Have the Maple Leafs finally learned?
The team that over the past three decades has been synonymous with rushing, wrecking and prematurely disposing of young hockey players appears to have finally grasped the concept that approach won’t get it anywhere.
This is the franchise, after all, that started three teenagers on the blueline in the early 1980s, put Luke Richardson in the NHL at age 18, dealt 20-year-old first rounder Scott Pearson in a desperate attempt not to finish dead last, insisted Jeff Ware was NHL ready at 19, force fed 18-year-old Luke Schenn to the league and traded away Brad Boyes, Tuukka Rask and Alex Steen before they even knew what they had.
Maybe the leopard can change its spots. Right now, underpinning the club’s strong start is a philosophy that wasting kids and draft picks is no longer going to happen in Toronto. It was established by Brian Burke, but his decision to trade away high picks for Phil Kessel obscured it from view.
Now, under Dave Nonis and with the team 8-5 early in this lockout shortened season, the apparent end to the bad old days can be more clearly seen.
For example:
Nazem Kadri, Burke’s first draft pick back in 2009, has emerged as a solid NHL offensive player after an extended apprenticeship under Dallas Eakins with the AHL Marlies. Many wanted to declare Kadri a bust, Don Cherry screamed loud and often that the Leafs weren’t giving Kadri a fair chance, but the team’s patient approach has paid off with a bona fide NHL asset.
Teams that have approached the Leafs offering players for the team’s 2013 first round pick have been told it’s not available and isn’t going to be available.
The club’s 2012 first round pick, defenceman Morgan Rielly, might have been ready in some eyes to crack the NHL roster, but instead Nonis sent him back to Moose Jaw of the WHL for seasoning. In other years, Rielly might have been kept by those who believed it was politically profitable to keep high picks in the NHL regardless of their suitability in order to demonstrate the club knew had blue chippers so good they could play right away.