Without first-round picks, Leafs could lose out

If the NHL season ended today, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be the worst team in the league.

That means the Boston Bruins would have a great chance of selecting first overall in the 2010 NHL entry draft, after acquiring the pick, as well as the Leafs 2011 first-rounder, for Phil Kessel.

When the trade was completed, Leafs GM Brian Burke argued that picking up Kessel was better than what he could get in the first round of the 2010 draft.

He’s right that Kessel is worth an opening-round choice, given that he’s only 22 years old and already has a 36-goal season under his belt.

However, he may not be equal to two top choices, especially if they become lottery selections.

Looking at the top five picks from each NHL draft from 1979 to 2004, a total of nine players have worked their way into the Hockey Hall of Fame, while others during that span are worthy and waiting to be honoured.

In the same time, 57 of those 125 skaters were named to an all-star team during their career and 89 played in 500 games or more. And every player drafted played at least one NHL game.

Thus, the consensus is there that, although not a guarantee, a top five draft choice is very important and, more often than not, provides a solid NHLer.

Looking ahead to the crop of players that could be in the top five for 2010, the Leafs could miss out on a handful of Canadian Hockey League stars.

Taylor Hall, a Kingston, Ont. native, is currently projected to go No. 1 overall thanks to his performance at the 2008 world under-18 championship and Ivan Hlinka International under-18 tournament.

Hall was also part of the 2009 Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires and was named the MVP for that event. He has 11 goals and 16 assists in 14 games this season.

Joining him is Spitfires teammate Cam Fowler. He has two goals and 18 assists from the point and is also defensively responsible with a plus-10 rating.

Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers sits third, but that could change soon. He leads the OHL in goals and is only one point behind Hall for the league lead in that category.

A pair of Moncton Wildcats, Kirill Kabanov and Brandon Gormley, round out the top five. The Russian Kabanov has 10 points in only six games, while Gormley has 11 points as a defenceman.

It will be interesting to see if trading these picks will bite the Leafs in the backside like it has in the past.

In 1989, the Leafs traded their first-round selection in the 1991 draft to the New Jersey Devils for journeyman blueliner Tom Kurvers.

That pick was used by the Devils to take Scott Niedermayer third overall, a future Norris Trophy winner and four-time Stanley Cup champion.

Seven years later, the Leafs reacquired their only first overall selection ever, Wendel Clark, along with Mathieu Schneider and D.J. Smith, giving up a first-rounder that in 1997 that turned out to be Roberto Luongo.

Luongo, drafted fourth overall, has gone on to become one of the best goalies in the NHL today.