Draft Smaft: Montreal Canadiens 1st Round Draft Woes
The key to building a winner in the NHL is through building through your own system and that starts with drafting. Look at the last few Stanley Cup winners for example, teams like Chicago using high picks on Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews not to mention stealing Duncan Keith in the 2nd round. Or the Pittsburgh Penguins selecting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jordan Staal in the 1st round. Drafting is the best way to acquire top players who will make up the core of your team. If you look at teams that are perennially at the bottom of the standings chances are the haven’t drafted well, teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs who are still rebuilding after the disaster that was JFJ’s tenure as GM where he constantly traded away 1st round picks/prospects for mediocre players. If the Leafs had have kept these picks they could have had players such as Tukka Rask in their system. Then you have teams that draft poorly but due to other acquisitions field a decent team, but with good drafting would be a much bigger threat, which brings us to the Montreal Canadiens.
During the Habs dynasty of the 1970’s most of the key players on those teams were acquired through the draft, the likes of Lafluer, Robinson (2nd round), Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, etc. All Hall of Famers the Habs acquired through the rounds of the draft. The Canadiens haven’t won a cup since 1993 when they went on an incredible run lead by Patrick Roy. It’s not hard to see why the Habs haven’t had much success since then, you just have to look at their record when selecting in the 1st round.
The only real successful 1st round pick the Canadiens have made since their cup win in 1993 was in the 1993 draft when they selected Saku Koivu with the 21st overall selection. Koivu was the first ever European-born Captain of the Habs and he registered 191 goals and 641 points while playing in 792 games for the Habs. After Koivu though the Habs haven’t had a player they selected in the 1st round be a star that remains a mainstay with the club.
In the 1994 entry draft the Habs selected Brad Brown, a defenseman from the North Bay Centennials of the OHL. Brown played all of 13 games with the Canadiens never recording a point. Brown was the part of a 6 player deal that saw him traded to the Blackhawks. For the Canadiens next gem they selected Terry Ryan of the Tri-City Americans with the 8th overall pick in 1995. Ryan played a total of 8 games in his NHL career not recording a point. In 1996 the draft the Canadiens picked Matt Higgins with the 18th overall pick. Higgins played his junior hockey for the Moose Jaw Warriors. Higgins played 57 career games, all for the Habs tallying 1 goal and 2 assists. In the 1997 the Canadiens would select Jason Ward from the Erie Otters of the OHL 11th overall. In 105 career games for the Canadiens Ward would score 20 points before becoming a New York Ranger. In 1998 the Habs would go local selecting Quebec Rampart Eric Chouinard. Chouinard would play only 13 games for Montreal scoring 1 goal and adding 3 assists. The Habs did not have a 1st round selection in the 1999 entry draft.
The year 2000, the new millennium the Habs would start it off with a decent pick by the name of Ron Hainsey (13th overall). Hainsey played 32 career games for the Canadiens recording 2 points. Hainsey would later move onto Columbus and Atlanta where he has become a very capable NHL defenseman. The Canadiens had another selection in the year 2000 which was Marian’s brother, Marcel Hossa. Marcel played junior for the Portland Winter Hawks, and was selected 16th overall by the Habs. Hossa would play 59 games for the Canadiens scoring 19 points before becoming a NY Ranger. 2001 brought another year where the Canadiens had two 1st round picks. The first of which they used to select Mike Komisarek 7th overall from the University of Michigan. Komisarek played 361 games for the Habs scoring 58 points, though Komisarek is known for his physical defensive play more than his scoring. Komisarek would leave the Habs to sign a massive contract with the rival Maple Leafs after the 08-09 season. The Canadiens second selection of the 01’ draft was Alexander Perezhogin. Perezhogin would score 15 goals and 34 points in 128 career games for the Habs before leaving for the KHL to pursue more money. Then comes the 2002 entry draft where the Habs would select Chris Higgins 14th overall. Higgins would play in 282 games for the Canadiens scoring 162 points. Higgins was a 3 time 20 goal scorer but a nagging shoulder injury slowed him down before he was traded to the Rangers as a part of the Scott Gomez trade. The Habs next 1st round selection was in the 2003 draft when they selected Andrei Kostitsyn with the 10th overall pick. The Belarusian Kostitsyn has scored 141 points in 245 career games with the Habs but has not obtained the star status people had predicted. In 2004 the Habs would select Kyle Chipchura 18th overall. The former Prince Albert Raider would play 68 games for the Canadiens scoring 14 points before being traded to Anaheim for a 4th round pick in 2011. Chipchura was captain of the 2006 Canadian WJ team and was being breed to be a future captain of the Habs unfortunately that didn’t turn out.
The period from 2005 on we’ll call the recent years since it is too early to draw conclusions on the development of the players yet. In the 2005 entry draft, known as the Crosby sweepstakes the Canadiens landed the 5th pick in the lottery and used it to take Tri-City Americans goalie Carey Price. Price is now the undisputed #1 goalie in Montreal after the Jaroslav Halak trade. Price’s Career record is 60-48-18 but Price will need to return to the form he showed as a rookie for the Habs to have success this coming season. In 2006 the Canadiens selected David Fischer out of Apple Valley H.S. in Minnesota 20th overall. The Habs have announced they won’t be offering Fischer an entry level contract which is unprecedented for a 1st round selection, as Fischer’s game has rapidly digressed. The Canadiens again had two 1st round picks in 2007. They used the first on Ryan McDonagh out of Minnesota H.S. who they selected 12th overall. McDonagh is a promising defenseman but the he was also a part of the package the Habs shipped to the Rangers for Scott Gomez. With their second selection of the 07’ entry draft the Habs selected Max Pacioretty out of the University of Michigan with the 22nd overall pick. Pacioretty has scored 25 points in 86 career games with the Habs, but it appears the Canadiens may have rushed his development and they are now trying to take it slow as Max finished the year in the AHL last season. The Canadiens did not have a pick in the 1st round of the 2008 entry draft as they traded it away to acquire Alex Tanguay. The 2009 entry draft was held in Montreal as a part of the Centennial celebrations. The Habs selected Quebec-born Louis Leblanc with the 18th overall pick. Leblanc played last season at Harvard but has decided to play for the QMJHL’s Montreal Junior Canadiens this season in an effort to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors. Finally the Habs most recent 1st round pick was Jared Tinordi 22nd overall. Tinordi is a big bruising defenseman who will play for the London Knights of the OHL this season.
As you can see the Habs haven’t had much success since their cup win when it comes to drafting, though the jury is still out on many of their picks. This lack of success did lead to the overhauling of the Habs scouting department this offseason by GM Pierre Gauthier however. Most Stanley Cup winners have been built through drafting and are lead by a top 5 pick or another 1st round pick that became a star. The Canadiens should look at the formula of teams such as Carolina with top 5 pick Eric Staal leading the way or Anaheim with former top 5 picks Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer and 1st round selections such as Ryan Getzlaf and Corry Perry, or the similar methods used by Pittsburgh and Chicago to win the cup. Successful drafting wins championships; hopefully the Habs follow the blueprint.
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