For a variety of reasons – and despite the hopes of many Maple Leafs fans – Brad Richards isn’t likely to be traded to Toronto any time prior to the NHL trade deadline.
Even if the Dallas Stars center does become a Leaf, he won’t be the final piece of the puzzle for Brian Burke’s organization. In fact, it’s safe to say that much of the Buds’ potential as a Stanley Cup contender rests not in any one free agent signing or trade – but in the hands of drafting decisions that bring players like Nikolai Kulemin into the Blue and White fold.
Kulemin, who led Toronto with two goals in Monday’s 4-1 win over Dallas, has become the team’s most dependable two-way forward. He is faster than a fantastic first date and dogged on the puck like politicians on publicity.
Most importantly, the Leafs didn’t need a top-five first round draft pick to get him. Kulemin was selected by Toronto in the second round (44th overall) of the 2006 draft. The organization has been patient with him - and now, in his third NHL season, he is blossoming.
Look at any championship team and you’ll see a significant chunk of their roster was comprised of savvy drafting choices. For example: Chicago had no-brainer picks Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but they also had important contributions from Dustin Byfuglien (drafted 245th overall in 2003) and Duncan Keith (selected 54th overall in 2002).
There’s no doubt the Leafs need to be better when they actually do have a first round pick to make. But although they need their first-rounders to eventually realize first-rounder expectations, the Leafs will also need some sixth- and seventh-rounders and undrafted training camp invitees to overachieve, to defy the odds, to become not simply a decent NHLer, but someone like (the undrafted) Martin St-Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For too long, most of Toronto’s draft picks have played as if they should have went undrafted. The reversal of that trend and not the arrival of a superstar like Brad Richards, is the Leafs’ most pressing need.
This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.