It was a dark time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fanbase – following the years of Pat Quinn as their general manager – the Maple Leafs future was handed to John Ferguson Jr. on Aug. 29, 2003.
With the appointment, Ferguson was also handed the reins to the team’s 2004 NHL Draft strategy – a draft class that quickly turned into a disaster for the blue and white.
In this piece, we’ll look at a draft that saw one of the purest goal scorers to ever play the game go first overall when the Washington Capitals took Alexander Ovechkin, followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins and another Russian pick – Evgeni Malkin.
The draft saw a total of 128 players suit up for at least one NHL game with 11 of them having played at least 800 games so far in their respective careers. Four players have over 600 career points since their draft year, with two – both Ovechkin and Malkin – having surpassed the 1,000 point mark.
As for the Maple Leafs, it was nowhere near a successful year for the storied franchise. In fact, as a general manager, it was a disappointing first draft for Ferguson.
Early Rounds (1-3)
Round 1 – No Pick
The Maple Leafs shot themselves in the foot early in the 2004 draft as they had already traded away their first-round pick months before. Acquiring legendary defenceman Brian Leetch late in his career along with future considerations (which ended up being Edmonton’s fourth-round pick in 2004), the Maple Leafs saw it fit to trade away their first-round draft choice in 2004 along with their second-round pick in 2005, Jarkko Immonen and Maxim Kondratyev.
Leetch played just 15 regular season games for the Maple Leafs, tallying 15 points as well as putting up eight assists in 13 postseason games that year before he skipped town and joined the Boston Bruins for his final season in 2005-06.
As for the pick, the Rangers shipped it out along with their second-round pick in 2004 (46th overall) to Calgary for the Flames’ first-round pick in 2004 (19th overall) and their eighth-round pick in 2004 (247th overall).
The Flames ultimately used the pick – 24th overall – to take right-winger Kris Chucko from the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks.
While Chucko only played two games for the Flames in 2008-09, the Maple Leafs could’ve used the pick to have filled a number of holes moving forward.
- Cory Schneider, G – Drafted 26th overall by the Vancouver Canucks
- Mike Green, D – Drafted 29th overall by the Washington Capitals
Consider this, at the time, the Maple Leafs had an aging Ed Belfour, Trevor Kidd and Mikael Tellqvist manning the net in Toronto. How much would it have helped to add a goalie like Schneider to their system? Schneider has had a decent career – one that has spanned over 12 seasons and just over 400 games – with career numbers of a 2.43 goals against average and .918 save percentage. On top of that, he locked down the 2010-11 William M. Jennings Trophy along with Roberto Luongo as a member of Canucks.
As for Green, he would’ve also been a welcomed addition to a team that saw Leetch leave at the end of the year and that was leaning heavily on Tomas Kaberle and Bryan McCabe to run the show on the backend. Green’s gone on to have a solid career with 501 points in 880 career regular season games between Washington, Detroit and Edmonton and that’s with him still playing as of the 2019-20 season.
Round 2 – No Pick
Again, the Maple Leafs got caught moving an early-round pick for an aging defenceman when they traded their 2004 second-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Glen Wesley. The ‘Canes eventually moved the pick as well to the Columbus Blue Jackets along with their first-round pick (eighth overall) for Columbus’ first-round pick (fourth overall).
Wesley played just seven games for the Maple Leafs before he returned to Carolina following the season, while the Blue Jackets used the Maple Leafs’ pick to take left-winger Kyle Wharton 59th overall in the second round of the 2004 draft.
While Wharton never made the NHL (playing most recently in Denmark for the 2018-19 season), the Maple Leafs gave up yet another opportunity to land players who could’ve one day helped the franchise.
- Alex Goligoski, D – Drafted 61st overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins
- David Krejci, C – Drafted 63rd overall by the Boston Bruins
Again, the Maple Leafs missed out another defenceman that has made himself into a solid NHL defenceman with Goligoski going 61st overall to the Penguins. As of 2019-20, in which he was still playing, Goligoski had put up 407 points in 868 regular season games with the Penguins, Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes and was part of the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup winning team.
As for Krejci, he’s been one of the best depth centres in the games since coming into the league with the Bruins. In 14 seasons with the Bruins, he has notched 686 points in 911 games through 2019-20. He, too, won a Stanley Cup as a member of the Bruins in 2011 and is arguably one of the most underrated defensive forwards in the game.
Round 3, 90th Overall – Justin Pogge, G (Prince George Cougars, WHL)
Sure, the Maple Leafs did miss out on the first two rounds, but they did have a pick when it came to the third round. After 89 picks had already gone through, the Maple Leafs landed goaltender Justin Pogge with the 90th overall selection from the WHL’s Prince George Cougars.
Pogge was supposed to be the goalie of the future for the Maple Leafs – and was a big reason why the team eventually traded away Tuukka Rask before he cracked the NHL. But, in Maple Leafs fashion, Pogge was a bust.
Related: John Ferguson Jr.’s Worst Moves as Maple Leafs GM
He played just seven games for the Maple Leafs in 2008-09 with a 1-4-1 record, a 4.36 goals against average and .844 save percentage and never saw NHL ice again. In August 2009, the Maple Leafs traded the young goaltender to Anaheim for a sixth-round pick in 2011 and Pogge played three more seasons in the AHL before landing overseas where he’s played ever since.
- Alexander Edler, D – Drafted 91st overall by the Vancouver Canucks
Yet another defenceman – are you sensing a trend yet? The Maple Leafs missed out on Edler who when one pick later to the Vancouver Canucks and who has had an impressive NHL career out west. Still a member of the Canucks as of 2019-20, Edler has racked up 401 points in 873 regular season games for the Canucks over 14 seasons. He’s averaged just over 23 minutes per game over his career and remains a tough opponent for players to play against.
Middle Rounds (4-6)
Round 4, 113th Overall – Roman Kukumberg, F (Trencin Dukla, Slovak)
In the fourth round, Ferguson Jr. used the 113th overall pick to take a forward out of Slovakia named Roman Kukumberg. In his draft year, Kukumberg put up 36 points in 51 regular season games to go along with 93 penalty minutes. He added another 12 points in 11 postseason games for Trencin Dukla.
Kukumberg did eventually make the jump to North America – playing one season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies where he tallied eight points in 54 games. But that quickly changed and he was back over in Slovakia for the 2006-07 season and remained in Europe where he most recently played the 2019-20 season with Hradec Kralove of the Czech league.
- Ryan Callahan, RW – Drafted 127th overall by the New York Rangers
He may not have been the most noticeable miss at the time of the draft, but Ryan Callahan went on to have a decent NHL career as one of the more vocal leaders for both the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. A big body and tough competitor he wasn’t always the most offensive player, but still put up 386 points in 757 regular season games before retiring following the 2018-19 season.
Round 5, 157th Overall – Dmitry Vorobiev, D (Tolyatti Lady, Russia)
Another round, another pick and yet another player who didn’t crack the NHL for the Maple Leafs. In the fifth round, the Leafs took Dmitry Vorobiev out of Russia with the 157th overall selection.
Vorobiev never left Russia, eventually joining the KHL. He most recently played for Michalovce Dukla HC in the Slovak league where he tallied five assists in 43 games in 2019-20.
Missed Opportunity: None
Round 6, 187th Overall – Robbie Earl, LW (University of Wisconsin, WCHA)
The Maple Leafs sixth-round pick did one better than those taken in the previous two rounds. At 187th overall, Robbie Earl cracked the Maple Leafs lineup in 2007-08 as a 22-year-old. He played just nine games with one assist to show for it, but he did land in the NHL.
Earl was eventually traded on Jan. 21, 2009, for Ryan Hamilton and he played another 38 games for the Minnesota Wild over two seasons, scoring his only six goals in 2009-10.
From there, Earl jumped to Switzerland where he has been playing ever since, including the 2019-20 season where he tallied six goals and 19 points for the Langnau Tigers.
Missed Opportunity: None
Late Rounds (7-9)
Round 7, 220th Overall – Maxim Semenov, D (Tolyatti Lada, Russia)
Another pick from Tolyatti Lada, the Maple Leafs took defenceman Maxim Semenov with the 220th overall selection in 2004. Like his teammate – Vorobiev, who the Leafs drafted in the fifth round – Semenov never left Russia and still plays in the KHL as of 2019-20.
- Matt Hunwick, D – Drafted 224th overall by the Boston Bruins
If it was a defenceman the Maple Leafs were looking for, they could’ve landed Hunwick with their seventh-round pick. Hunwick – who eventually played two seasons in Toronto – had a lengthy NHL career as of 2018-19 with 119 points in 535 games and averaged just over 18 minutes per game over that span.
Round 8, 252nd Overall – Jan Steber, C (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
Like many of the Maple Leafs’ picks in the 2004 draft, their eighth-round pick never got a sniff of the NHL. The 252nd overall pick, Jan Steber had 16 goals and 31 points in 69 games for the Mooseheads in his draft year. He followed that up with one more year in junior, reaching the 34-point plateau before a year in the ECHL and a few seasons in the Czech league.
He retired from hockey following the 2008-09 season after one assist in 10 games with Trinec Ocelari HC.
- Pekka Rinne, G – Drafted 258th overall by the Nashville Predators
Wait, who? That’s right, Pekka Rinne was drafted 258th overall and was the final pick of the eighth round of the 2004 NHL Draft. Since then, he’s gone on to play 659 regular season games for the Predators with a 359-201-74 career record and a 2.42 goals against average to go along with his 58 shutouts. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2017-18 and helped the Predators to a Stanley Cup Final in 2016-17. He could’ve definitely solved some problems for the Maple Leafs had he been picked by the blue and white.
Round 9, 285th Overall – Pierce Norton, RW (Thayer Academy, Massachusetts)
It wouldn’t be right if the Maple Leafs’ ninth-round pick cracked the NHL in his career, so with that in mind, Pierce Norton never made it to the show. He played four years at Providence College before a season in the ECHL, one in the IHL and one more in the ECHL with the Alaska Aces.
He retired from hockey following his season with the Aces where he played just two games with nothing to show for it.
- Jannik Hansen, LW – Drafted 287th overall by the Vancouver Canucks
Yet another pick that the Maple Leafs passed on and the Canucks picked up on, Hansen went 287th overall in 2004. Since his debut in 2007-08, Hansen notched 256 points in 626 regular season games for the Canucks and San Jose Sharks. A bottom-six player, he would’ve still been a better option of the Maple Leafs – especially since he’s still playing as of 2019-20 – albeit in the KHL now.
Final Grade: F
Any higher grade would be an absolute joke considering what the Maple Leafs got from the 2004 NHL Draft. Forget that they had no pick until 90th overall, the players they did select played a total of 16 games for the blue and white. On top of that, they missed out on some significant names – including Rinne who was a miss by many teams in 2004.
*All stats from Hockey-Reference and HockeyDB