The Toronto Maple Leafs have ridden the proverbial roller coaster when it comes to the NHL Entry Draft ever since the first such draft in 1963. There have been years when the Maple Leafs used their draft picks wisely to select players that went on to become elite NHL players, sometimes even superstars. However, there are just as many, if not more instances where the Maple Leafs have utilized their draft choices to select players that fail to live up to expectations.
The draft is a tricky thing but it appears that some teams have an easier time than others in finding success drafting amateur players (i.e. the Detroit Red Wings). Whether it is because the management and scouting of certain teams are better, or it is simply a matter of timing and luck, some teams consistently reap the rewards of the NHL draft, while others simply weep.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have been involved in the draft since its inaugural year of 1963 and have had a history of ups and downs at the draft table. This list will explore seven of the absolute best draft picks the Maple Leafs have ever selected in the first round of an NHL draft, and will compare those to eight of the worst selections the franchise has ever made in the first round. Some of these players are relics of the past, products of the old NHL, while some are current players in the league today. Others are players who got drafted and never played a single game in the NHL.
15 Eric Fichaud (Worst)
Eric Fichaud was taken in the first round of the 1994 NHL draft by the Maple Leafs who utilized their sixteenth overall pick to do so. As a goalie, Fichaud appeared in only 95 career games while compiling a less-than-stellar record of 22-47-10. Taking a goalie in the first round of an NHL draft has long been a risky maneuver, and for the Leafs in this instance, the high-risk, high-reward model did not pan out in their favour. Although Fichaud did play in nearly 100 NHL games, not a single one was with the Maple Leafs. Having had a solid junior hockey career, the expectations were that Fichaud would become a stellar number one goalie, but as fate would have it, he became a gritty American Hockey League veteran for the majority of his playing career. Unfortunately for Fichaud, he also became known to Leafs’ fans as one of the worst first round picks in the history of the franchise.
14 Mitch Marner (Best)
Although Mitch Marner is just one season into his National Hockey League career, it is already apparent that he is a special talent. So far this year, Marner has impressed everyone around the league with his skill, speed, and elusiveness on the ice. The rookie sensation has been involved in the rookie scoring race all season long, and at one point, even led it. Marner has already begun to accumulate NHL accolades as he was named the league’s Rookie of the Month this past January. For what he lacks in size, Marner definitely compensates for on the goal sheet; he has 52 points in 60 games so far this season. In his final year of junior hockey with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League last season, Marner was named the OHL MVP, CHL MVP, and Memorial Cup MVP. Marner is already drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks due to their similar size and style of play, not to mention their ability to fill the score sheet. Already, Marner looks like he is one of the Maple Leaf’s greatest first round picks to date.
13 Luke Schenn (Worst)
Hear me out. Luke Schenn is certainly not one of the worst players the Leafs have ever drafted in the first round, statistically speaking. However, when you consider the state of the franchise when they took him with their fifth overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, and the expectations for him as a player to turn the franchise around, Schenn should be considered one of the more regrettable picks in Leafs’ history. Schenn played several full years with the Maple Leafs and had a solid rookie year but was never able to develop into the superstar that the Leafs thought he would be and he was eventually traded to Philadelphia. To put it into perspective, in the same draft, there were several excellent players taken after Schenn in the first round; players like Erik Karlsson, Colin Wilson, Tyler Myers, Jordan Eberle, and John Carlson. Schenn was supposed to be the defensive stalwart that would turn the miserable 2007-2008 Maple Leafs team around. Unfortunately, the hype receded to regret, and Schenn became no more than a mistake in the eyes of Leafs’ management and fans alike.
12 Russ Courtnall (Best)
Russ Courtnall was selected by the Maple Leafs seventh overall in the 1983 NHL draft, after being named one of the top prospects coming into the draft that year. Courtnall played in just six seasons with the Maple Leafs before being traded away, but was involved in several iconic moments in franchise history such as playing on the infamous “Hound Line” alongside rookie sensation Wendel Clark. Most likely, the Maple Leafs regret dealing Courtnall away to the Montreal Canadiens, as the speedy forward went on to become a consistent scoring threat. In 1,029 career games, Courtnall tallied 297 goals and 447 assists for a total of 744 points. Courtnall was also a force whenever his team was in the playoffs, registering a total of 83 career playoff points in 129 postseason games. Who knows, if the Leafs had had Courtnall in the 1993 season, he might have been the piece to propel them into the Stanley Cup Finals, as Wendel Clark and Doug Gilmour were unable to defeat Wayne Gretzky’s Los Angeles Kings.
11 Luca Cereda (Worst)
Luca Cereda was selected with the Maple Leaf’s 24th overall pick in the first round of the 1999 Entry Draft. Unfortunately, Cereda was never able to play in an NHL game because he was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect just one year after he was drafted. Obviously, Cereda’s addition to this list is no fault of his own, but rather just on its merit alone as one of the worst, and most unfortunate, picks in the history of the Maple Leafs. Perhaps as a testament to how unlucky this move was, just two picks later, at number 26, the Ottawa Senators selected Martin Havlat who went on to enjoy a stellar NHL career. For the Leafs, this would mark the beginning of a decade-long period where the franchise would develop a reputation for poor drafting and mortgaging the future of the team for short-term solutions. This is certainly a draft pick to forget about if you are a Leafs fan.
10 Auston Matthews (Best)
Much like fellow rookie teammate Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews is just a year into his professional career, but already appears to have the potential to become an NHL superstar – if he isn’t one already. Matthews has dominated headlines not only in Toronto media, but around the league as well, as he continues to impress opponents and fans alike with his goal scoring and exciting play. All season long, Matthews has been involved in the rookie scoring race between several players, including Patrick Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, as well as the race for the Rocket Richard trophy for the league’s goal-scoring leader (he currently sits tied for third with 31 goals). More impressive still, is the fact that Matthews is widely considered the favourite to win the Calder trophy for rookie of the year, barring any major setbacks – a feat not accomplished by a Toronto rookie since Brit Selby did it way back in the 1965-66 season. If Matthews continues to improve on his stellar rookie campaign moving forward into his career, he may end up being considered as the greatest first round pick the Leafs ever made. For now, I’m sure he’ll settle for one of the greatest the franchise has ever made.
9 Jeff Ware (Worst)
In the 1995 NHL draft, the Maple Leafs used their fifteenth overall pick to select defenseman Jeff Ware. Winning the OHL championship with the Oshawa Generals and the gold medal at the World Junior Championships with team Canada were two reasons why the Maple Leafs regarded him as a talented player. Unfortunately, Ware could never develop his game enough to solidify a position on an NHL roster. Ware would go on to play in just 21 career games where he would tally a total of one assist. To his credit, Ware did play a number of American Hockey League seasons where he enjoyed marginal success. However, as a first round draft pick at fifteenth overall, Ware’s inability to play in the NHL definitely warrants his inclusion on the list of worst Maple Leafs’ first round picks. Immediately after Ware was taken at number fifteen, the Buffalo Sabres selected goalie Martin Biron who would have a very fruitful NHL career.
8 Wendel Clark (Best)
When it comes to Maple Leafs’ lore, it doesn’t matter if you are an older fan of hockey, or a new generation fan, the name Wendel Clark is synonymous with Toronto Maple Leaf hockey. Like current Maple Leaf Auston Matthews, Clark was selected first overall by the Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL draft, making him the only other first overall pick in franchise history alongside Matthews. Clark’s robust and pugilistic play almost immediately made him a fan favourite, while his scoring touch warranted respect from his peers and opponents. In 793 career games, Clark scored 330 goals, while adding 234 assists, for a total of 564 career points. He also added 1,690 penalty minutes, most of which were generated by some of the most iconic and memorable hockey fights of all-time. Clark was named team captain in the early-1990s and helped the team to a series of lengthy playoff runs, including coming within one game of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Maple Leafs retired Clark’s number 17 in 2016, cementing his legacy as one of the most revered Leafs players ever, and definitely one of the franchise’s greatest first round picks.
7 Brandon Convery (Worst)
Brandon Convery was taken eighth overall in the first round of the 1992 draft by the Maple Leafs in one of the worst draft years ever table by the organization. Convery caught the attention of scouts when in junior hockey with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL he scored 40 goals in 44 games. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, he was not able to translate his junior success into a professional career, as his NHL career petered out after just four years. Over those four seasons, Convery only appeared in a total of 72 games while registering 9 goals and 28 points, which was a profound deterioration from his junior hockey days. After a European tour, Convery decided to retire form hockey altogether in 2004, marking the end of a rocky and unstable professional career. After Convery was taken eighth overall, several notable names were selected including: Sergei Gonchar; Martin Straka; Valeri Bure; Michael Peca; Darren McCarty; and Mattias Norstrom.
6 Vincent Damphousse (Best)
Following the 1985 draft where the Leafs selected Wendel Clark with the first overall pick, the franchise used their sixth overall pick in the 1986 draft to select Vincent Damphousse. These were two pretty solid consecutive drafts for a team that has generated a reputation as being subpar when it comes to the draft table. In the five seasons he spent with the Maple Leafs, Damphousse played in 394 games and scored 329 points. After being traded to the Oilers for Grant Fuhr, Damphousse ended up playing for the Montreal Canadiens where he was a scoring sensation and helped Montreal win a Stanley Cup in 1993 (ouch for Maple Leafs’ fans). For his career, Damphousse played in 1,378 games and tallied 1,205 career points. Damphousse currently sits 46th on the NHL’s list of leading scorers of all-time, cementing himself not only as one of the league’s greatest players of all-time but also as one of the Maple Leaf’s greatest first round picks they ever selected.
5 Steve Bancroft (Worst)
In the 1989 amateur draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs had three selections. With their first two selections, the Leafs took Scott Thornton at third overall and Rob Pearson with the twelfth overall pick, who both went on to have solid NHL careers. However, with their third selection at twenty-first overall, the Maple Leafs took Steve Bancroft who turned out to be a complete bust. Bancroft managed to appear in just six professional games – none of which were with the Maple Leafs – while registering only one assist from the blue line. Bancroft does deserve a little credit, as he did go on to enjoy a successful and lengthy career in the American Hockey League. However, as a first round pick, it is a disappointment for the Maple Leafs that Bancroft was never able to become a steady professional and a draft pick wasted on a guy who never even played a game for the franchise.
4 Lanny McDonald (Best)
When you think of Lanny McDonald, you think of his legendary mustache and his infamous grin after winning the Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames. It is unusual to think of the Maple Leafs when McDonald’s name is brought up, but it was actually the Leafs who selected him in the 1973 NHL draft with their fourth overall pick. McDonald had a tremendous start to his career with the Maple Leafs, finishing top 10 in points several times, and being named to several All-Star teams and the 1976 Canada Cup team. Unfortunately for the Leafs franchise, newly appointed General Manager Punch Imlach clashed with Darryl Sittler who refused to waive his no-trade-clause, so Imlach responded by trading away Sittler’s friend Lanny McDonald. This may be one of the worst trades in Maple Leaf’ history and a significant blemish on the team’s illustrious history (Sittler also resigned as team captain after the trade). McDonald went on to have an extremely successful career playing in 1,111 career games and scoring 500 goals and 506 assists for a total of 1,006 points. He is a Hall of Fame player, and continues to be one of the game’s most celebrated personalities. Despite his fallout with the organization, McDonald is definitely one of the Maple Leafs greatest first round draft picks in the history of the team.
3 Ernie Moser (Worst)
Ernie Moser is certainly one of the worst draft picks that the Maple Leafs have ever decided to select. In the 1969 draft, the Leafs took Moser with the ninth overall pick. Moser had been a respectable junior hockey player in both the WCHL and CHL, tallying a fair number of points. However, the transition from junior hockey to the professional stage was apparently too much for Moser to handle as he would never play a game in the National Hockey League, let alone with the Maple Leafs. Whether it was a matter of work ethic or an overestimation of Moser by the scouting staff, this is definitely a significant blemish on the Maple Leafs’ draft record. Moser would go on to play in several leagues, including the IHL and USHL, before ultimately retiring from professional hockey for good in 1977. For a top 10 pick, Moser should have been able to establish himself well enough to play at least a few games for the Maple Leafs. Alas, he played in none.
2 Darryl Sittler (Best)
Darryl Sittler is perhaps the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all-time. Arguably, he is one of the greatest NHL players of all-time, which was acknowledged with his induction by the league into their centennial list of the 100 Greatest NHL Players during this season. Sittler, who was drafted eighth overall in 1970, played in 1,096 career games and tallied 484 goals and 637 assists for a total of 1,121 career points which is good for 1.023 points per game and 58th overall in all-time leading scoring. Sittler may have played his entire career in Toronto had it not been for a sour relationship with Maple Leaf management (Punch Imlach and Harrold Ballard). Despite his unfortunate departure from Toronto, Sittler remains a fan favourite to this day and his number 27 was retired by the Maple Leafs in 2016 as part of the team’s 100th year celebration. Sittler also holds an NHL record that continues to stand to this day for most points scored in a game; he scored six goals and four assists for ten points against the Boston Bruins on February 7, 1976.
1 Tom Martin (Worst)
Tom Martin was selected fifth overall by the Maple Leafs in the first round of the 1964 draft. Granted, at this point in the history of the National Hockey League, there were far fewer teams (6 to be exact) and the entry draft was a completely new process, so you can cut the Maple Leafs a little bit of slack. However, their fifth overall pick, Martin went on to suit up in only three career games, tallying just one goal. The failure of Martin to develop into an NHL player is perhaps most disappointing due to the era in which he played. Back in the 1960s, the competition to make the league was mild compared to today’s standard. It is therefore surprising that a fifth overall pick could not manage to play in more than a handful of games. Aside from appearances in several seasons in the World Hockey Association following his experiment with the Leafs in the NHL, Martin’s career slowly petered out over the next decade.