Barry Trapp is to travel to Russia today to continue what is a never-ending search for a player who could become the next big thing in hockey.
The majority, of course, never do. But the Maple Leafs' director of amateur scouting is glad to know that some of the players Toronto has picked since he was hired in April 2002 are rounding into form.
"This year, with some of the guys who have played, that is what you and your staff work for," Trapp said yesterday from his home in Saskatchewan. "A lot of times, scouts get maligned. But I'm proud of what this staff has done."
Alex Steen, Matt Stajan, Ian White and Staffan Kronwall -- all Leafs picks four years ago, a couple of months after Trapp joined the organization -- have made a contribution this season.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Williams, taken 220th overall in 2003, is nearly on a point-a-game pace with the AHL Toronto Marlies.
More recent choices who appear to have solid futures include goalies Justin Pogge, selected 90th in 2004, and Tuukka Rask, taken 21st overall last summer in Ottawa.
Naturally, not all the selections have panned out. Defenceman John Doherty, the Leafs' first pick in 2003 and 57th overall, sat out this season at Quinnipiac University after transferring from the University of New Hampshire.
Part of the discussion before a draft is whether it is one to produce a good crop of players or a bad one. But Trapp does not see it as an issue that is cut and dried. If the Leafs finish out of the playoffs, the first-round pick will be the highest they have had since they took Nik Antropov, who has proven to be a risk that was not warranted, 10th overall in 1998.
But White (191st in 2002) and Kyle Wellwood (134th in 2001) are among those players who were afterthoughts in some eyes at the time who have become successful.
"Some of these kids who go later don't have the hype," Trapp said. "But at the same time, they have more determination. They want to prove that they should have been taken higher, and wind up making it. We have a bunch of kids right now who have talent and character."