Toronto Maple Leafs: What They Can Learn From the Florida Panthers

Jan 26, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA;Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) moves in to shoot against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) in the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 26, 2016; Sunrise, FL, USA;Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) moves in to shoot against Toronto Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer (34) in the second period at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Duyos-USA TODAY Sports /

With the Toronto Maple Leafs taking the difficult road of rebuilding through drafting, developing and patience, the Florida Panthers are a great example of how patience can pay off.

More from Toronto Maple Leafs

For years the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers shared in the same misery. Neither could make the playoffs and when they finally did, they could not make it out of the first round.

Florida has only made one playoff appearance in the past 14 seasons. The Leafs have only one playoff appearance in their past 10 seasons, and that came in an abbreviated 48 game season.

This season has been much different for the Panthers, as they currently sit second in the Eastern Conference and could be a tough opponent to beat in the playoffs. It has not always been easy, but a concentration on drafting and bringing in young talent, plus the additions of steady veteran players has transformed them into a team with the right foundation moving forward.

If the Leafs can learn anything from the Panthers as they go through the same rebuilding process, it is that patience and the pain endured will be worth it in the end. Since the 2010 season, these are the players Florida has drafted who currently play on the roster:

Dmitri Kulikov- drafted 14th overall in 2009
Corban Knight– drafted 135th overall in 2009
Erik Gudbranson– drafted 3rd overall in 2010
Nick Bjugstad– drafted 19th overall in 2010
Quinton Howden– drafted 25th overall in 2010
Alex Petrovic– drafted 36th overall in 2010
Jonathan Huberdeau– drafted 3rd overall in 2011
Vincent Trocheck– drafted 64th overall in 2011
Logan Shaw– drafted 76th overall in 2011
Barkov- drafted 2nd overall in 2013
Ekblad- drafted 1st overall in 2014

**In order of draft year

Since 2009, the Panthers have had nine first round picks, including four in the top three which have helped bolster their lineup with talent. The draft strategy for the Panthers has not only been to add talent, but also size.

Barkov (6.02ft, 205 lbs), Ekblad (6.04ft, 217 lbs), Gudbranson (6.03ft, 195 lbs), and Huberdeau (6.01ft, 170 lbs) all fit the mold of what the Panthers want in their players. With Mark Hunter in charge with the draft last year, the Leafs had nine draft picks and they went with highly skilled players who would give the Leafs the best value with each pick.

Kyle Dubas turned the teams 24th overall pick into three selections – 34th, 61st and 68th overall. With those picks, they selected Travis Dermott, Jeremy Bracco, and Martins Dzierkals, who have played well with their respective junior clubs.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Jan 2, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock talks to Toronto Maple Leafs forward Brad Boyes (28) on the bench during a game against St. Louis Blues at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated St. Louis 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

While Toronto may have missed at an opportunity to select a player like Travis Konecny (who the Philadelphia Flyers drafted with the pick that the Leafs traded to them), they will probably get more value with the three players they drafted. If Florida’s draft history shows anything, the more draft picks who make their roster, the easier it is to make trades or sign free agents who can make contributions, but not be expected to be vital components.

To add to their young core, the Panthers brought veterans Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell and Jussi Jokinen to help tge team get over the hump and be a serious contender moving forward. Sure, the contract they gave Dave Bolland ($5.5 million until 2018-19) was a mistake GM Dave Tallon wishes he could take back, but luckily he could afford it since the team has many young players stepping up for them.

It brings to mind the Leafs mistakes before Brendan Shanahan was brought in, where they were big spenders at free agency in order to fill key positions, instead of drafting skilled young talent to do so. The Edmonton Oilers are a perfect example of what can happen if a team does not make use of the ability to draft and develop players, and that getting as many top picks as possible does not always lead to success.

What the Leafs have made clear with the management team now in place, is that there will be a clear identity and style of play for their young players to follow. The Panthers have it with head coach Gerard Gallant and now Toronto hope the leadership of Mike Babcock will lead to similar results

Next: Leafs prospect of interest: Nikita Zaitsev

Like the Panthers, the Leafs want their past failures to be a distant memory which, while not an easy task is not impossible if they are willing to learn from Florida’s experience. They have a bright future with Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and Mitch Marner, but what will be imperative for the Leafs success is that they continue to add to that group.