The Toronto Maple Leafs have made a number of interesting first-round draft choices over the years, but what if they could go back in time with the knowledge they have now? We begin with the 2005 draft.
Some of the players selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs over the years in the first round of the NHL Draft have become key contributors, while others have led to a lot of head-scratching in hindsight.
With no hockey to keep us entertained at the moment, here at Tip of the Tower we will be taking a look back at some of the Leafs’ picks between 2005 and 2015..
The assumption with this new series is that every pick prior to the Leafs’ remains exactly the same, with only the Leafs’ general managers being given the ability to see the future.
With that in mind, we take a look at the picks the Blue and White made and consider the selections the team should have made, knowing what they know today.
To get us started, we take a look at the first post-lockout draft all the way back in 2005.
Original Pick: Tuukka Rask
In 2005, Toronto held the 21st overall pick in the draft and decided to take their goaltender of the future when they selected Tuukka Rask out of the Finnish league system.
Rask was the second goaltender picked in the first round that year, with the Montreal Canadiens landing Carey Price with the fifth overall pick; a rare occurrence with goaltenders typically falling to later in the draft.
The hope for the Leafs at the time was that Rask could develop into the team’s starter of the future, with current number one Ed Belfour now 40 years old and needing to be replaced in the long-term.
The promising young Finn’s time within the Toronto Maple Leafs organisation lasted just one year, with Belfour departing after a disappointing 2005-06 season to join the Florida Panthers, leaving the Leafs needing a new starter.
With Rask still developing in the Finnish top-tier, where he posted extremely strong numbers (2.09 GAA, .926 sv%), the Leafs clearly felt the need for more immediate help, even if it meant giving up a promising prospect.
Thus, one of the worst trades in franchise history came to be when they traded Rask to the Boston Bruins in exchange for Andrew Raycroft.
Raycroft came to the Leafs having won the Calder Trophy just two seasons prior, though he had already played 21 NHL games prior to his ‘rookie’ campaign, so the Leafs were feeling good about themselves.
Though the season immediately before acquiring him had not been so spectacular, as he posted a 3.72 goals against average and a save percentage of just .879.
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The warning signs were there, but the Leafs decided to ride Raycroft through an incredible 72 games in the 2006-07 season, with a league-worst 200 goals allowed and marginal improvements in terms of stats (2.99 GAA, .894 sv%).
Raycroft played poorly the following year and only featured in 19 total games for the Leafs before joining the Colorado Avalanche.
The Leafs’ hunt for a legitimate number one continued over many years, with Vesa Toskala, J.S. Giguere, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier all trying their hand before finally finding some stability with Frederik Andersen.
For Rask, meanwhile, he continued his strong development in Finland for another year before spending two seasons with the Providence Bruins of the AHL. By the time he became an NHL starter, the Leafs were two years departed from Raycroft.
The rest for Rask, as they say, is history. To this day he is still the Bruins’ starter, having taken over full-time after Tim Thomas left, has a Stanley Cup ring and won the 2014 Vezina Trophy as the best goaltender in the league.
He has been a tormentor of the Leafs in three separate first-round playoff matchups and will go down as one of the greatest Bruins of all time.
Redraft Pick: Tuuka Rask
With everything that has already been said, going back to the 2005 Draft with this hindsight won’t see the Maple Leafs make an actual change on draft day, but rather in their handling of their newest prospect and their approach moving forward.
The Leafs, knowing how Rask pans out in the long-term, opt to choose the promising young Finnish goalie once again but recognise that trading him away is no longer on the table.
Instead of trying to pry Raycroft from the Bruins, they look at other short-term options between the pipes safe in the knowledge that Rask is developing well in his home country before being brought over to the AHL.
Having Rask in net, providing stability at a position that has dogged the team for so many years, may contribute to better results on the ice and see the team look to address other areas of need instead of the almost yearly unveiling of the new saviour in goal.
Rask goes on to become a Leafs legend and the Bruins potentially don’t become the dreaded first-round nightmare the Toronto organisation has had to deal with far too often.
Sometimes, keeping the player you chose but handling their situation in a different way is the best decision for your organisation and in the case of Toronto, keeping Rask and avoiding the trade for Raycroft is one of the easiest decisions to make.
Would you have stuck with Rask as the first-round pick in 2005? Or should the Toronto Maple Leafs have drafted someone else? Let us know in the comments below.