Ranking the 5 Biggest Draft Busts in Montreal Canadiens History
Officially becoming the NHL Entry Draft in 1979, the event has become famous for launching careers. But it also can send them into a tailspin of failed expectations, and that’s in regard to players and the scouts that recommend them alike.
The Montreal Canadiens have suffered their fair share of setbacks, unfortunately. However, one must be clear that disappointment does not necessarily equal bust.
Whereas guys like Matt Higgins (18th overall in 1996) and Jason Ward (11th overall in 1997) didn’t exactly light the league on fire, neither can legitimately be considered a bust.
Higgins only played 57 career NHL games, but he was taken in a very weak draft year, in which arguably just Daniel Briere (24th overall) and Zdeno Chara (56th overall) were the only superstars left available after he was taken. Similarly, Ward, despite being taken one spot before Marian Hossa, was actually—sadly—one of the better players still available at No. 11.
So, with that in mind, here are the top five Habs picks who didn’t just leave Habs fans wanting more, but somebody else in their place:
5) Doug Wickenheiser (1980)
Doug Wickenheiser may not have been the biggest bust in Montreal Canadiens entry draft history, but he is arguably the most famous. For that, he takes the first spot on this list.
Also taken first overall in 1980, Wickenheiser enjoyed modest success with the Habs over four seasons, including a career-high 55-point campaign in 1982-83.
However, Denis Savard, taken two picks later by the Chicago Blackhawks, would actually go on to score more points in a Habs jersey exiting his prime (179 in 210 games versus 125 in 202 games) after being traded to Montreal in 1990.
In all, Savard, whom most feel would have been the far-better fit for the Habs, had 1,338 points in 1,196 games, while Wickenheiser scored 286 points over a 556-game career.
To clarify, Wickenheiser was far from a horrible player at the professional level, and even seemed to be finding his stride before a car accident prematurely ended a 23-goal season with the St. Louis Blues in 1984-85.
He would go on to play five more NHL seasons, never reaching the star status of many other notable players taken in 1980.
He passed away in 1999 after a battle with cancer, and, thankfully, his lack of success in a Habs jersey is not his lasting NHL legacy.
He scored the game-winning goal in the Monday Night Miracle four months after coming back from the aforementioned car accident, capping a similarly unexpected three-goal, third-period comeback by the Blues against the Calgary Flames in 1986.
Other Players Montreal Could Have Drafted Instead: Dave Babych (second overall), Denis Savard (third), Larry Murphy (fourth) and Paul Coffey (sixth)
4) David Fischer (2006)
It’s hard to call a 25-year-old a bust, because he has yet to reach his prime. Sadly, in the case of 2006 first-round pick David Fischer, there’s no other way to look at it.
Taken with the 20th pick overall, presumably for his 6’3” size advantage and reach, the most success Fischer has enjoyed as a professional defenseman is reaching the American Hockey League for two games last season. He didn’t register a point and is now playing for the Heilbronn Falcons in the 2nd Bundesliga (tier-two German hockey).
Admittedly, the players the 2006 draft produced have generally been far from elite, with more disappointment than not displayed in the careers of players taken outside of the top five (Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom and Phil Kessel).
That’s even reflected in Montreal’s own draft class, which includes just one regular NHL player: Ryan White, taken 66th overall. So, in at least one respect, Fischer’s bust status is not his fault. He’s the victim of a weak draft.
Looking at it another way: While he has presumably overcome countless obstacles to earn the right to wear a Habs jersey, if Ryan White has enjoyed more success than you, you just might have chosen the wrong career path to begin with.
Other Players Montreal Could Have Drafted Instead: Claude Giroux (22nd overall), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Patrik Berglund (25th) and Milan Lucic (50th)
3) Terry Ryan (1995)
Perhaps the victim of being part of another weak draft class, 1995 draftee Terry Ryan (eighth overall) gets the higher rank (relative to Fischer) because Montreal’s ninth-round pick, Eric Houde, actually enjoyed more success than he did.
If you’re wondering who Eric Houde is, that’s kind of the point, unfortunately. But, for the record, he’s a center that played a total of 30 games in the NHL, all with Montreal, spanning three seasons. He notched two goals and three assists in those games.
Ryan, conversely? In a similar career spanning three seasons (but just eight games), he wasn’t able to register a single point, despite having all the tools, including grit, size and an adept scoring touch that led him to notch 50 goals and 110 points in his draft year with the Tri-City Americans.
Unfortunately, considering his lack of production, that pre-pro success might very well have been the result of the playmaking ability of his junior linemate, Daymond Langkow, taken three spots earlier. That’s just one possible explanation, though (and an unlikely one to say the least, considering Langkow’s skill set).
Truth be told, Ryan never seemed to get a fair shake with the Habs. There’s an interesting story behind that theory, at least according to him. He didn’t expect to go quite as high as he did—at least not to Montreal. The Habs were apparently one of the only teams that didn’t bother to interview him.
In fact, it seems the only contact the Habs had with Ryan prior to drafting him was in the elevator as he was on his way to his seat when Habs scout Doug Robinson chatted him up. They exchanged pleasantries and enjoyed a nice conversation before Robinson made it apparent he thought he had been talking to Kamloops Blazer Shane Doan all along, congratulating him on the Memorial Cup performance (Ryan didn't play in the Memorial Cup) immediately before each headed their separate ways.
Ryan? He went on to write a yet-to-be-released book, “Tales of a First-Round Nothing,” which pretty much sums up his career, but, I think everyone can agree, is actually quite something.
Other Players Montreal Could Have Drafted Instead: Jarome Iginla (11th overall), Petr Sykora (18th), Marc Savard (91st) and Miikka Kiprusoff (116th)
2) Eric Chouinard (1998)
The Habs actually did plenty all right at the draft in 1998, except for where it counted most, in the first round when they took Eric Chouinard.
They got Mike Ribeiro, Francois Beauchemin, Andrei Markov and Michael Ryder, and even eventually got their hands on such diamonds in the rough as Erik Cole (taken 71st overall by the Carolina Hurricanes) and Brian Gionta (taken 82nd overall by the New Jersey Devils).
Chouinard (taken 16th overall) of course ended up the black sheep of that group when he, the son of former Atlanta Flame great Guy, was famously chosen 16th overall by the Habs over Quebec Remparts teammate Simon Gagne.
Chosen six picks later, Gagne, of course, went on to become a perennial scoring threat with the Philadelphia Flyers before injuries only recently derailed his career. Chouinard only scored a single goal with Montreal and 11 total in 90 career NHL games.
The truly sad part? Had the Habs gotten Scott Gomez instead (27th overall to the New Jersey Devils), it would have been a massive upgrade. No Habs fan should ever have to say that about Gomez…ever.
Other (Actually Good) Players Montreal Could Have Drafted Instead: Robyn Regehr (19th overall), Brad Richards (64th), Erik Cole (71st) and Pavel Datsyuk (171st)
1) Brent Bilodeau (1991)
Maybe Brent Bilodeau just had horrible luck when he was taken 17th overall in 1991.
Sandwiched between the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Markus Naslund and the Boston Bruins’ Glen Murray, Bilodeau never went on to enjoy nearly as much success as the other two, which will forever reflect badly on him.
Upon closer inspection, though, considering he is the only 1991 first-round pick to never have played an NHL game, it’s probably more than that.
Looking for a stay-at-home defenseman, the Habs could have saved themselves a lot of time by taking Jassen Cullimore with their pick (who was taken 29th overall by the Vancouver Canucks) and ended up being traded to the Habs for Donald Brashear in 1996.
Now, Cullimore wasn’t exactly a standout defenseman in the NHL. However, he did play 812 career games, which is something (812 more than Bilodeau played, to be exact).
Of course, the Habs admittedly could have taken just about anybody and had more luck with them than they did with Bilodeau—and that’s including 25th overall pick Eric Lavigne, who played just a single game.
Other Players Montreal Could Have Drafted Instead: Glen Murray (18th overall), Martin Rucinsky (20th), Ray Whitney (23rd) and Zigmund Palffy (26th)