Maple Leafs & the 2019 NHL Draft: Seeking Late-Round Gems

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded their first-round draft pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to the Los Angeles Kings in the Jake Muzzin trade. And, unless the team trades up, general manager Kyle Dubas won’t have a draft choice until #53. That low in the draft, is there a chance that Dubas can find a player who even has a chance of making it to the NHL?

Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas (Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The short answer is “Yes.”

In most cases, winning the NHL Draft Lottery and having the first choice in the draft usually promises a team a future NHL star. It’s also true that a team has a better chance of finding NHL talent drafting in the first round instead of the fifth round.

Related: The Best Late Round NHL Draft Picks

That said, teams whose draft picks are lower shouldn’t throw up their hands and cry “Woe is me.” Many great hockey players have been and will be drafted in the later rounds. This year will be no different.

Players Drafted Lower than Pick #100

As they prepare for the annual NHL Entry Draft, teams will constantly scout players, analyze statistics, look for general and specific hockey skills, try to get to know each player’s personality, assess a player’s physical and mental make up, and apply a myriad of criteria to figure out who the best of the best are and who they should choose in the NHL Entry Draft.

Obviously, teams seek players with both the skill and determination to become consistently productive players at the NHL level. Those players who stand above others are chosen early in the draft because they are seen to have the best chance to make it as NHL players. Typically, that’s the way it works, and players picked in lower rounds have less chance to have productive hockey careers.

Alexandre Daigle, in a Victoriaville Tigres jersey
Canadian ice hockey player Alexandre Daigle, in a Victoriaville Tigres jersey, speaks with journalists at the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. (Photo by John Giamundo/Getty Images)

That said, some players are simply overlooked. They slide into the later rounds before they are selected. But some of those overlooked prospects become elite NHL players. For example, the following list of Hall of Fame inductees and soon-to-be Hall of Famers might be a surprise where they landed in the draft.

The following players are some of the great late-round drafts picks in NHL history.

Related: Maple Leafs Sign Ilya Mikheyev: Babcock’s Help Swings the Deal

Watching the St. Louis Blues Stanley Cup victory parade, Brett Hull was front-and-center – a Blues’ icon. He was drafted at #117 in the seventh round of the 1984 draft by the Calgary Flames. Traded to the Blues during the 1987-88 season, Hull went on to score 86 goals in 1990-91. That’s a highly-productive late-round draft pick.

Even a lower draft pick was one-time Maple Leafs player Doug Gilmour who was drafted #134 by the Blues during the seventh round of the 1982 draft. But that’s not as low as Theoren Fleury, who was drafted by the Flames at #166 of the 1987 draft. Even lower was the great Luc Robitaille, drafted by the Kings #171 overall in the same 1984 draft where Hull went #117.

Flames Doug Gilmour
Doug Gilmour of the Calgary Flames on the ice during a game against the New York Islanders, Nov. 1990. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Given that both Robitaille and Hull were missed during the 1984 draft, it’s interesting to see who was chosen first in that draft. The answer was Mario Lemieux; so the Pittsburgh Penguins got it right. By the way, Patrick Roy was chosen #51 overall during the third round of that same draft.

Finally, the Detroit Red Wings were either very lucky or very smart when they drafted Pavel Datsyuk as #171 in the sixth round of the 1998 draft and Henrik Zetterberg in round nine and #210 overall of the 1999 draft. In short, the lower rounds of the NHL Entry Draft have been, over the years, loaded with talent. It’s quite possible to choose a future NHL star choosing in the fourth round or even lower.

Great Maple Leafs Late-Round Picks

The Maple Leafs have chosen their share of productive players during the late rounds. Here’s a sample of the team’s great late-round picks.

Defenseman Tomas Kaberle was drafted during the eighth round of the 1996 draft, #204 overall. Kaberle played 12 seasons with the Maple Leafs and was a productive offensive defenseman and, in his time, he was one of the best blue-liners in the NHL. In 2011, he was traded to the Boston Bruins where he helped them win the Stanley Cup. He skipped around the NHL for a few more seasons, with a few more teams. But his most productive seasons were with the Maple Leafs.

Adding Kaberle alongside Chara should be huge for the Bruins come playoff time.
Tomas Kaberle as a member of the Maple Leafs. (Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

Current Maple Leafs restricted free agent Andreas Johnsson was drafted by the Maple Leafs in the seventh round, #202 overall during the 2013 draft. During his 2018-19 rookie season, Johnsson scored 20 goals, 23 assists, and 43 points in 73 games. If the team can’t afford to sign him to a new contract, he will surely be a sought-after commodity. Given his performance this season, he looks to be headed towards a solid NHL career, whether with the Maple Leafs or another team.

Although he scored a whopping 128 points (45 goals and 83 assists) during the 2013-14 season with the Erie Otters, Connor Brown wasn’t selected until the sixth round, #156 overall of the 2012 draft. Being a smaller player with questionable skating ability, most teams believed Brown’s game wouldn’t work in the NHL. However, although Brown isn’t a superstar, he’s turned into a solid bottom-six forward. Given a chance to play more regularly in the top-six, he might produce even more.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Conner Brown: Former Gamble, Now Top-6

The only goalie on my list is James Reimer, who was drafted by Maple Leafs during the fourth round of the 2006 draft, #99 overall. In that draft, he was the 10th goalie chosen – after, in order, Jonathan Bernier, Riku Helenius, Semyon Varlamov, Leland Irving, Jhonas Enroth, Steve Mason, Jeff Zatkoff, Daniel Larsson, and Joe Palmer – all of which suggests that the NHL Entry Draft really can be a crapshoot.

James Reimer, NHL, Toronto Maple Leafs
James Reimer as a Maple Leafs player. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

During his tenure with the Maple Leafs, Reimer played in 207 games, compiling a record of 85-76- 23. He became a Maple Leafs fan favorite because he was determined, athletic, and team-focused. Reimer played six solid seasons with the team and has since landed with the Florida Panthers where he splits about half the games each season with future Hall of Fame goalie Roberto Luongo, who was drafted fourth overall in round one of the 1997 draft by the New York Islanders.

The Maple Leafs and the 2019 NHL Entry Draft

The 2019 NHL Entry Draft begins on Friday, June 21, and goes through Saturday, June 22, at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. It remains to be seen what Dubas will do during that draft. Will he trade up or down? Will he stand pat? Who will he choose?

We know that, if nothing changes, the Maple Leafs are picking late, specifically at numbers 53, 84, 115, 124, 146, 204 and 208. Are there late-round gems to be found? Then, over the seasons that come, how will these 2019 draftees’ careers unfold?

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Kapanen, NHL Draft, Sparks

It will take many seasons to answer that question, and that unfolding answer is one of the joys of hockey. You just never know how a late-round draft pick will turn out.