Diamonds in Leafs' draft rough

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:45 PM ET

TORONTO - When the Maple Leafs invited all their picks from the 1996 draft back to their posh hotel suite in St. Louis, young Russian Vladimir Antipov sat down at the ivories and played a beautiful sonata for the guests.

The team would have preferred he’d done something else with those soft hands — he never made it past seven goals in 54 games with St. John’s — but when you get past the first 100 selections, you’re as likely to get a piano man as a defenceman.

Up until recent times the Leafs have been notorious for either trading their high picks or wasting them, putting pressure on the scouts to produce the kind of middle-to-late-round gems that Detroit is famous for. Since 1994, the Wings have come up with Pavel Datsyuk at 171, Henrik Zetterberg at 210 and Tomas Holmstrom at 257. They might be on the same path with Jonathan Ericsson (291 in 2002) and Darren Helm (132 in ‘05).

That’s not to pick on the Leafs, when there are 28 other teams who have not matched the Wings’ success. Toronto has had mixed success the past 20 years:

D Nathan Dempsey, 245th in 1992

Helped the Leafs out in St. John’s and Toronto.

F Sergei Berezin, 256th in 1994

Decent scorer, but his one-dimensional play became a hindrance.

D Danny Markov, 223rd in 1995

Leafs were able to rein in his wild tendencies in the Pat Quinn years.

Tomas Kaberle, 204th in 1996

Made the team his first season in 1998 and lasted until 2011, one of the highest-scoring blueliners in club history.

F Shawn Thornton, 190th in 1997

Never made it past St. John’s, but carved a nice career and won Cups with Anaheim and Boston.

F Jonathan Hedstrom, 221st in 1997

Scattered 83 games in the course of a few years, all with Anaheim.

C Kyle Wellwood, 134th in 2001

Enigmatic little forward was never in good enough shape for Leafs’ liking.

D Staffan Kronwall, 285th in 2002

Swedish stringbean was not as physical as his brother. Played 66 NHL games, now back home.

C John Mitchell, 158th in 2003

Hard-working fourth liner traded to Rangers last season.

F Jeremy Williams, 220th in 2003

Scored in his first two games as a Leaf, then faded to the farm.

F Robbie Earl, 187th in 2004

Was stunned that no team took him higher, but sticking in the NHL (now with Minnesota) has been hard.

D Anton Stralman, 216th in 2005

Too light for Brian Burke’s liking, hasn’t made much impact with Columbus.

F Viktor Stalberg, 161st in 2006

Leafs will eventually regret letting him go to Hawks in the Kris Versteeg deal.

D Carl Gunnarsson, 194th in 2007

Made top six D with Leafs, developing into a real find.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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