Day One Recap
While day one of the draft might seem a tad uneventful in comparison to the blitzkreig-style trading the day before, it was anything but. Starting with the acquisition of former Atlanta GM Rick Dudley, the Leafs bolstered an already impressive front office, Dudley's reputation as one of the game's most insightful talent evaluators is well-deserved. While Brian Burke typically draws a hard line between his pro and amateur talent staff, Dudley will be the apparent exception, lending his expertise on both sides of that line. For a team in need of improvements at both the prospect and pro level, Dudley's arrival in Toronto is significant, and he will be present all day at the draft table as the Leafs make their remaining eight selections.
Addressing an anemic back end in terms of point production, Toronto finally got the puck-lugger they wanted at the trade deadline, sending that Boston 2012 second round pick to Colorado in exchange for John-Michael Liles. Liles is an obvious and immediate improvement to the club's special teams with his ability to skate the puck up-ice and make a clean, accurate first pass. A mature, well-rounded defender, he is noted for his on-ice vision and high hockey IQ. A solid, imposing blueline just became a lot more dangerous, and with 40 assists last season in Colorado, Liles will be an impact player out of the gate.
As the draft moved into the late teens last night, it seemed less likely the Leafs would make any attempt to trade up. The notable favourites-list had grown thin, and by Burke's own admission, the calibre of player available after the low to mid teens did not suggest any real variance in terms of tangibles. Sensing that interest in their top target was intensifying, Burke and company determined that a trade in picks would be required to land their man. To this end, a swap with Anaheim was executed, parlaying the 30th and 39th picks into the 22nd overall, with which Burke announced the selection of strapping power forward Tyler Biggs. While the 6'2” Binghamton, New York native may not be in the upper echelon in terms of this year's crop of offense-generators, Biggs is a unique commodity with a dynamic combination of aggression, skating, and skill. Known for his team-first attitude, natural leadership skills, and a truculent disposition on the ice, he plays what Burke calls a 'hostile' game, in the mold of Milan Lucic. A strong, fleet-footed skater for a player with an imposing frame, he's considered to be the toughest kid in the draft by all accounts, with legitimate second-line upside.
Burke confirmed their collective inkling about Biggs was warranted, as no fewer than four GM's later expressed that he was the kid they were going after; two of those teams attempting to trade up to land him before toronto pulled the trigger on the pick-swap. Biggs will ply his craft with the Miami Red Hawks in the coming season.
Stuart Percy had been in the Leaf's scouts sights for months. His emergence over the last season from a middling prospect to a viable first round consideration is due to entirely to his personal commitment to improving in all areas of his game. His performance at the Memorial Cup, and later at the draft Combine cemented Burke's impression of the player his scouting staff encouraged him to take a good long look at. The home-grown St. Mikes Majors blueliner has excellent puck-poise and he anticipates the game very well. Although he's not a grade-A shooter, he is no slouch either, with an accurate point shot and rock-solid breakout abilities, which he exploits with a degree of discretion that belies his experience level. An underrated prospect, Percy is a minute-munching puck carrier who limits his mistakes and does an admirable job of diffusing D-zone pressure with solid positional play, and a gift for advancing the puck out of the danger zone, while delivering a crisp first pass through traffic. With their second rounder no longer available, Percy is a nice addition to the Leafs stable of D prospects that also features Jake Gardiner and Jesse Blacker.
While neither selection equates to game-breaking talent, this is a draft class marked by its overall depth as opposed to marquis talent. Both of the Leafs first-round selections have the tools to become very capable and serviceable NHL citizens in the future.
There are still a number of very good players on the board, and it is possible that Burke will attempt to parlay lower picks or prospects into a second rounder or a higher third (Toronto has the 86th)
if he sees a kid he and his group feel strongly about. With names like Boone Jenner, Daniel Catenacci, David Musil, Tomas Jurco, scott Mayfield, Rocco Grimaldi, Seth Ambroz and Brandon Saad still out there, the second round can prove to be as important for many clubs as the first round was.
While the first round featured a predominantly Canadian and Swedish preference, look for the U.S. Talent to feature in today's picks.
Burke raised eyebrows when he had what appeared to be significant talks with Pittsburgh GM Ray Shero, triggering speculation that a much-anticipated blockbuster was about to go down. While Burke admits he still has 'lines in the water', nothing materialized by day's end.
With the pomp and fanfare of the first round now done and dusted, its time for the 30 GMs and their staff to get to work. The decisions they make today can, and should be significant.