Maple Leafs like 'em big

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:48 PM ET

MONTREAL -- You would figure Don Cherry would approve of the Maple Leafs' 2009 entry draft.

All seven players selected by the Leafs this weekend were North Americans. And know this: General manager Brian Burke makes no apologies for it.

"That wasn't by accident," Burke said yesterday, moments after the draft had come to an end.

"Look, I know European players are a vital part of any team in this league. I've been accused before of having a bias against them. That's simply not true. Look back at my teams over the years and you will see they played a vital role.

"But you have to have balance. And we're looking at pick-and-shovel guys, too."

GIANT D-MAN

Big pick-and-shovel guys. Such as Philadelphia Jr. Flyers defenceman Eric Knodel, the 128th overall pick who stands at 6-foot-6.

Such as Plymouth Whalers forward Jamie Devane, the 68th overall selection who some scouts feel was the toughest player in the OHL last season, a kid who shows a zeal for getting into scraps. Sounds like Burke's type of guy. Especially since the GM has been preaching a bigger, meaner team for months now.

Once again, the fact the organization opted to bulk up through the draft comes as no coincidence.

"Obviously, I've been preaching that for a while, now," Burke said. "I don't think it makes us bigger right away. Most of these kids are three or four years away, including our top pick (No. 7 overall selection Nazem Kadri), but it does speak to the style we want to play."

Having selected the smooth-skating Kadri in the first round Friday, the Leafs followed up that pick yesterday by plucking winger Kenny Ryan of the U.S. under-18 development program at No. 50.

Ryan's father, K.C., was a linebacker at Notre Dame while brother Ross played football at Michigan. But for young Kenny, hockey is his game, one he likely will play at Boston College next season.

During the recent NHL combine, the Leafs asked Ryan who he would rather go to dinner with if he had the chance: Barack Obama, Maria Sharapova or Sean Avery? Believe it or not, he chose Avery.

"I like the fact that he is an agitator who likes to stir things up," Ryan said. "I'd like to follow him around and find out what makes him tick."

Asked by NHL.com if he could be "anything for a day," Ryan replied "A soldier at war."

Just the type of warrior Burke is looking for.

The Leafs used their second second-round pick on defenceman Jesse Blacker of the Memorial Cup-champion Windsor Spitfires, taking him 58th overall. Scouts predict Blacker could be one of the steals of the draft and might be in line for a breakout season on the Spits blue line.

Blacker is a native of Toronto's Riverdale community and grew up playing on the outdoor rink at Winthrow Park. He played his final three years of GTHL hockey with the Toronto Red Wings, where he was coached by Joey Simon.

"For a kid from Toronto, this is a dream come true," he said. "I grew up watching Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark. "I think I play rough and tough. I like to throw open-ice hits."

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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