The Leafs’ Top 5 Draft Busts

Screen cap courtesy Leafs TV

It’s time for the worst of the worst. The biggest mistakes the franchise ever made come draft time. And who better to point them out then the Leafs biggest fan who loves to hate them? …And since she wasn’t available so they asked me. 

But really, when you think about who was the biggest waste of time, the biggest waste of money, and simply just the weirdest choices, these are the picks that come to mind. These are the mistakes you pray they’ll never make again, but you know in your heart of hearts there’s always the potential for a pick like one of these to show up and just ruin your whole season before it’s even begun. (I find if you’re having a nightmare about the potential for a bad pick, or you’re just feeling sad that we didn’t get McDavid it’s helpful to sit down with a nice cup of tea and chant quietly ‘we have Babcock, things will be ok now.’ repeatedly). 

With no further ado, lets get to the hate fest.

1. Tyler Biggs

I might be overstating it here, but Biggs may be the biggest disappointment in a generation of Leafs’ fans. He was, like so many others, the great hero. The talent that was supposed to save us all from another decade at the bottom of the heap. He could shoot, he could skate, he was intimidating… and he has yet to play a day in the NHL. 

We were so excited about Biggs in 2011 we traded up 17 spots to nab him in the first round, 22nd overall. We were pumped, although I’m not sure why. In his 20 games played with the USHL in 2010-2011 he scored and mediocre 7 goals and 4 assists, but spent a whopping 41 minutes in the box. It was a repeat of the year before with 5 goals, 4 assists, and 49 minutes respectively. But sill, we had him and we were thrilled!

He appeared to mature in 2012-2013 and of the 60 games he played in the OHL that year Biggs scored 26 goals and 27 assists for the Oshawa Generals. He also spent 55 minutes in the box, a place that appears to be his second home. But there’s something to be said for that intimidation factor and lord knows I love a good hockey fight, so maybe this proved we knew what we were doing.

That year with the Generals looks like a fluke, and one to be cherished because it will probably be his best year ever. In three seasons and 108 games with the Marlies Biggs scored just 10 goals and 5 assists. He played 8 games in the ECHL this season for Orlando and is now on the injured list for a ripped achilles’ tendon. Good bye Tyler my old friend, whatever we paid for you it was too much.

2. Jeff Ware

For some reason the Generals have this weird history of handing us players who look like they’re going to be a good time at a party and then just end up being the dude that keeps messing with the playlist so that it’s “Baby Got Back” on repeat; fun the first time you hear it and then just more annoying as the night goes on. 

Case in point? Jeff Ware.

Drafted in the first round, 15th overall in 1995, he garnered 13 points for Oshawa with 86 penalty minutes in his 1994-95 season, and an additional 2 points in the playoffs. The year before he’d done equally as well for the Wexford Raiders in the MerJHL. After his draft year he continued to do decently for the Generals, but when he started logging NHL ice time he choked. He played 13 games with the Leafs in 1996-97 which resulted in nothing. Another year in the AHL seemed to do him some good, but when he was pulled back up for two games? More nothing. He would repeat this cycle again for for the Florida Panthers and then hang up his skates in 2002.

Not everyone can be Syd Crosby, and you need players in the middle to prop up the super stars, but Ware shouldn’t have been a 15th overall pick. This was just never going to pan out.

3. Steve Bancroft

I’m reaching way back for this one, but Bancroft’s story as a draftee seems just so bizarre to me that it has to be told. Steve Bancroft  was born in Toronto in 1970 and played semi-professional and professional hockey from 1987 to 2006. A first round draft pick, 21st overall in 1989, Bancroft was a decent defenceman for the Bellville Bulls prior to being acquired by the Leafs. In a time when fighting was much more prevalent and a decent indicator of your worth, Bancroft scored 10 goals in 53 games and took 135 penalty minutes in 1989-90. But his career highlights seem to stop there.

He spent the next 16 years bouncing around between IHL and AHL teams playing in Saint John, Huston, Cincinnati, and Las Vegas, among others. He played a total of 6 games in the NHL, one for the Blackhawks in 1992-93, and five for San Jose in 2001-02, where he posted no goals, got one assist and just a single penalty. Now he’s apparently a Century 21 broker.

I’m not sure why he went so high in the first round, why we wanted him, or why he spent so long bouncing around various AHL and IHL teams before hanging up his skates. This is one of those cases that just leaves me scratching my head and wondering if everyone’s time and money couldn’t have been better spent. 

The Leafs definitely have a history of taking solid if mediocre players and turing them into has-beens.  

4. Justin Pogge

Which brings me to our third round, 90th overall pick for 2004, Justin Pogge. A goalie.

Playing just 372 minutes with the Leafs with 27 goals against and an average of 4.36 it was, ironically enough, the best Pogge has done in his entire career. But with a percentage of 0.844, it was also the worst. He was awarded the fan choice award in 2006-07, but would spend the rest of his North American career bouncing around AHL affiliate teams. Now he plays for the SweHL.

The year he was drafted Pogge had 107 GA and 966 saves in 44 games with the Prince George Cougars, giving him a 0.900 percentage. He was a good solid choice, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as the last line of defence, a goalie’s got to be fearless and he’s got to have stamina. A mediocre netminder is never going to last long and Pogge’s 2.83 in the WHL was never going to translate into 2.83 in the NHL.

5. Luca Cereda

Ok, so as much as everyone likes to rag on Cereda for being a bad pick, I’m not sure he is. He’s on this list namely because he’s on every other  ‘draft picks that sucked’ list and my poor weeping heart wants to address this.

Cereda was praised as a rock star. He was called smart and fast, and given his 1998-99 record of 16 points — six goals and two assists — with only eight minutes in penalties, he was a solid choice and probably looked like his talents could be developed when he was drafted 24th over all in the first round in 1999.

Not long after that Cereda was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect which took him out for a full season for surgery. Not long after his hockey career disappeared. He played a few more years in AHL and Swiss-A hockey, with mediocre results, and was never heard from again.

An argument could be made that he should have gone later in the draft, and I might be inclined to agree, but still, his lack of ice time was not a lack of skill or a lack of spirit, it was just a tough break. His and the Leafs. But that’s hockey. Heck, that’s life. You move on. 

Luca Cereda, I hope you’re happy and living a good life wherever you are. 

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  • FlareKnight

    Oh Panago pizza…

    Anyways, I’d say Pogge wins top spot on this list. After all if it wasn’t for drafting him or believing in his phantom successes and World Junior run….we would not have traded Rask. We thought we had two great young goalie prospects…but we only had one. And we traded the wrong one!

    But yeah, makes sense. We’re going into an extremely key draft, so let’s talk about busts XD. Let us hope nothing in the first few rounds of this draft ever makes this kind of list.

  • SEER

    This is a pretty bad article. All the reasons for Pogge on this list are ridiculous. No way should he be on this list. What about all the other guys drafted in the top 3 rounds that never sniffed the NHL? I expect better from TLN

    • Gary Empey

      There was a lot of hype in the local media on these guys. I assume that’s why they are on the list. You are right though the list could of been much longer.

      This is why the 24th pick is so worrying.

      There are some real surprise packages wrapped up in this pick. Some good, some bad. I can’t wait to open our box.

    • CMpuck

      I know, it’s like people who talk about Duclair as if he’s a first rounder these days or reading ridiculous trade proposals like Domi for Kessel… WJC 4ever!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Not sure Leafs drafting is so bad (not accusing the author of this btw), all teams have busts in the teens and twenties in the first round.

      Didn’t Jeff Ware get drafted the year Chris Phillips went 1st OA? And Aki Berg 3rd OA? The seeds of the clutch and grab era were planted that day.

  • Gary Empey

    jesus f-cking christ is all I have to say about this list especially pogge/biggs. we gave up the pick that turned out to be rakell/gibson. pogge for rask hurts so much more. I’ll never get over it I don’t care how many years pass unless another elite goalie falls from the sky and we win some cups while Boston suffers another long cup drought.

  • silentbob

    Is a kid who was thought to be a future 3-4 line player really our biggest bust? Its not Biggs fault Burke took him too early, but that fact doesn’t/didn’t raise his potential or anything, he always “was what he was”.

    I feel bad for Biggs, a lot of this isn’t view of him his fault.

    Drake Berehowsky on the other hand should be on this list. He was a kid with size, a great offensive upside, he was physical (Fletcher has said they thought he’d turn out the way Pronger did), 10th overall pick and he just did nothing, then they traded him for Jennings.

  • silentbob

    When you’re looking at who are “busts” and who are not, you have to take context into consideration.

    Pogge, for example, as the final pick of the third round had a less than 10% chance of playing in the NHL. The fact that the team’s brain trust over-valued him is irrelevant. He actually played his way onto an NHL team. Good for him.

    Biggs is probably a “bust”, although he still has an opportunity to make it to the NHL as a 3C or 4C. Fan expectation (as educated by expectations from Burke & Co.) was that he had all the tools to be a 1C, but realistically, at 22nd overall, he probably should have topped out at 2C.Realistically, you’re only getting a quality 1C in the top 10. Guys like Getzlaf happen; but the reason you remember them is because they don’t usually pan out.

    So, basically, I’d not consider either of these players a “bust”, Pogge because of his draft position, and Biggs because he is still young enough to play his way into the NHL.

    I’d feel badly labeling someone as a “bust” because of a physical injury or genetic defect. As a Canucks fan, that would be like considering Luc Bourdon a “bust” because he was hit by a semi while riding a motorcycle and died. Yes, you could have made a better use of the pick with someone else, but come on. Cereda had an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. But unlike Alexei Cherepanov, though, he received a timely diagnosis, got the correct medical treatment, and he’s still alive.

    That makes him a winner, not a bust, to me.

  • silentbob

    We also gave up Stralman to Calgary for a 2nd round pick… We then traded that pick which Chicago used to take Saad… and this selection was made 20 picks after Tyler Biggs…