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The '80s What happened Part Two

Of the many things that went wrong in the 80s, somewhat chronicled in my earlier post, we can add that some of the young players the Leafs drafted very high just never seemed to progress and develop as management and fans had hoped and expected.

Some names come to mind of wonderfully talented Junior players who just didn’t quite make it in Toronto.

Dan Hodgson was a gifted offensive player, selected in the first round in 1985 after netting about 180 points in his final junior year. He scored 13 goals in half a season, but he was gone by the next year to Vancouver.

Ernie Godden I saw with my own eyes as a Junior star in Windsor. He was the heart and soul of the Windsor Spitfire team, and like Hodgson, put up big numbers in his final junior season. Drafted by Toronto 55th overall in 1981, he played a total of 5 games with Toronto, scoring one goal. He had a couple of great years in the AHL, but never got a real shot in Toronto.

Mark Kirton had been drafted 48th overall by Toronto in 1978, a great checker out of Peterborough. Leaf fans hoped he would be another Doug Jarvis. But he only played 13 games in the early 80s before being traded to Detroit. He had a nice career, just not in Toronto.

Laurie Boschman was standout in Junior hockey. Drafted high in the first round by Toronto in 1979, he was considered a can’t miss, gritty player who would be a leader in the 80s, but never really got off the ground with the Leafs. He developed into a fine two-way player in the league, but with Winnipeg, not Toronto.

Bruce Boudreau had been a high pick in the mid-70s. He had several cups of coffee with the Leafs over many years, but he was a small guy and not that fast. His huge Junior numbers didn’t translate to the NHL, and he perhaps (by his own acknowledgement, in later years) didn’t have the work ethic or willingness to adapt his game to become a more complete player. He had some big years in the minors, but again, he should have been and could have been an impact player for Toronto in the 80s.  It never happened.

Norm Aubin, like Boudreau and the others, was a talented offensive player in the Quebec Junior league. He spent parts of two seasons in Toronto, scored some goals, but struggled defensively. Again, he had some good years in the AHL, but never clicked in Toronto.

Gary Yaremchuk was a high-scoring center from the Western Junior league, taken 24th overall in 1981. His Leaf tally show he played 35 games over several seasons, scoring 1 goal.

Rich Costello, a high pick of the Flyers acquired in the Darryl Sittler trade, scored 2 goals for Toronto over only 12 games.

The end of the decade saw the Leafs have 3 first-round picks in 1989. They selected 3 really good young players, but all from the same team, the Belleville Bulls. It added to the impression that the Leafs didn’t go very far to do their scouting. Scott Thornton, selected third overall, played over a thousand NHL games, including playoffs. He had a solid career - elsewhere. Rob Pearson played almost 300 games in the NHL and had a nice pro career. Steve Bancroft played a few games in the NHL, but had a long and successful career in the minors. It’s too easy to say the Leafs blew it by picking three guys from the same team (Adam Foote and Nicklas Lindstrom were both selected after them in the draft that year) but the fact remains that the three guys all had good careers- again, just not in Toronto.

I guess my point is: the Leafs didn’t necessarily always draft badly. Each of these young men were considered prime talents. All had some level of success in the pros. But a combination of poor development approaches, the pressure of playing in Toronto, inadequate coaching to bring out the best in these players, impatience, whatever — meant that guys who should have been difference makers in Toronto simply weren’t.

That, and some other horrible management decisions (for example, keeping each of Fred Boimistruck, Bob McGill and Jim Benning as 18 year-olds when they all should have been building their confidence in junior hockey) led to a largely disappointing decade of hockey.

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