TORONTO-The Toronto Maple Leafs have more quality prospects and assets now than at any time; a goal of General Manager Brian Burke’s when he started the rebuild late in 2008. Burke has traded for some of the young talent like Jake Gardiner and Joe Colborne but a major portion of those prospects comes from the 2009 Entry Draft.
In what was Burke’s first draft as head of the Leafs organization, seven players were selected led by Nazem Kadri as their first round choice.
If you remember with Kadri, after being selected by Toronto seventh overall, he was sent back to his junior team the London Knights. There he would have a break out year with 93 points in 56 games. He also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships; earning a silver medal in 2010.
Last season he started his pro career in the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies before a series of call-ups, demotions and inconsistent play gave way to him finishing the season as a member of the Leafs.
It was a season that forced Kadri to learn the pro game quicker than the original development timeline planned for and along the way Leafs coaches learned that Kadri would not be the centre man of the future. That is why he will start the upcoming season on the left-wing with the Leafs.
With so much of the media attention surrounding Kadri’s first year, the other six selections from his draft class went their own ways, under the radar, developing their game as well.
So with the 2011/12 hockey season coming up, there’s a great chance those other choices will be following Kadri into professional hockey.
6’6” defenseman Eric Knodel is committed to the University of New Hampshire for next year but Jerry D’Amigo, Jesse Blacker, Jamie Devane, and Kenny Ryan all have a shot at cracking the Marlies roster. In fact, the only draft pick from 2009 not still associated with the Leafs is former seventh round pick Barron Smith, who re-entered the 2011 draft after being left unsigned by Toronto.
Drafted in the sixth round, D’Amigo has the most experience out of the group after playing 43 games last season with the Marlies. Although he flattened out offensively, the Binghamton, New York native found his stride late in the season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Kitchener Rangers. The demotion worked as a benefit, as he earned 28 points in 21 junior games, and not a set back as it could be easily seen as. D’Amigo’s spot will be on the left side with the Marlies when the season starts.
As a member of the Owen Sound Attack, Blacker wrapped up four years of junior hockey by winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup as an OHL champion. It was his second time winning the championship following his 2008/09 victory with the Windsor Spitfires; a team that also won the Memorial Cup.
The second round pick should crack the Marlies roster especially considering the praise he took from Leafs management at this year’s prospect camp. His 54 points in 62 games last season showcased his main talent of being able to move the puck; either by skating or making the first pass.
Devane is a player of Burke’s competence, standing 6’5” and 220lbs. He proclaims to be an energy guy and looks at Milan Lucic as a player to base his game on. The native of Mississauga has played for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL since being drafted in the 3rd round by Toronto and potted 19 goals along with 131 minutes in penalties last season. The power forward isn’t afraid to drop the gloves, as he did it numerous times last season but it could be his skating that decides where he starts next year. The left-wing could have a log jam with the likes of Luca Caputi, Ryan Hamilton, Marcel Mueller and D’Amigo ahead of him on the depth chart. So unless the Marlies need instanst toughness, he could be playing for the East Coast Hockey League’s Reading Royals.
Ryan, like Blacker, was picked in the second round. Once a teammate of D’Amigo’s on the U.S. National Under-18 team, the native of Franklin, Michigan declined an offer from Boston University and chose to play two years of junior in Canada with the Windsor Spitfires. He was a part of the Spitfires 2009/10 Memorial Cup championship and put up 60 points in 63 games last year as a 19 year old.
He played as a right-winger before Windsor moved him to centre. Unsure of where he will be in the future, the Leafs kept him in the middle at this year’s prospect camp and he showed how well he could control the puck using his body as a shield.
Even though Ryan didn’t look out of place at his second position, he may have a better shot at making the Marlies on the right-wing simply due to the depth at centre amongst the organization. He faces a similar situation as Devane as he heads into the season fighting for a position on a Marlies roster that yields a solid base.
With Knodel’s plans including more development at the collegiate level, it is unclear still if he will play any pro hockey. He didn’t play last season, sitting out his freshman year. Another season in the NCAA will tell a lot about what to expect regarding his future.
Regardless of Knodel staying in college, the overall numbers don’t lie. The 2009 entry draft was a successful building tool that gives Burke many options when moulding his future squad.
It also offers the Leafs organization five players who are ready to play some form of pro hockey in 2011/12.
That’s a pretty good draft year.
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