Burke's no genius on draft

 

Those calling, or hoping, for new general manager Brian Burke to ratchet up the Maple Leafs' rebuilding process by dumping veterans for draft picks, might be wise to tone down their enthusiasm.

 
 
 
 
 

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Those calling, or hoping, for new general manager Brian Burke to ratchet up the Maple Leafs' rebuilding process by dumping veterans for draft picks, might be wise to tone down their enthusiasm.

During his years in Vancouver, Burke and his staff were not exactly draft day geniuses.

We all know that the entry draft is a guessing game at the best of times; an educated guessing game but a crap shoot nonetheless. And twice during his time heading up the Canucks, Burke completely crapped out on draft day.

Burke's 'Nucks made 18 picks over two drafts in 2000 and 2002 and came up with exactly zero players who proved to be legitimate prospects. Those 18 players went on to combine for a mere 31 NHL games over their careers. Heck, Carlo Colaiacovo plays almost that many in one season.

In 2002, Burke made 11 selections and all he did was stock the ECHL. If goalie Rob McVicar hadn't played three minutes in relief for the Canucks, the GM would have pitched a complete shutout.

In Burke's defence, the temptation is to point out that he didn't have a first-round pick in 2002 – it was used to repatriate Trevor Linden from Washington – which handicapped him at the table. But even the Leafs, who are generally condemned as being incompetent drafters, came up with Matt Stajan, Ian White and Staffan Kronwall after Vancouver drafted Kiril Koltsov with the 49th pick and Denis Grot in the 55th spot.

Those two disastrous years were sandwiched around a 2001 entry draft at which Vancouver picked up R.J. Umberger with its first-round pick. Umberger has shown himself to be an NHL player but not with Vancouver. He got into a contract dispute with the club, sat out a year and was eventually traded to the Rangers for Martin Rucinsky. The Canucks did get Kevin Bieksa in the fifth round that year.

Burke's draft day work hasn't been all terrible. While he hasn't historically done well at mining the depths of the draft – those later rounds when some teams unearth gems – the new Leaf GM has shown himself to be a master of aggressively working the draft floor to get a prospect he covets.

While with Hartford in 1993, he and his staff identified gangly defenceman Chris Pronger as that year's must-have junior. With a sixth-round pick, however, Burke realized he didn't have a chance at the impressive Peterborough Petes' product. So Burke traded his top three picks along with future considerations (Sergei Makarov) to San Jose to move up into the two hole and grab Pronger.

Despite not picking again until 72nd after that trade, Burke had perhaps his best draft, following the selection of Pronger by drafting Marek Malik, Nolan Pratt and Manny Legace.

Burke pulled off a similar coup in 1999 when, determined to keep the Swedish Sedin twins together with Vancouver, he worked the draft floor like he was playing a game of chess. He had the third pick overall but completed three separate deals – one that had him briefly holding the No. 1 pick – until he had the second and third selections, which he used to get the twins. Apparently spent by those machinations, they were the only two future NHLers the Canucks would draft that spring.

The accompanying chart shows the results of six drafts for which Burke was in control. He would have been at the Whalers' table as GM in 1992 as well but the draft came shortly after he took the job. Likewise with the Canucks in 1998 and the Ducks in 2005, though that draft is so recent it's premature to gauge which players may yet emerge as NHLers.

Presumably, for the drafts included in our chart, Burke would have been in command long enough to have people he approved analyzing the players and running the scouting department.

 
 
 
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