One of the things that Brian Burke has done well in his tenure as GM in Toronto is to build the pool of assets within the Maple Leaf player development system. Undrafted Europeans like Gustavsson (and now Owuya), free-agent American college players like Bozak, former high-profile signees like Brunstromm—it all builds overall organizational depth.
As importantly, you never know when you might hit a home run—or at least a double, when you don't necessarily expect to.
As much as Burke has pleased Leaf supporters with the acquisition of two first-round draft picks this coming summer, fans are maybe even more excited that he has been acquiring former first-rounders—players who are further along the development curve than, say, the typical 18 year-old draftee. You just have the sense, as a fan, that someone like Gardiner or Colborne are further along their development curve- and that's a good thing.
Now, we all understand that there is no guarantee that all (or any) of the aforementioned players or picks will become stellar performers with the blue and white for years to come. But the more assets you have, it strikes me that the odds are some will stick, and one or two might become difference-makers one day.
Look at what Boyce did this past season. Just a few years ago, at the age of 23, he signed a minor-league deal with the AHL Marlies. I believe he was a John Ferguson Jr. signing, but he was undrafted after playing for St. Mike’s in the OHL. Boyce then played Canadian university hockey.
Who expected him, really, to ever play with the Maple Leafs?
But he has, through a lot of work and obvious dedication, become a contributor with the big club. So you never know who may become an impact player, or a solid contributing role-player.
One modern-day example of “you just never know”, in fact one of the better examples in recent times, might be the career of current Red Wing forward Daniel Cleary. The
native was a high-scoring junior star, and as a result, was drafted by the Blackhawks in the first round in 1997. Newfoundland
He struggled with Chicago before moving on to
and Edmonton where he rarely played to expectations. When it looked as though his once promising career was likely over, he managed a try-out with the Red Wings and re-made himself. Now 32, over the past six seasons he has become an increasingly important member of the Wings. No longer an offensive force, his all-around game helped the Wings win a Cup, and almost a second, in his time with the club. Phoenix
My point is that when you acquire enough interesting assets (Brunstromm perhaps a case in point), you just might end up with that hidden gem—someone who has been missed, passed over, a guy who is a late-bloomer or a player who is determined to bounce back and prove people wrong, like Cleary.
So while Burke has the same cap constraints as every other GM, and no more roster space than anyone else, he is certainly creating increased competition for spots on the Leaf roster, which is already having a trickle-down impact on the AHL Marlies. It's hard now just to earn a job with the farm team.
Two years from now the hope is it will be that much harder to stick with the big club.