With six John Ferguson-era draft picks traded the past couple of years, Tyler Ruegsegger might think he is an endangered species in Toronto.
Not getting a contract upon graduation from the University of Denver also seemed to point to the same exit sign as Jiri Tlusty, Viktor Stalberg, Justin Pogge, Robbie Earl, Anton Stralman and Chris DiDomenico.
But there will be a home for him somewhere with the Brian Burke Leafs, based on the centre’s good closing push with Denver (41 points in 41 games) and his enthusiasm through Toronto’s prospect evaluation this week in Etobicoke.
“They wanted me to have a good camp and see where we go after this,” said Ruegsegger after Thursday’s sessions at the MasterCard Centre. “To be honest, I don’t want to look into any of that (contract) stuff. I’m just out here to compete. It’s still a pleasure to be a part of the organization.”
Ruegsegger was picked 166th overall in 2006 from the NHL incubator at
Shattuck-St. Mary’s high school in Minnesota, five spots back of Stalberg.
At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Ruegsegger doesn’t strike you as having the size Burke wants to see up front the next couple of years, but he’s impressed the brass in other ways.
“Everyone’s going to have their own special qualities,” said Jim Hughes, the Leafs’ player development director. “If they’re not big, they will be packing heavy muscle mass. Some are bigger in height, but some are more strong and fit.
“He’s a high-end character and a very special person. He’s been four years at Denver and played in the world juniors for the U.S. (Denver-born, but half Canadian).
“We’ll probably find a spot for him somewhere in our organization, because of the quality he brings every day, because of his practice habits. You want him around. He’s not an NHL player right now, we’re hoping he’ll be an AHLer. We’ll probably put him into some kind of contract form and see where he fits into the mix.”
Ruegsegger also has a business administration degree he can fall back on, but the true textbook hockey player at the camp is free-agent defenceman Marc-Andre Dorion.
On the ice, he’s McGill University’s two-time all-Canadian with an offensive touch, 36 points in 25 games. In class, he has more than a 90% grade average.
“I always work hard on and off the ice, because you never know what can happen,” Dorion said. “And at the end of last season, I got a call from the Leafs.
“I had started off at McGill in engineering, went to camp with the Dallas Stars a couple of years ago and was (behind in studies) when I went back, so I switched to phys ed. I intend to finish school and become a high school hockey coach or hockey instructor.”
Dorion already won the Guy Lafleur Trophy for being Quebec’s top student hockey player, with the Canadiens’ hall of famer presenting it in person to the St. Hubert native, with a $6,000 bursary.
This summer, he’s not sitting still, taking a course in financial management, perhaps to negotiate his own contract in a couple of years.
Right now, he hopes to parlay this week’s camp into an invite to the Leafs’ rookie tournament in September before going back to McGill.
Bad timing stopped him from climbing the hockey development ladder a lot earlier.
He didn’t arrive in the QMJHL with Acadie-Bathurst until halfway through the 2003-04 season, felt restricted by his team’s playing style the next year and was passed over in the NHL draft.
He had 113 points the past two seasons with Baie Comeau, but by then, scouts were looking at younger players. The Stars liked him at their camp, but that was the year their farm team was broken up.
“He has terrific puck presence, intelligence and is certainly someone we would keep an eye on,” Hughes said. “He might be a depth guy for us, after we let him play a little more university hockey. He will answer those questions for us.”