There have been a number of disappointing draft picks for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the 2008 Draft gave the team some hope early on.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have needed to build a reliable defensive unit for a number of years and in the late 2000s this was still the general consensus for the team.
The 2008 Draft was the first time since 2006 that the Leafs had a selection in the first round, with their first pick in 2007 coming in the third round.
Right-handed defencemen that can become stars in the NHL are like unicorns, but the Leafs management, who had replaced Paul Maurice with Ron Wilson prior to the draft, were determined to land one.
Looking back at the 2008 Draft, the Leafs had a guy who became a serviceable NHLer in the short-term, but his largest contribution came due to the circumstances of his departure and, given a chance to go back in time with today’s knowledge, it’s clear the team would go in a different direction.
In the third edition of our series here at Tip of the Tower, we take a look at redrafting the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 2008 first round pick.
Original Pick: Luke Schenn
With the fifth-overall selection in the 2008 Draft, the Leafs selected right-handed blueliner Luke Schenn, who was coming off a strong season with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL.
During his draft year, in which he was handed the alternate captain’s ‘A’, the defence-first minded Schenn registered seven goals and 28 total points in 70 regular-season games, adding a further four points (two goals, two assists) in seven playoff games.
Schenn was a big, physical defenceman who incidentally played on the more coveted side of the ice, all traits that the Maple Leafs were clearly enamoured with, selecting him as the fourth blueliner in a run of defencemen taken in the early stages of the first round.
He landed a spot on the Leafs roster right out of the gate, playing 70 games during the 2008-09 season, registering two goals and 14 total points while the team struggled under Wilson to a 34-35-13 record.
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native followed up his rookie campaign with fairly stable years, reaching 17 points in 2009-10, along with 22 in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, earning spots with Team Canada’s World Championships teams.
He was a reliable blueliner who wasn’t spectacular, though his best days certainly came while playing in Canada’s largest city.
After the 2012 season, Schenn was part of a significant trade with the Philadelphia Flyers, seeing him swapped one-for-one with forward James van Riemsdyk.
The former second-overall pick in 2007 became one of the Leafs’ best and most reliable players during his six-year stint with the club, before ultimately returning to the Flyers in 2018.
For Schenn, he has bounced around the NHL, unable to recapture the same stability as he had in Toronto, playing for the LA Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes and Tampa Bay Lightning, predominantly holding down a spot on the bottom pairing.
Schenn had high expectations entering the league but he ultimately would be eclipsed by a player selected a little later on and the guy that the Leafs would 100 percent take instead, despite the deal that landed them Van Riemsdyk.
NHL Stats: 759GP, 31G-117A (148 pts)
Redraft Pick: Erik Karlsson
Without a doubt one of the greatest defencemen in the modern era was available when the Leafs selected Schenn fifth overall, a mistake they would not make if they could travel back in time.
With the 15th selection in the 2008 Draft, the Leafs’ Ontario rivals the Ottawa Senators landed a true superstar when they picked right-handed defenceman Erik Karlsson out of the Swedish juniors system.
Karlsson, smaller in stature to Schenn both as a prospect and even today, played a completely different type of game and needed another year of development before being brought over to the NHL.
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From there, he hit the ground running and had 26 points (five goals, 21 assists) in 60 games as a rookie in the NHL, also spending a 12-game spell in the AHL with the then-Binghamton Senators.
What followed is now history, with Karlsson establishing himself as a true generational talent, winning two Norris Trophies, finishing second in voting for a further two and earning four All-Star selections, even helping the Senators to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017.
Karlsson donned the coveted captain’s ‘C’ for four years in the Canadian capital before finding himself sent to San Jose to kickstart Ottawa’s rebuild in 2018.
Landing a player who can be arguably the best defenceman in the game, one that contributes heavily on offence, could have had the biggest impact on the Leafs, who struggled through so many years without the playoffs.
Selecting Karlsson may result in JVR sticking with the Flyers, but his value outweighs the American forward’s and would give the team a star piece to partner with Dion Phaneuf, who did pair with him briefly in Ottawa, for a long time.
Having such a strong defensive pairing in the prime of their careers would have made the Leafs a completely different team during the late 2000s/early 2010s and fortunes for the team may have changed dramatically.
NHL Stats: 736GP, 135G-468A (603 pts)
What do you think Leafs fans? Would you have been happy seeing the team take Karlsson away from the Senators and forming a deadly partnership alongside Phaneuf? Who else could they have considered in 2008? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.