RALEIGH — When Brian Burke departed the sun-splashed streets and beaches of Anaheim to eventually take over the Maple Leafs, Jake Gardiner was a bit sad.
It was the Burke-led Ducks, after all, who had selected him in 17th overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft, a sign for any young player that he is coveted by an organization.
That’s why Gardiner’s mood turned so upbeat last month when he was acquired by Burke’s Leafs along with winger Joffrey Lupul and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2013 for veteran defenceman Francois Beauchemin.
Once again, he felt like he was wanted.
Wanted by the man named Brian Burke.
“I still remember my name being called out (by Burke) when I was picked in ’08,” Gardiner, 20, said on Tuesday from Minnetonka, Minn. “So, when I saw Burkie had left, well, it wasn’t the end of the world, but I wished he didn’t leave.
“All of a sudden, when I heard he had traded for me with Toronto, it was great. It’s nice to know he believes in me.”
You could hear the enthusiasm in Gardiner’s voice, an understandable reaction for a kid who had just agreed to a three-year entry level contract with Toronto. After talking it over with his family, he opted to forego his senior year at the University of Wisconsin for the allure of a pro career, which begins on Wednesday when he flies to Toronto to join the AHL Marlies.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “High school hockey is huge in my home state of Minnesota but I know just how much everyone loves the sport in Toronto.”
Gardiner, a 6-foot-2, 184-pound defenceman, registered an impressive 10 goals and 30 assists for 40 points in 41 games for Wisconsin this season.
“I thing my biggest strengths are skating and passing,” he said. “I consider myself a puck-moving defenceman with a lot of upside.”
Gardiner will recognize some familiar faces in Toronto, having competed against a pair of former University of Denver players, Tyler Bozak and Joe Colborne. In fact, by picking up Colborne from the Boston organization in the Tomas Kaberle deal, the Leafs now have three of the top 17 picks of the 2008 draft in their system - Gardiner (17th), Colborne (16th) and Luke Schenn (5th).
“It’s pretty cool that three of us are now in the same organization like this,” Gardiner said. “Hopefully Burkie’s confidence in us will pay off.”
The GM can ask for nothing more.