Nothing lucky about No. 7

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

It isn't simply the enticing availability of John Tavares that has Leafs general manager Brian Burke impatient to make a move up and out of the No. 7 spot in tonight's National Hockey League entry draft. Burke has every reason -- especially years of draft history -- to not want to select seventh this evening.

He will say, as he already has, that the Maple Leafs will "get a good player" if they keep their first-round choice and pick at No. 7. But the truth of the matter is, the odds favour the opposite. In fact, of the 20 players selected seventh in the entry draft between 1987 and 2006, and open to subjective analysis, not a single frontline superstar was chosen in that position.

The best players selected turned out to be Jason Arnott or Shane Doan.

The next best: Maybe Ryan Suter or Mike Komisarek. After that, there are a whole bunch of NHL players -- guys who can play, guys who fit in -- just not what Burke is searching for, not what he needs for the kind of impact necessary to help out the talent-challenged Leafs.

There are two ways -- and probably more -- of analysing the value of a certain pick in the draft:

1) Who was taken in that spot?; 2) Who was taken directly after that choice?

It's easy and historically inaccurate to look back at Nicklas Lidstrom's draft and indicate someone should have picked him earlier than 53rd. When the Minnesota North Stars selected defenceman Doug Zmolek with the seventh pick in 1989, they passed on Lidstrom.

A more accurate appraisal: The Stars passed on Bobby Holik and Mike Sillinger with that selection, who were taken in the next four picks. And that, too, is part of what must concern Burke today.

From the seventh pick -- and the five picks that follow -- there has only been the odd occasion when a star could have been had at No. 7. The Blackhawks, for example, passed on Anze Kopitar and Devin Setoguchi, not stars but very good players, in the 2005 draft to pick defenceman Jack Skille, who hasn't yet lived up to his name. Imagine how much better the Hawks would be today with Kopitar, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews all on the same team?

When Doan was picked by Winnipeg with the seventh pick, the Jets passed on Jarome Iginla.

When Martin Gelinas was selected in a very strong 1988 draft, the Kings passed on the next three picks -- Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind'Amour and Teemu Selanne.

But there are few drafts like 1988, few stars passed over along the way. Sometimes, all you can get is a Jamie Storr or a Rusty Olesz or worse, a Kris Beech or an Alek Stojanov (unless you end up trading him for Markus Naslund).

The math doesn't work in Burke's favour. Of the 20 picks taken at No. 7, the odds have worked out that you have a 25% chance of getting a first-line player, but an even greater chance, 30%, of drafting a bust.

The largest percentage, 35%, indicates the chances of attaining a second- or third-line player with that selection. And there's a 10% chance you wind up with a kid who can't play at all.

This is the problem a team of last-place talent that didn't finish low enough in the standings faces. This is what happens when you hire a Ron Wilson a year early and scrap your way to too many points that, in the end, weren't worth fighting for. A Top 5 pick in this draft gets the Leafs very close to a sure thing. A Top 3 pick would get them a star.

At seven, you hope you're smart, and you hope, based on history, that you're lucky.

Which is why Burke is working feverishly to move bodies and draft positions. Seven might be a decent number if you're playing craps. Tonight, if you're the Maple Leafs, it's hardly the number of choice.


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