It's every Canadian kids dream: to play for the team they grew up cheering for. Does that honour make someone try harder if they play for the jersey they idolized for years? That's uncertain, and improbable, but one known advantage of accumulating hometown talent is the idea that a team has someone who wants to so desperately play for them. And that alone is a bonus.
When I say "hometown talent", I mean it in the context of the Leafs signing and drafting players who grew up in the minor hockey ranks in Toronto as a kid, and cheered for the Leafs before their NHL dreams came true. Other teams such as the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens have done the same for years in their respective cities. Last season the Senators iced 5 Ottawa born/area players (Methot, Ceci, Borowiecki, Hoffman, and Pageau), and the Canadiens have a preference for Canadian-French players in the draft. By preference I mean that if Montreal is on the clock, and there's a French-Canadian available who has the same talent level as their other choices, they'll pick him because of his ties to the Quebec heritage. I can't say for certain that the Leafs are following suit, but with the players they brought in this offseason, it sure looks like it.
In the 2015 draft, 4th overall pick Mitch Marner and 34th overall pick Travis Dermott were both graduates of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (a minor AAA league in Toronto, where they played before going to the OHL) and grew up idolizing the Leafs:
Mitch Marner also told Chris Johnson of Sportsnet about his dream of playing for his hometown team prior to the draft:
“That would be a dream come true for me personally. I’ve lived there my whole life. You want to be a guy that helps the city out and you want to take that team into the playoffs, so I’ve thought about it a couple times."
In recent days, the Toronto Marlies (Leafs AHL affiliate) signed Rich Clune, another player with GTHL roots and a lifelong Leafs fan. On July 6th the Leafs singed forward Shawn Matthias, who (yup, you guessed it), has bled blue and white since his young days.
In just a couple of weeks, between the draft and free agency, the Leafs organization have accumulated in total 7 players who lived in the Toronto area and grew up with the Maple Leaf. 7 players. Along with Marner, Dermott, Clune and Matthias, the Leafs organization signed Daniel Winnik (GTHL graduate and Toronto born) and traded for Toronto area residents Scott Harrington and Nick Spaling in the Kessel trade.
Harrington told Sportsnet 590 the Fan:
"My mentality heading into camp will be the same as it has been the last couple of years, of trying to go in and earn a spot. Being from Kingston and an Ontario boy, it's pretty cool to have an opportunity to do that with the Leafs".
These players were all happy to be part of their hometown team (Harrington and Spaling were lucky enough to be traded to theirs). Now, i'm not saying they are all part of the Leafs big master plan to accumulate Toronto-born players, but rather an attempt to bring in people who are proud to wear the Maple Leaf. That's simply it. Those who watched Leaf games these past few seasons saw the poor effort at times, and maybe the compete level of players will rise by having people who are ecstatic and overjoyed to be on this team.
On another note, Matthias and Spaling are almost guaranteed to be traded at next years March 2nd trade deadline as they are both on cheap deals with only one year left in term, and of course Toronto won't be contending anytime soon. That proves that in this case the Leafs aren't bringing in these players for their longterm plans, but rather to accumulate assets at the deadline. In the meantime however, from the start of the season until March 2nd, they will at least have the pride of playing for Toronto, which is one of the reasons I personally believe the Leafs got them.
Coach Mike Babcock is all about effort. Maybe bringing our Toronto boys back to play for their home team might give them and those around that little extra push.