Prior to the salary cap era, the Toronto Maple Leafs were not known for being good at drafting and developing their own players. They tried to solve all their problems by throwing out huge money to big name free agents. They also weren't afraid to trade away first round picks for rental players. That may have provided them some success at the time, but today's NHL is a different game on and off the ice.
Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have proven that in order to have a team who contends for the Stanley Cup every year, you have to be able to create your own talent. The Leafs have finally realized this and have one of the more promising prospect pools in the entire league.
Going back to the time before the salary cap, its hard to blame the Leafs for trading away their high draft picks. When they did keep their first round picks, more often than not the player they selected turned out to be a huge mistake.When you have a draft history as long as the Toronto Maple Leafs, you are bound to make some mistakes at some point, but they made more than just some.
There are two different categories of mistakes teams can make when drafting a player. Firstly you have the straight forward busts. These are the type of players who excelled in junior hockey and were highly touted heading into their drafts. For various reasons they just don't make it in the NHL. Sometimes their skill set that worked in junior just doesn't translate to the pro game. A lot of times players are just unlucky and their careers are hampered by multiple injuries.
Secondly you have the players that just don't mesh with the team that drafted them, but find some success elsewhere in the NHL. Maybe they just needed a change of scenery or a better playing opportunity. Either way, it has the team feeling regretful for giving up on them so soon.
You will find both these types of drafting mistakes on this list. There is a good chance this list will look very different as the years go by, as the Leafs are bound make some more draft mistakes. The key is for the Leafs to learn from their history and not make so many mistakes.
Here are the biggest draft mistakes in Toronto Maple Leaf history.
15 Stuart Percy - 2011
You might say the inclusion of Percy on this list is a bit premature, as he's still with the Leafs organization. He was taken 25th overall in the 2011 Entry Draft. So far, he has spent the majority of his pro career in the minors. Although as a young defenseman it is not unusual to spend some time devolving in the minors, Percy has not progressed a great deal. On top of that, he has already suffered a couple of injuries which has slowed his development. When he has been in the lineup, his play has been nothing more than mediocre. With the Leafs adding more young defensive prospects, Percy is slowly entering into make it or break it mode.
14 Luca Cereda - 1999
The case of Cereda is unlike any other player on this list. The Maple Leafs drafted the native of Switzerland with the 24th overall selection. At the time he was drafted, he was already playing in the Swiss A League. He performed pretty well too, with 16 points in 38 games, which is not bad for a teenager playing against grown men. The future was looking bright for Cereda heading in to his first pro hockey camp with the Leafs. Unfortunately it was at that camp were he learned of a heart defect he had. He would undergo surgery and as a result he would miss the entire 2000-01 season.
He would make a comeback a year later for Toronto's farm team in St.John's. He continued to play in St. John's for three seasons before he headed back home to Switzerland. He retired in 2007 at the advice of doctors due to his heart condition, never have appearing in a single NHL game.
13 Trevor Johansen - 1977
Johansen was known as one of the better two-way defenders in junior. He had success representing Canada internationally at the junior level and The Leafs were hoping he would solidify their blueline for years to come. He had a good rookie season with the Leafs, but before he could build on that he was traded to the Colorado Rockies the following season. It was with the Rockies where his career took a turn for the worse when he would suffer multiple knee injuries. He would never be the same player after his injuries and would be forced to retired because of his bad knees in 1983. Unfortunately just three picks after the Leafs selected Johansen 12th overall, the Islanders selected one of the best pure goal scorers of all-time in Mike Bossy.
12 Laurie Boschman - 1979
Boschman was a prolific scorer in junior while playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, where he recorded 149 points in his last year of junior. With all that success, it's no wonder Leafs fans were excited when the team selected him 9th overall in 1979. Of all the players on this list, Boschman had arguably the most successful NHL career. He recorded 577 points in 1,009 career games played. He makes this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly, there is the fact he only played his first two seasons in Toronto. For what some say were controversial reasons, he was shipped off to Edmonton in 1982. Secondly is that if only the Leafs had the hindsight to know things weren't going to work out, they could have selected future Hall of Fame member Michel Goulet instead.
11 Luke Schenn - 2008
Schenn was known as one of the best shut down defenseman in junior hockey and he was also somewhat underrated when it came to his offensive skills. It was this complete package potential that caught the attention of Toronto scouts, making them happy to select him 5th overall in 2008. In his very first professional camp, he was impressive enough to make the team as an nineteen year old. He followed up his great camp with an excellent rookie season, showing maturity beyond his years. He continued to play solid defensive hockey for the next few seasons. But with him being such a high draft pick, more was expected from him by fans and management alike. After just four seasons in Toronto, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
10 Jiri Tlusty - 2006
Tlusty was the 13th player selected during the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, due to his successful junior career playing in his home country of the Czech Republic. After he was drafted he spent a year playing for the Sault Ste.Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, before making the transition to the pros. He had immediate success at the American League level but could never translate that to the NHL while with the Leafs. After just three seasons with Toronto he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes where he would find modest success. The Leafs missed on drafting future NHL superstar Claude Giroux who went 22nd overall to the Philadelphia Flyers.
9 Luke Richardson - 1987
Although Richardson would go on to have a long successful career as a rugged defender, his time with the Leafs was one to forget. He was selected 7th overall by Toronto and would play his first four seasons with the team. He never seemed to find his groove while with the Leafs and was eventually traded to the Edmonton Oilers.
To the Leafs credit, the first round of the 1987 Entry Draft was not particularly strong. However, there is one name that stands out. The Quebec Nordiques selected Joe Sakic with the 15th overall pick. Its safe to assume the Leafs future would have been quite different had they selected "Burnaby Joe" instead.
8 Tyler Biggs - 2011
Biggs is the second player on this list from the 2011 draft. The Maple Leafs liked the big man so much they traded up 17 spots to select him at 22nd overall. They held high hopes that Biggs could develop into one of the leagues next dominant power forwards. During his rookie season with Toronto Marlies, Biggs struggled mightily and found himself mostly playing on the fourth line. The Leafs were hoping his terrible rookie season in the minors was just anomaly, but his sophomore season was equally as bad. He was even sent down to ECHL in hopes that he would gain some confidence.
After just two abysmal seasons he was shipped off along with Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
7 Drake Berehowsky - 1990
Berehowsky spent his first five seasons splitting his time with the Leafs and their AHL affiliate in St.John's. The 10th overall pick was not able to secure a permanent role on a fairly deep Toronto blueline and was eventually traded away in 1995. He would have his best year with the Nashville Predators during the 1999-00 season when he registered a career high 32 points. That season would just be a one time thing, as he was mostly a bottom pairing defenseman for the better part of his career.
6 Scott Thornton - 1989
Scott Thornton played a total of 941 games during his NHL career, it's just too bad that he only played 33 of those games with the team that drafted him 3rd overall. He spent only one season with the Leafs organization, bouncing up and down from the minors. He was traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 1991, a trade which brought goaltender Grant Fuhr to Toronto. Thornton would go on to have a decent career as a two way forward, where he set a career high of 42 points in 2001-02 while playing for the San Jose Sharks. Other notable players selected in the first round in 1989 were Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik, and Olaf Kolzig, with Bill Guerin's selection hurting the most, as he was taken only two picks later.
5 Gary Nylund - 1982
When the Leafs drafted Nylund with the 3rd overall pick, they thought they were getting a very special player. It's not too often you get a guy with his size, who could play on both sides of the game. The defenseman was known for laying out some devastating hits in junior, but he was also seen as a great skater with better than average passing skills. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury during his rookie season and never lived up to his true potential. To makes things worse for the Leafs, two picks later future Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens was selected, with fellow Hall of Famer Phil Housley going a pick later than Stevens.
4 Eric Fichaud - 1994
When the Leafs drafted Fichaud with the 16th overall pick, they already thought Felix Potvin was their goaltender of the future. So it wasn't so surprising when they traded Fichaud just a year later to New York Islanders, before he even played a game for the Leafs. He would have his only NHL success during his three seasons with the Islanders before being stuck in the minors for the remainder of his career. Other goalies that went during the 1994 Entry Draft were Jose Theodore, Marty Turco, Tim Thomas and Evgeni Nabokov, although none of them were first round picks.
3 Scott Pearson - 1988
Pearson was selected with the 6th overall pick of the 1988 Entry Draft. Despite his high draft status, Pearson was not known as the most skillful player while in junior. He was known more as a energy player who gave it his all every shift. He managed to find his place in the league as a role player, bit it's a little unusual when players with his skillset get drafted that high. This made the selection of Pearson a bit bizarre. especially when you consider the players that were selected right after Pearson included, Jeremy Roenick, Rod Brind'Amour, and the "Finnish Flash" Teemu Selanne.
2 Jeff Ware - 1995
The Leafs were looking to improve their long-time future on the blueline when they took Jeff Ware with the 15th overall pick. In the end, he made almost zero impact in his brief time with the Leafs. He played a grand total of only 15 games for organization and 21 NHL games in total. He spent most of his career in the minors and by 2002 he retired from the game. Of the nine defenseman drafted in the first round in 1995, Ware was by far the biggest flop. The Leafs almost made up for the mistake by selecting Danny Markov in the 9th round, who would play four solid seasons for them on the blueline.
1 Brandon Convery - 1992
Brandon Convery was an absolute stud playing for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL during his draft eligible year. He scored 40 goals in just 44 games played. That was enough for the Leafs to select him with the 8th overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. Convery impressed in very first pro season with the Leafs farm team in St.John's, recording a total of 71 points. Despite his success in the minors, he could never replicate it in the NHL. He would only play 50 games with the Leafs through four seasons before being shipped off to Vancouver in 1998. Convery was never able have success elsewhere in the NHL and was playing in Europe by 2000-01. A couple of noteworthy names that went later that first round were Sergei Gonchar and Martin Straka.