TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have a first- or second-round pick at next month’s NHL draft, but that has not stopped the team from trying to land top-ranked prospects Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin.
In a move that seems to have been orchestrated by the calculating mind of general manager Brian Burke, the Leafs asked both players at this week’s draft combine if they would consider holding a news conference to announce their retirement. That way, Seguin and Hall might still be available when Toronto picks 62nd overall, near the top of the third round.
It sounds like a smart strategy. The only problem is getting Seguin and Hall, who are both hoping to be picked first overall, to swallow their pride and go in the third round.
“I told them I couldn’t do it,” said Hall, who is the No. 2-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.
“Nah,” said No. 1-ranked Seguin.
The Leafs, who had the second-worst record this season, were once in line to have at least one of the players. But Burke traded this year’s first- and second-round picks — along with their first-round choice in 2011 — to the Boston Bruins for Phil Kessel. So Toronto will have to wait 61 turns before stepping up to the podium to select a player.
“I’m really happy with the trade,” said Dave Morrison, the Leafs director of scouting. “He’s a hell of a player and it made us a better team. The most important thing is the big team. We want to make the playoffs.”
Still, do not be surprised if Toronto, which has six picks overall, manages to move up in line on June 25.
When Burke was the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, he pulled off a series of complicated trades in order to select twin brothers Daniel and Henrik Sedin second and third overall. Last year, he aggressively tried to move up from seventh overall to No. 1 in an attempt to select John Tavares. It did not work out.
But with Leafs defenceman Tomas Kaberle expected to be on the trade market, many believe Toronto should at least be able to recoup a first-round pick.
“Historically with Brian, you do have to be prepared for anything,” Morrison said. “He’s an aggressive guy that way. He’s proven it in the past. So we’re going to be prepared for any kind of scenario.”
The one scenario that seems unlikely involves Seguin and Hall falling into Toronto’s lap.
Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini, who holds the No. 1 pick, plans on using his selection. And Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli has denied that he will trade that No. 2 pick.
The question which player will go where?
Seguin and Hall had identical 106-point seasons in the OHL this year.
Seguin, a playmaking centre, was recently named the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospect. But Hall, a goal-scoring sniper, recently won his second straight Memorial Cup, where he was once again named tournament MVP. As such, scouts are divided on who might develop into the better player.
While both enjoyed the head-to-head battle that was gone on for the past year, both are also glad it is about to come to an end.
“I think whenever we see each other it’s been fun,” said Hall, who got to hang out with his friendly rival during a studio appearance at MTV Canada the other day. “It’s been a pretty good battle all year and I think it’s going to calm down now. June 25 is going to be a pretty good experience for both of us.”
Added Seguin: “We’re both having fun with it. This happens only one time and to get this much attention is the only thing you can ask for.”
The part that Seguin did not much appreciate was Friday’s standardized fitness tests. In particular, the dreaded Wingate bike test that measures anaerobic power. Like several others, pedalling to exhaustion caused Seguin to throw up.
What perhaps made the experience worse was that Hall, who injured his back and knee at the Memorial Cup, had a doctor’s note allowing him to skip the tests.
“I can’t lie,” said Hall. “I’m (glad I’m) not the one puking there.”
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