I always enjoyed A Christmas Carol.
Through the course of the night Scrooge is taken once to see what he was, once to look upon what he is, and one more time to peek in on what he will become.
Now, to be fair, I’ve only seen Mickey’s Christmas Carol with Jiminy Cricket and Scrooge McDuck; I assume the two are along the same premise.
As night falls on the final day of the draft, the Maple Leafs leave Pittsburgh with six new prospects and James van Riemsdyk (who saw that coming). Of those drafted by Toronto, four are Canadian, one American and the final having been born in Sweden. In total three defencemen were chosen, two of which joining the club in the draft’s opening 35 selections.
And although hockey may still feel a long way off and the impact of those selected seemingly further, exploring examples of past and present aids in sizing up those of the team’s future. I’ll be your Jiminy Cricket for the evening, I’ll just refrain from calling you Scrooge.
Ghost of Blue Lines Past
In the 48 year history of the NHL draft heading into Pittsburgh, the Maple Leafs have only three times used their first two picks on rearguards.
Long before the most recent instance in 2001, with back-to-back selections Toronto handed Craig Muni (25th) and Bob McGill (26th) their blue and white sweaters in 1980. The two went on to combine for 1,526 major league games and 2,541 penalty minutes. Both spent time with the Leafs AHL affiliate too as they progressed towards full-time spots in the National League.
With both Muni and McGill well into their professional hockey careers, in 1984 the Leafs turned to the OHL’s Belleville Bulls and Windsor Spitfires for two of their top blueliners. Al Iafrate was rounded up fourth overall while Todd Gill came 25th after the rest of the league’s 21 teams passed on him.
Long after becoming household names in southern Ontario, Iafrate and Gill ended their professional careers with a total of 1,806 games, 234 goals, 717 points and 2,515 penalty minutes between them.
Perhaps there’s something to selecting these defenders first.
Ghost of Blue Lines Present
Though they may not crack the lineup out of camp, those recently drafted could not be as far off from pro play as they appear; especially when they can keep their cool on the blue line. Such has been proven by previous first and second round selections Stuart Percy (2011) and Jesse Blacker (2009).
The American Hockey League allows prospects playing in one of Canada’s three major junior leagues (WHL, OHL and QMJHL) to join the ranks of their NHL affiliate after their major junior season has completed. Percy leapt at this opportunity following a first-round playoff exit with Mississauga. Notching a point in his first game, Percy went on to play three more – all wins – as the Marlies swept their first round opponent.
Blacker managed to string together six games with the Marlies less than a year after his being drafted as his Owen Sound Attack failed to make the post-season; the experience bringing Blacker his very first pro point. Having now finished his first full pro season, Blacker looks to making his NHL debut; a dream that is closer than ever to finding fulfillment.
Ghost of Blue Lines Future
For the first time, Morgan Rielly and Matthew Finn will spend the summer with an NHL sweater in their closet. A reminder as to what can come; what will come.
Toronto’s development camp awaits them. A locker room of new faces; some future teammates. A series of fitness tests, on-ice drills and coaching assessments will be performed before they leave with an off-season training regimen in hand.
While Rielly will likely return home, Finn, a Toronto native, will have a door open to him at MCC. A chance to spend the summer benefitting from the Maple Leafs’ facilities, staff and roster; some of which will be training in the city through the warm months, others returning closer to the regular season.
They will prepare for their very first professional training camp where they will learn the future’s in their hands.