemates Luca Caputi and Mikhail Grabovski.
The top line features Clarke MacArthur, Phil Kessel and is centered by Nazem Kadri (see later slides).
Alex Steen came into the Leafs organization with an immense amount of pressure to perform. Much like the pressure Nazem Kadri is facing today.
Steen was a scorer when he wasn't in the NHL, and with Sweden in 2003, would lead their Junior team in scoring at the World Juniors in Halifax. That tournament alone had many Leafs prospects in it, as opposed to today, as you would be lucky to see a handful of Leafs prospects in that tournament.
He had a decent rookie season that Leaf fans, and media alike, were hoping was just a stepping stone for the young forward. Playing alongside Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, Steen would struggle to score and was eventually demoted from top line duties.
He was dealt to the Blues for Lee Stempniak after the Leafs gave up on him, and Steen has made them pay. Having a more defined role with the Blues, Steen's career has flourished in Missouri. Last season he put up career bests in goals (24) and points (47) and is hoping to build on a strong season.
On active roster?
Dealt as part of Lee Stempniak trade with Blues that would see fellow draft pick Carlo Colaiacovo shipped along with him for the streaky scoring Lee Stempniak, who struggled to find his scoring touch in Toronto.
Matt Stajan was taken in the second round of the 2002 NHL draft and came out of Belleville with the thought he'd develop more into a checker than a scorer.
Boy has that changed, as Stajan has pretty much been a steady performer for any club he's been on.
Stajan never seems to miss a lot of time with injuries in his career, and really, for what its worth, was given way too much responsibility and pressure while he was with Toronto.
Stajan was not a first-line center, however he could easily fill the role of second or third-line center with any team in the NHL.
Prior to last season's trade with Calgary, Stajan was thought of as a future captain of the Leafs, which speaks volumes to the amount of character and leadership that Stajan is capable of. To this day, I still miss seeing Stajan on the Leafs, despite his inconsistencies scoring.
The last two seasons he's averaged over 50 points with both the Flames and Leafs.
On active roster?
Dealt as part of the trade that brought team captain Dion Phaneuf to Toronto along with Fredick Sjostrom and Keith Aulie for Stajan, Niklas Hagman, Jamal Mayers and Ian White.
Nazem Kadri came into the season as the odds-on favorite for the second line center duties, but a pretty dismal camp resulted in him starting the year out in the minors.
That did not deter Kadri as he scored five goals and added nine assists for 14 points in 14 games with the Marlies.
With the Leafs struggling to even gain the opposition's zone, the Leafs decided to call up the potential All-Star center earlier than expected and Kadri, for the most part, has not disappointed.
As of November 29th, Kadri will now be centering the top line alongside sniper Phill Kessel and one of the better free agent pickups in recent years, Clarke MacArthur.
Kadri dominated Juniors and it's only a matter of time before Kadri really starts showing the immense skill, vision and creativity that we saw there.
On active roster?
Surprisingly yes, playing top line duties with the Leafs, but for how long?
Brad Boyes was taken 24th overall by the Leafs out of Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. The local product out of Mississauga, Boyes would never skate a minute with the Leafs and was dealt to San Jose prior to his NHL career beginning.
It was an early struggle for Boyes to make an NHL squad, but eventually got his shot at stardom with the Boston Bruins.
In his first full season with the B's, Boyes scored 26 goals and added 43 assists for 69 points in 76 games played. A wonderful start to a career that would see him score even more goals.
The next season Boyes was dealt to St. Louis, where he currently plays, and only scored 17 goals. In the next two seasons, Boyes would recover scoring 43 goals and 33 goals respectively. Since then though, he's struggled to find the back of the net, but its undeniable that Boyes can score.
On active roster?
Dealt as part of the Owen Nolan deal with the Sharks, that would see Alyn MacCauley, and a first round (Mark Stuart) shipped along with Boyes, for the aging veteran forward.
Luke Schenn began he's NHL career very quickly as a surprise addition to the Leafs roster in 2009 as an 18 year old.
Schenn would impress greatly that year scoring twice and adding 12 assists to go along with a tidy 71 penalty minutes in his rookie campaign.
With that in mind, the pressure grew for Schenn the following season, and much like the Leafs season last year, he flopped. Many argued whether Schenn was thrown into the fire too early, whether he was ready for the toll the NHL takes.
To his credit, Schenn set out that offseasn to prove his critics wrong. Coming into camp in the best shape of his career and with a bone to pick, Schenn took his frustrations from last season out on the opposition.
This season Luke Schenn is the Leafs best all around defender by a mile and looks to be a fixture on the Leafs team for many years, unless he's dealt, which is unlikely.
On Active Roster?
Yes, paired along with Tomas Kaberle to make up Toronto's best defensive pair.
Tuukka Rask will always be known as the one that got away. After a strong World Juniors, helped by wonderful defensive play by Team Canada, the Leafs thought Justin Pogge was the better long-term option over Rask.
The Leafs, desperate for immediate help in net, shipped goaltender Tuukka Rask to the Boston Bruins for former Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft.
Raycroft would set a team record for wins with 37, but never really looked that good in a Toronto uniform. In all intents and purposes, Raycroft was a huge bust in Toronto, and has never been a number one goalie since.
Rask on the other hand enjoyed on of the best rookie seasons in NHL history for a goaltender starting 45 games and amassing a record of 22-12-5 to go along with 1.97 GAA and a .931 SV%.
This season Rask has seen his playing time decrease with the stellar play of former Vezina Trophy candidate Tim Thomas. Rask, has seen a slight decline in his numbers, but is still playing strong.
Rask is 1-6-1 with a 2.59 GAA and a .930 SV%, but should have a much better record that what his stats indicate. Rask is the future of Boston Bruins goaltending, and the one deal that Toronto fans lament to this day. That deal is hard to swallow for all Leaf fans.
To make matters worse, he was taken 21st overall and is what many say, the best draft pick ever by John Ferguson Jr. Hats off to you John for such an immense failure of a trade. You win some and you lose some I guess.
We will look at the return for the draft picks that are not on our squad.
Kyle Wellwood--Waived by the Leafs, Signed in Vancouver. Not Given a Contract by a Team in NHL. Currently in the KHL.
Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Steen--Dealt for Lee Stempniak--Leafs Dealt Stemps to Phoenix and got Matt Jones and 5th and 7th round selections courtesy of the Coyotes in the 2010 NHL Draft. Pretty lousy return for two high first round selections.
Anton Stralman--Dealt along with Colin Stuart and a 7th Round Selection for Wayne Primeau (Ret.) and a 2nd round selection in 2011 from the Flames. Makes losing the 2nd rounder in the Kessel deal a little easier to swallow I guess. Its a Great Deal if the Leafs take a good player.
Viktor Stalberg-- Dealt along with Chris Didomenico and Phillippe Paradis for Kris Versteeg and Billy Sweatt. Sweatt failed to sign with the Leafs and inked a contract with the Canucks. Good deal.
Ian White and Matt Stajan--Dealt along with Nik Hagman and Jamal Mayers for Dion Phaneuf, Fredrick Sjostrom and Keith Aulie. Good deal.
Brad Boyes--Dealt along with Alyn MacCauley and a First Round Selection in 2003 (Mark Stuart) for Owen Nolan. TERRIBLE TRADE looking back on it.
Tuukka Rask-- Dealt for Andrew Raycroft, who was eventually bought out and signed with the Avalanche. Currently plays second fiddle to Kari Lehtonen in Dallas.