Welcome to Last Word’s Draft Boom and Bust series. As the 2020 NHL Entry Draft approaches, we decided to examine each team’s best and worst pick since the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The biggest boom is a player that had the best value relative to where they were selected. Meaning, no one in the first round will be considered a team’s best value pick. However, the biggest bust picks will almost always be in the first round. We will examine each player, why they were picked where they were, and what their NHL career was like. Today, the Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Boom and their Draft Bust.
Toronto Maple Leafs Draft Boom and Bust
While his true glory days may have been with another team, Anton Stralman has emerged as the crown jewel of Toronto’s scouting department in recent years. Stralman was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, picked at 216th overall. A rather average defenceman at the time, not many teams had an eye on him. Stralman played his junior hockey before being drafted with Skövde IK and represented Sweden’s junior teams internationally on multiple occasions. However, his point totals weren’t anything staggering. Many saw his lack of physicality and size as poor building blocks for the future. The Leafs’ Swedish connection was strong due to captain Mats Sundin at the time, and their inside track on Swedish prospects was able to turn general manager John Ferguson Jr. onto Stralman’s potential.
Stralman made the jump over the Atlantic Ocean before the 2007-08 season. He got in 50 games with the Leafs his rookie season, but still split time with their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. The same was the case next season, playing an almost equal amount in the NHL and AHL. He was still showing promise, however, posting 13 points in his 38 games with the Leafs in 2008-09. However, by now, Brian Burke had replaced Ferguson as the general manager. In his quest to build a more physical and aggressive team, he deemed Stralman expendable. Stralman was traded to the Calgary Flames during the summer of 2009, who then flipped him to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While Stralman never saw time in the minors again after this trade, his two-year tenure in Columbus didn’t go as hoped either. So for the 2011-12 season, he found himself in a new home again, this time in the Big Apple with the New York Rangers. Injury troubles hit again his first season there, but only missed one game of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons combined. Stralman was on the 2014 Rangers squad that reached the Stanley Cup Final but had still yet to blossom into a core piece of the team.
And then came Tampa.
On July 1, 2014, Stralman signed a five-year pact in free agency with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He blossomed into a remarkable two-way force, serving as a solid right-handed complement to star Victor Hedman on the team’s top defence pairing. He returned to the Cup Final with Tampa in 2015 and played four quite solid years of hockey there. Injuries returned to bite him in the 2018-19 season, though, and it would be his last with Tampa. Stralman signed as a free agent with the Florida Panthers before the 2019-20 season, but it’s obvious that he’s not the defensive force he once was. Now 33 years old, Stralman has played in over 800 NHL games and amassed 261 points, incredible totals for a seventh-round selection.
Carl Gunnarsson – Gunnarsson presents himself as another Swedish defenceman picked in the seventh round by Toronto that’s made a splash at the NHL level. Picked 194th overall in 2007, Gunnarsson just never made the same offensive impact as Stralman. Gunnarsson’s best seasons were with Toronto, where he hit the 20-point mark only once in his second season. He hasn’t had a double-digit point figure since 2014-15, but he has played in over 650 NHL games, which is still impressive for a seventh-rounder. He deserves a nod as an honourable mention here.
John Mitchell – Now retired, Mitchell was a fifth-round selection at 158th overall in 2003. He had multiple 20-point campaigns and hit the 30-point plateau once with the Colorado Avalanche in 2013-14. He only stuck around in the NHL for nine years, however. And while his 500-game-plus career is impressive for a fifth-round pick, it isn’t lengthy or dominant enough to dethrone Stralman’s accomplishments.
Matt Stajan – Out of these other notables, Stajan would pose the strongest challenge to Stralman’s title but his limited by his higher draft position. Picked in the second round in 2002 (57th overall), Stajan developed into one of the more reliable bottom-six centres in the league. Splitting career time between the Maple Leafs and Flames, Stajan just barely passed the 1,000 game mark. He retired in late 2019. His career spanned 15 years from 2002 to 2018, making an impressive name for himself in the NHL. However, Stralman’s incredible pedigree for a seventh-round pick cancels out Stajan’s illustrious career. Stajan’s higher draft position brought more expectations.
For most Leafs fans, Tyler Biggs is a name most would like to forget. However, it’s rather important to analyze past mistakes so that history won’t repeat itself.
Biggs was a big winger (no pun intended) who Toronto selected with their first-round pick in 2011, 22nd overall. For reference, Vladislav Namestnikov, Phillip Danault, and Rickard Rakell were all selected after him in the first round. During his draft year, Biggs served as the captain of both the United States’ national development program and their National U18 squad. While not record-breaking, Biggs’ offensive totals were adequate for a teenager at the time. He posted 42 points in 75 games that season. In hindsight, Biggs was overvalued by Brian Burke due to his physicality. They had traded up in the draft to select Biggs, trading their 30th and 39th overall picks to the Anaheim Ducks for the 22nd overall selection. The Ducks then selected Rakell 30th. Ouch.
The title of this subsection is rather misleading, as Biggs never actually played an NHL game. For a first-round pick, that’s embarrassing for both player and organization. Biggs spent his post-draft year playing college puck for Ohio’s Miami University and didn’t impress. He decided that juniors were his better path to success. So then, he spent the 2012-13 season with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. That would probably be the best season of his career as he notched 53 points in 60 games. From there, it was a complete and utter disappointment.
In the few seasons that followed with the Toronto Marlies, Biggs never even cracked ten points, posting some truly terrible offensive stat lines. Toronto sensed it was time to give him up and shipped him to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Phil Kessel trade during the 2015 offseason. From there, Biggs spent the majority of his career in the ECHL, a tier below the AHL. He found offensive success there, cracking the 30-point mark multiple times. But a return to glory wasn’t in the cards. He hasn’t played a hockey game since the end of the 2018-19 season. So, unfortunately, Toronto fans never were able to get a true taste of the Tyler Biggs Experience at the NHL level.
Frederik Gauthier – While he still has some of his NHL career ahead of him, Gauthier is largely a bust at this point. Drafted 21st overall in 2013, Gauthier has only 31 points to his name. He struggles to be a consistent part of Toronto’s lineup. The hulking centre will need to turn his career around quickly to avoid the permanent bust label.
Stuart Percy – Percy was drafted just three picks after Biggs in 2011. There’s not much different to say about him. He sits as a notable because he did Leafs fans the pleasure of actually showing up in the NHL, albeit for a brief 12-game stint over two seasons. He finished with three assists. The moral of the story: 2011 was not a good year for Toronto.
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