Saturday, April 04, 2009

Brian Burke goes back to college

The last time the Maple Leafs signed a college free agent was in 1997 when Mike Johnson was signed out of Bowling Green. Johnson turned out to be a decent third line winger who scored over 2o goals 3 times in his NHL career. If you recall he was traded to Tampa Bay for some guy named Darcy Tucker. However, in the 12 subsequent years the Leafs either haven't bothered with college players or got out bid every time.

So things seemed to have changed under Brian Burke with the signing of both Christian Hanson and Tyler Bozak this week. But let's not get too excited. Few college players are able to jump directly into the NHL. Some find it difficult to make the transition even with seasoning in the AHL. But for a team rebuilding that is neither deep in prospects nor draft picks, college free agents make a lot of sense.

Word is out that there will be more. However, as I have previously mentioned NHL teams are only allowed 50 contracts on their reserve list, and with the signing of Bozak Toronto is at 49. The Leafs are expecting University of Vermont junior forward Viktor Stahlberg, an '06 draft pick, to sign after the April 9-11 Frozen Four in Washington, D.C. That means they can't sign any more players without getting rid of someone. However, the Leafs can still sign college players to contracts post-dated to July 1. Since 13 contracts come to an end on June 30, that shouldn't be a problem.

My guess is that Toronto is hot after Northeastern University goaltender Brad Thiessen. This appears to be a no-brainer considering the goaltending situation in the organization. At the very least Thiessen can give Justin Pogge some competition for the #1 goaltending prospect ranking in the organization. So keep them coming Burkie!