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It's hard to ignore ex-Leaf prospect Rask’s success in Boston

The NFL draft this week has created significant “buzz” and as always, hope- especially for fans who anticipate that two or three solid picks can catapult their team quickly up the league standings.

It’s the same with the annual NHL draft in June. It usually takes a little longer for players to develop in hockey than in football, but fans still hope, perpetually, that their team – whichever team they cheer for - makes choices that help bring success a bit sooner, or that extend a string of good seasons by plugging the right holes.

Not many years ago, Toronto fans were naturally excited about the two youngsters that were going to be the future Leaf goalies- Justin Pogge and Tuukka Rask.

Pogge, the third-round selection in 2004 was part of John Ferguson’s first draft as Maple Leaf General Manager. Now, Pogge wasn’t a first-rounder and even first-rounders, especially goalies, are never sure things. But as the number one guy with the Team Canada juniors, most observers thought – and Leaf fans hoped- Pogge was pretty much a ‘can’t miss’ pick. Fans monitored his development game by game.

For his part, Rask was indeed a first-rounder, also selected by Ferguson, in 2005.

Ferguson can be criticized for making the deal to send Rask to Boston for Andrew Raycroft a year later, but Raycroft was already a somewhat “proven” commodity and that’s what GM’s do: they acquire  lots of assets, and then, at what they see as an appropriate time, part with them to get something they need right now. And the Leafs still had Pogge.

Like many goalies in Toronto since the days of Johnny Bower, playing in Toronto was not a good fit for Raycroft.  Pogge never really earned the net with the big club, and was ultimately moved by Burke.

So now we look back at the trade by Ferguson, and it’s hard as a “fan” not to feel disappointed that Rask, now playing well for the Bruins in the playoffs, isn’t a Maple Leaf. (We’ll see how Rask handles Game 6 back in Boston, with a chance to close out a series.)

But I go back to the point: It’s easy to be critical years after the fact. GM’s don’t have a crystal ball. They make their best guess as to how a player will develop, and have to be willing to live with the consequences of drafting or trading a young player. Sometimes trading a prospect works out great, often times it doesn’t.

In this instance, Rask has apparently established himself as a solid number one NHL goalie, displacing the popular (and now well-paid) Tim Thomas.

The Leafs continue to scramble to add depth in goal, adding Rynnas this week, and holding on (wisely so) to Gustavsson, with Giguerre still on hand to provide a veteran presence.

Those were all good moves by Burke (at least they look good at this point). But one in the hand (Rask, that is, still only 23) may well have been worth, in this case, three in the bush.
Toronto Maple Leaf hockey blog

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