MONTREAL – Brian Burke is really starting to put his fingerprints on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There was a common thread running through the seven selections he made during his first draft as GM of the NHL team – they’re all North American and they’re all capable of playing with edge. It’s just another step towards a different brand of hockey at the Air Canada Centre.
“I think it shows our commitment to size and toughness,” Burke said Saturday. “I can predict with some confidence that we’re going to take similar strides once July 1 comes. This won’t address our immediate need for size and toughness – we’ll do that later in the summer.
“I think people should read into it that we’re not just talking the talk about this. We intend to be bigger and cruder.”
The Leafs grabbed two players in Saturday’s second round that could end up being teammates next season – American winger Kenny Ryan (No. 50) and Windsor Spitfires defenceman Jesse Blacker (No. 58).
Even though Ryan is currently committed to Boston College, he’s considering a move to the reigning Memorial Cup champions.
Burke went for even more size in the third round, drafting Plymouth Whalers winger Jamie Devane with the 68th selection. The six-foot-four native of Mississauga, Ont., fought 18 times during his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League.
Fighting is something that Blacker has been known for as well.
“I dropped them a few times this year,” he said. “I’ll do it when I need to stick up for a teammate or just to change the momentum of the game.”
Ryan was raised in Franklin Village, Mich., by a family full of football players – his dad K.C. played at Notre Dame and brother Ross played for Michigan.
Hockey was the sport that pulled him in.
“I have no idea (why),” said Ryan. “My dad used to build a rink in our backyard growing up and my brothers played hockey. (They) kind of faded off into football. Hockey was just something I stuck with.
“Hopefully, it works out.”
Burke doesn’t expect any of his draft picks to play for the big team in the fall. That includes seventh overall pick Nazem Kadri, who will likely spend another season with the OHL’s London Knights before playing professionally.
“I don’t think any of these guys will make us bigger immediately,” said Burke. “Virtually all of these guys, including our first pick, are going to need some time. Some of them are downright raw – these are guys that are two, three, four years away.”
The other players Toronto selected on Saturday were:
-defenceman Eric Knodel, 128th overall, from the midget AAA Philadelphia Jr. Flyers;
-winger Jerry D’Amigo, 158th overall, from the U.S. under-18 program;
-defenceman Barron Smith, 188th overall, from the OHL’s Peterborough Petes.
Toronto’s final pick is the son of former NHLer Steve Smith and Burke jokingly said he hopes Barron didn’t inherit a penchant for putting the puck in his own goal. He’s one of the guys who will be given a long time to develop.
“We’re betting there on potential more than anything else,” said Burke. “Good bloodlines, big body, good snarl. He’s got a chance.”
Even though Burke wasn’t able to make the impact this weekend that many thought he might, there was no overwhelming sense of disappointment after the draft ended.
He headed back to Toronto in a good spirits.
“Everyone’s happy after the draft,” said Burke. “Every player you take is going to play, your team is undefeated since the season ended. It’s two days of hope and the reality doesn’t kick in until you get a couple years down the road.
“We’ll know how this draft works out probably in four years.”
It’s going to be a different looking Maple Leafs team by then.