The rumour mill hasn't been spinning quite as furiously around the Maple Leafs as one might expect given the team's position in the standings. The Leafs sit nine points behind Atlanta (with two games in hand) heading into Monday night's tilt with Washington. Not exactly the competitive squad that Leafs fans and management were expecting heading into the season.
Despite this, much of the talk in Leaf Land has been about improving from within. With no first rounder this season, and our strongest trade chip possessing a no trade clause, it seems that what we've got now is what we have to work with.
Having no first rounder, draft night was taken in fairly quietly by Leaf fans but Brian Burke equally quietly put together some very solid selections. Brad Ross was taken 43rd overall and is described at Hockey's Future as "one of the hardest players to play against in the WHL" and is projected to be a very strong checking line player with a little bit of offensive ability as well. So far this season he has 26 point in 29 games to go along with 79 PIMs. Not a bad pick up for a mid-second rounder.
The real prize for the Leafs though may just be the Erie Otters' Greg McKegg. McKegg was taken by the Buds in the third round and has put up a remarkable 43 points in 30 games so far this year. McKegg is in the top five in OHL scoring and has twice been named the OHL's player of the week (the only player to have earned the honour twice so far this season).
On Gino Reda's 'Junior Hockey Magazine' show on the Fan 590, McKegg was called the "steal of the draft" and it's tough to argue given the numbers he's put up so far this year. As a point of comparison, Kadri put up 1.66 points per game in the OHL the year after he was drafted. Thus far, McKegg has put up 1.53.
McKegg can play center or wing and obviously has some solid scoring ability. He's also the Captain of his Erie Otters and is described as a quality individual, for what that's worth. When you see words like 'strong puck distributor' and 'strong vision in the offensive zone' you have to get excited for what this kid could bring long term.
McKegg was a surprise omission from the World Junior Evaluation Camp but expect him to continue lighting up the OHL for the remainder of the season. He's projected to be a top-six scoring forward in the NHL and finding one of those in the third round rarely happens.
Realistic expectations for McKegg probably don't land him with the big club for another year and a half but we can almost certainly expect him to make the Leafs down the road, which means that if nothing else, we've replaced the entry-level contract that we lost in the Kessel deal. Don't get me wrong, McKegg is not in Seguin's stratosphere but his presence in the lineup will free up some cash for the Leafs longterm.
Making the most of the picks we do have is critical for this Leaf team. Picking up a player like McKegg in the third round is without question the best case scenario for the Buds. Backslap for the Leafs' scouts for finding this guy, he looks like a gem.
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Gives me some hope that in a year or two we'll have some legitimate young top 6 guys to build around.
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