The Toronto Maple Leafs have a bad reputation when it comes to drafting. Some of it’s warranted, but they really haven’t been as bad as you might think. Sure, getting the first overall pick in a year when a generational talent (Auston Matthews) is draft-eligible helps, but, beyond that, their draft history in the past 15-20 years actually isn’t that awful. It’s not exceptional, but there’s some quality first round picks in the bunch. Unfortunately, the Leafs either traded them – Alex Steen and Tuukka Rask – before they hit stardom or failed to develop them properly (there’s a lot of those).
Under the guidance of President Brendan Shanahan and General Manager Lou Lamoriello, the Maple Leafs have been much better at drafting in the first round, at least going by early returns. Matthews was an obvious slam dunk selection, but picking Mitch Marner with the fourth overall pick when defenseman Noah Hanifin was on the board was a somewhat risky, but rewarding pick. John Ferguson Jr., as loathed as he is in Toronto, actually didn’t have a terrible drafting record. Then there’s Brian Burke, who hated first-round draft picks so much he did his best to get rid of them. And given his drafting record, it was probably for the best he dealt as many as he did. With that said, let’s begin with the most forgettable of Toronto’s last 15 first-round picks.
15. Luca Cereda – 1999
Swiss-born Luca Cereda is as far back as we’re going for this list. The now-35-year-old was taken by the Leafs with the 24th pick in 1999. At the time, he was thought to be an up-and-coming two-way center with improving offensive capabilities. He posted 16 points in 38 games in the Swiss pro league during his draft year, but seemed to regress the following year, scoring just once in 43 games and adding only five assists.
A heart surgery kept Cereda from playing at all during the 2000-01 season and likely affected his potential greatly. He lasted just two-plus seasons with Toronto’s AHL affiliate in St. John’s before returning to play in Switzerland and retiring in 2007. As disappointing as the selection was, the 1999 draft didn’t feature many impact players beyond the 24th pick save for Martin Havlat and Jordan Leopold.
14. Tyler Biggs – 2011
The only reason Tyler Biggs wasn’t 15th is because Luca Cereda literally couldn’t play hockey for a year as he dealt with a heart condition. At this point in his career, it’s surprising that the 23-year-old was drafted at all. But in 2011, he epitomized the philosophy of the Brian Burke era as a big-bodied, hard-hitting winger and the team took him with the 22nd overall pick. It didn’t take long for the team to realize it was a disastrous selection.
Biggs had a rocky freshman year at Miami University (Ohio) and left school the following year to play for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. He was decent there, but he didn’t dominate, which is what a 19-year-old first-round pick should do. Since turning pro, he has just 17 points in 119 AHL games. Naturally, he hasn’t played a single game in the NHL and it’ll be an absolute miracle if he ever does. He was dealt to Pittsburgh in the Phil Kessel trade.
13. Stuart Percy – 2011
Toronto selected defenseman Stuart Percy three picks after taking Biggs with the 22nd pick in 2011. While there were concerns immediately regarding the Biggs selection, Percy actually had a pretty impressive skill set and appeared to be a promising prospect. He had 33 points in 64 games for the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL and improved the following two seasons of junior. Yet, he was never able to gain any traction as a pro.
Percy’s best season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies came in 2013-14 when he recorded 25 points in 71 games. He even made the Maple Leafs out of training camp the following season, but was sent back to the AHL after nine games. He played three more games in the NHL last season, but wasn’t re-signed by the Leafs. The Penguins signed Percy as a free agent this past offseason and he plays with their AHL team today.
12. Frederik Gauthier – 2013
Frederik Gauthier wasn’t a Brian Burke selection, but he might as well have been. The Goat was picked with the 21st overall pick in 2013 by Dave Nonis, who served for years as Burke’s right-hand man and became the General Manager after Burke was fired in January of 2013.
Gauthier was everything that the Burke-era Leafs were all about. He’s a 6-foot-5, 235 pound center who was known primarily for his penalty-killing and faceoff abilities, although he did score near a point-per-game in his draft year. The problem was he never really improved offensively. He’s been an adequate AHLer in his first two pro seasons and even had a decent stint with the Maple Leafs this year, scoring twice in 18 games on the team’s fourth line, but he’s likely a career minor league player.
11. Jiri Tlusty – 2006
It only took four complete busts, but now we’re at least getting to the players who have been able to play in the league. If you’re currently asking yourself who the hell is Jiri Tlusty, he was the player taken 13th overall in 2006, nine picks ahead of Claude Giroux. All kidding aside, Tlusty had a pretty uneventful few years before turning pro, aside from leaked nude selfies that made their way online. This was in 2007, so you can at least say he was ahead of his time – just not in terms of skill.
Tlusty scored ten goals as an NHL rookie in 2007-08, but bounced back and forth between the Maple Leafs and Marlies for the next couple of seasons before being dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes. He was unable to earn a contract with an NHL team this season, but has accumulated 446 career games to date, picking up 177 points along the way.