For Toronto fans, the Entry Draft 08’ signaled a new age. With the much vaunted clear out in the upcoming months, the draft had all the makings of a cornerstone with which the franchise could rebuild in the next few years.
Despite having 10 picks at their disposal, even after the eyebrow raising trade for Jamal Mayers, the Blue Nation was hoping that Toronto could buck their propensity to throw picks around like veteran bait on draft day. Whilst Mayers offers a lot of grit and toughness, characteristics sorely missing from this seasons Leaf lineup, some onlookers were quick to dub the trade another typical back step whilst others pointed to the comparable efforts of Gary Roberts nursing a young roster in Pittsburgh. Whatever side of the fence Leafs supporters were standing on over the Mayers trade, the coin flip debate sent a shiver through those hoping for a blue youth movement at the Air Canada.
However in Ottawa, interim GM Cliff Fletcher was quick to dispel the fears of naysayers. With rumors abound, Toronto were clearly in the hunt for an NHL ready defenseman to sure up what looks to be a thread bare roster for 08-09,’ desperately short of blue line talent. Word was Toronto wanted Luke Schenn, having spoken to the young Kelowna Rocket at the draft combine, and the Leafs management were quick to jump the gun on a day filled with draft trade movement to secure their man, shifting their 7th overall pick along with 2nd and 3rd round conditional picks for the Islanders 5th overall selection.
The move paid off as the highly rated, stay at home D-Man became Toronto’s earliest draftee since Wendel Clark went first in 1985.
Getting his first taste of the Ontario rivalry, Schenn made his way to the stage under a hail of hometown boos.
For Fletcher, the Schenn deal was pretty much job done picking up a potential great defenseman in a first round dominated by defense and trades whilst showing the Leafs management were finally looking towards the future.
A neat underrated Right Winger in Jimmy Hayes supported a cast of useful second day draftees into Toronto with big being the theme of the day, bucking the small and flighty brigade whilst the Leafs drafted into all positions. In total three blueliners were selected in a deep draft, as well as two centers a left winger and a goalie made up with a nice mix of projects, characters and prospects.
Selected: 1st Round, 5th Overall
Junior Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Born: November 2nd 1989 Birthplace: Saskatoon, SK
Height: 6’2” Weight: 216lbs
Only selected 20th overall by the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL Bantam draft, Schenn went from a mildly successful freshman year in the WHL, to top line D in Kelowna in his sophomore season, second in the team for assists (27 in 72 games). Despite the Rockets abysmal season in 06-07’ Schenn was selected for the Junior Team Canada for both the Canada-Russia Super Series and the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in 07-08’ in which Canada came away with the gold medal, Schenn posting a team leading +5. Kelowna also saw a better season helped in part by a mobile D led by Schenn, fellow 08’ draftee Tyler Myers and the underrated Tyson Barrie.
At the 2008 Top Prospects game, Schenn scored the first goal while running an aggressive defense clinic. Despite missing out at the arena for honors, a poll later run by The Pipeline Show on the Hockey Future website for the best performer of the day saw Schenn walk away with the fans vote by 59%.
Often compared to Ed Jovanovski and Adam Foote, Schenn is regarded as an NHL ready player with an ultra solid, stay at home ethos. A good hitter, Schenn is built physically strong and big and plays a tough shut down game suited to the new NHL. When caught out of position he recovers quickly and despite his reputation will pinch up if required. Sometimes noted for bad decision making, especially in his aggressive play, Schenn has worked to improve his skating and mobility and is touted as a potential team leader in the future after earning the assistant captain role at Kelowna.
Almost certain to see some big league service in 08-09’ Schenn could be the best traditional blueliner to come out of an excellent 2008 defensive crop and will be a fine foundation from which the Maple Leafs can build.
Selected: 2nd Round, 60th Overall
Position: Right Wing
Junior Team: Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Born: November 21st 1989 Birthplace: Boston, MA
Height: 6’5” Weight: 210lbs
At one point ranked in the Central Scouting’s top 20 prospects for 2008 and touted as a potential top 10 draftee after the US National Junior Evaluation Camp in 2007 despite failing to make the team, Hayes 07-08’ campaign saw him splitting time between USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program and the Lincoln Stars, subsequently his draft stock sunk to 64th. A late addition to the 2007 camp brought in after an injury to Peter Mueller, Hayes had had previous junior international experience having played for the US National U-17 in the 2005 four nations tournament in Russia and the 2006 U-17 select side that played in the U-18 Ivan Hlinka memorial tournament in the Czech Republic whilst participating in school hockey for Noble and Greenough.
Later going on to play US National Team Development Program U-18, Hayes played for the silver medal winning team USA at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships.
Continuing as the first ever overage player in the US National Team Development Program U-18 team, Hayes was released to play in the USHL having had his rights traded from the Jr. Blue Jackets, who had drafted him first overall in 2006, to the Lincoln Stars, Hayes had previously been drafted in the 7th round of the QMJHL bantam draft by the Moncton Wildcats.
Compared by himself to Keith Tkachuk, Hayes is a big, long reaching power forward, noted for his long looping, fast stride and multitude of skills. Despite his size, Hayes has been criticized for his inability to finish checks and put his body about; nevertheless his payoff is a surprising level of agility and willing to work extraordinarily hard up and down the wings with a great team working mentality.
Due to start his stint in the NCAA with defending champions Boston College under the tutelage of Jerry York; Hayes has the potential to make the NHL if he applies his physicality more. If he can avoid the trap that college hockey has proved in the past Hayes could see the big league in within the next few years.
Selected: 4th Round 98th Overall
Junior Team: Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Born: November 27th 1989 Birthplace: Minsk, Belarus
Height: 6’2” Weight: 202lbs
The only Belarusian drafted in 2008 and one of surprisingly few members of the QMJHL, Stefanovich was considered one of the highest tier Imports in the CHL imports draft taken by Quebec with their first selection. Having played for the Belarus U-18 team in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in both 06’ and 07’ Stefanovich impressed at the CHL prospects game and was quickly touted as one of the highest ranked prospects from the QMJHL.
Blessed with a naturally big physique, Stefanovich is noted for his excellent mix of size, speed, strength and stick handling. Despite this blend, Stefanovich is heavily marked by a lack of consistency, interest and work ethic. Although he is willing to grind in front of the net and battle with a long striding skating style, he rarely utilizes his size to any kind of advantage and his output is overtly unsteady. Despite this, he finished 07-08’ as the top scoring rookie in the QMJHL and received the Mike Bossy Award for the best professional prospect in an upcoming draft, aided by a wicked shot that made him a useful component for the Remparts powerplay as a point man.
Stefanovich has all the marks of a potentially flashy European underdog. Given a year or two to work on his physicality and work rate, Stefanovich could have all the attributes to make him a useful future NHLer as a power forward. A potentially astute pick by the Leafs albeit boom or bust.
Selected: 5th Round 128th Overall
Junior Team: Ohio Junior Blue Jackets (USHL)
Born: June 20th 1990 Birthplace: Sterling Heights, MI
Height: 6’2” Weight: 212lbs
Toronto’s youngest draftee in 2008 and the first of the Leafs 5th round triumvirate, Pateryn is known as a big, strong and physical D-Man.
Playing his high school hockey for the Birmingham Brother Rice Warriors, Pateryn earned an honorable mention for Michigan all-state as the Warriors captain in 06-07,’ before being selected in the 3rd round of the USHL entry draft by the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and subsequently traded to the Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets.
In 07-08’ Pateryn was dubbed a B grade prospect for the NHL 08’ entry draft whilst also featuring for the Eastern Division team in the USHL All-Star/Prospects game.
Noted as a sizeable defensive presence, Pateryn is held in high regard by the University of Michigan who enrolled him for 08-09’ owing to his offensive play and passing ability that would work well in a fast transitional puck possession team. Pateryn also worked on the powerplay for Ohio where he is expected to remain in 08-09’ before joining Michigan in 09-10.’
Its hard to measure how these NCAA bound players will turn out, his transitional defensive play sounds impressive and his 24 assists in 60 games in the USHL is useful for a D-Man straight out of high school. However with his hockey tied up for at least two or three years, only time will tell if Pateryn can step up to College hockey and then pro level.
Selected: 5th Round 129th Overall
Junior Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
Born: January 24th 1990 Birthplace: Chateauguay, QC
Height: 6’4” Weight: 210lbs
The tenth overall selection in the 2006 QMJHL midget draft, Champagne was expected to top the scouts ranking charts often featuring in the QMJHL top prospects. However Champagne has failed to live up to his lofty potential and has been dubbed a slow developer.
Used sporadically in his rookie year in Chicoutimi and as a second line center man in his sophomore season, Champagne’s numbers increased from 6 goals and 16 assists in 06-07’ to 18 goals and 22 assists in 07-08’. A notable increase attributed to his improved use of his size, Champagne managed to make both the CHL top prospects game and a junior Canada team that played in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge where he was considered an impressive physical forward, topping the team statistics for hits and even more notably won 20 of 28 faceoffs taken to match his 58% success rate in the QMJHL.
In spite of this pedigree, Champagne saw his draft stock fall dramatically in 2008, with scouts airing concerns over the consistency of his physical application, puck handling, agility and his weak skating. Whilst he possesses good anticipation, two way play and a willing to cause trouble in front of the net, Champagne has been branded a project just scratching the surface of his potential.
Champagne has all the marks of a useful fourth liner, with a good physique that he should learn to utilize more often as he develops, he could become a useful defensively minded forward whose talents in the faceoff circle could be tapped late in games in the same way Chicoutimi utilized him.
Definitely a long term investment, it could be a few seasons before Champagne becomes an NHL ready player.
Selected: 5th Round 130th Overall
Position: Left Wing
Junior Team: Koln Sharks (DEL)
Born: March 2nd 1990 Birthplace: Guben, Germany
Height: 6’2” Weight: 187lbs
As Stefanovich was the only Belarusian drafted in 2008, Flaake was the only German, an unusually low number for a country that had supplied five juniors in the previous two years.
Obviously topping the chart as Germany’s leading prospect for 2008, Flaake came to prominence after his superb 07-08’ campaign in the top German junior division the DNL. Playing for the Koln Sharks development team, Flake posted 35 goals and 45 assists for 80 points in a mere 36 games. So impressed were the pro team that Flaake had the daunting honor of dressing in 30 games for the DEL Koln Sharks in 07-08’, although his extremely restricted use saw him post a single assist in his pro-stint.
Further cluttering his calendar, Flaake was selected to play for the German U-18’s at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships Top Division where he tallied 3 points in 6 games, having already played for the German U-20’s at the corresponding IIHF world event where he scored 6 points in 5 games, albeit in a division lower.
Flaake, a quintessential European junior, is considerably smaller than his fellow Leaf draftees at only 187lbs; however he makes up for his size with excellent speed, agility and offensive awareness. A noted leader in his junior team, Flaake’s prominent goal scoring in the DNL came from his superb stick handling, accurate shooting and skating speed around the net. Whilst he still needs to gain some weight and work on increasing his strength, Flaake is expected to at least spend another season in Germany, with Koln keen on him making the professional team full time in 08-09’ where he can condition himself in a pro league similar in playing style to the NHL.
Flaake could be a real 5th round find for the Leafs. Although the DEL is far from a typical route to the NHL, its fast, physical play in a professional sports environment could be the perfect surroundings for a youth if given ample play time and encouragement. Expect him to spend a year in Germany before being brought to North America where he could easily be AHL ready by 2009.
Selected: 6th Round 158th Overall
Junior Team: Trail Smoke Eaters (BCHL)
Born: July 24th 1989 Birthplace: Chilliwack, BC
Height: 6’4” Weight: 195lbs
Where some might be disappointed with a sixth round draft, Grant Rollheiser would certainly not be one of them. From not making the Chilliwack midgets team to NHL draftee, Rollheiser is trawling through his hockey career like the perennial underdog.
A tall, gangly goalie in the vein of Ryan Miller or Martin Biron, Rollheiser is noted as a positional goaltender with excellent poise and consistency at Junior A level who late in the season was being touted as the BCHL’s top goaltender having only risen from Junior B in 07-08.’
A late developer, Rollheiser went from abject obscurity to having a pick of NCAA schools at the close of last season, eventually committing to Boston University where he is expected to challenge for the starters role at an NCAA division 1 level in 08-09.’
Undoubtedly a project for the Leafs, Rollheiser’s work ethic throughout his junior career has been phenomenal. Posting a 91.07% save percentage and 3.19 GAA in 07-08,’ many see the likeable youngster as a goaltender blessed with great potential who the Leafs had shown some interest in prior to the draft.
With fellow late bloomer Justin Pogge currently working his way through the system, Rollheiser has the chance to make strides as the next best prospect; James Reimer is considered hit or miss in the Leafs system. Paving his way, like many other Canadian Junior A players to the NCAA, Rollheiser has had the fortune to land himself a scholarship with a division 1 team with many seeing him as a starter.
It’s clearly a long game for a goaltending prospect, but with a story like Rollheiser’s it would be great to see him make it, whether or not he can remains to be seen.
Selected: 7th Round 188th Overall
Junior Team: Camrose Kodiaks (AJHL)
Born: March 25th 1990 Birthplace: Calgary, AB
Height: 6’2” Weight: 214lbs
The Leafs final draftee in 2008, Andrew MacWilliam happens to be the teammate of 16th overall Joe Colborne who was taken by the Bruins in the 1st round.
MacWilliam a large, strong, stay at home defenseman has already built an impressive Junior A resume having featured in the CJAHL prospects game, the AJHL south division all star team, Team Canada West who won a gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in 2007 and a surprise call up to Team Alberta in the 2007 Canada Winter Games.
Although abundant with strength, MacWilliam is a long shot for the NHL owing to his slow skate speed and minimal agility. However despite this MacWilliam is headed to North Dakota University following the traditional Junior A path and is noted as a dedicated shot blocker who will almost certainly work out the next four years with the Fighting Sioux.