Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Importance of the Draft - Special Feature

(For the YourCanadiens 2011 Mock Draft, click here.)

To many casual hockey fans, next Friday's entry draft is nothing to care about or pay attention to. Their reasons against following it are numerous: it's boring, the players won't make the Canadiens for a few years anyway, the players aren't even that good, etc. For a team that's only had one top 5 pick (Carey Price, 5th overall, 2005) since 1985, it is clear to see why some unpassionate followers don't get too excited.

But the truth is, as much as drafts do take time to pay dividends for teams picking beyond the first few, there is no better way for a team to build up its future core than the draft. It is a means to acquire future contributors who will begin playing on very affordable contracts without sacrificing any assets. The salary cap era requires teams to have renewing supplies of young and inexpensive players to step in when high contracts force the club to let some veterans go, so drafting well is critical to success.

While Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas were free agent signings, the Bruins Stanley Cup-winning offense was lead by recent Boston draft picks Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin. The Blackhawks the year prior were anchored defensively by draftees Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, while being led up front by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, also picks. And it goes on and on.

If you look at the Canadiens today, a number of drafted players still make up the core nucleus of the team, with Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Max Pacioretty up front, P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov on the blueline, and of course, the aforementioned Carey Price in net. But in case this is not enough to grab your attention, let's look at just how much a draft can make or break a team by looking at past 1st and 2nd round picks of the Canadiens and seeing the type of players who they could have chosen instead. This is not meant as a criticism to Montreal's scouting or management teams, because hindsight is 20/20. It's just meant to show you why you should be awaiting next weekend with as much anticipation as I am.


1st round, 13th overall: Montreal selects Ron Hainsey
1st round, 16th overall: Montreal selects Marcel Hossa

Hainsey would go on to be a serviceable defenseman, but he was lost to Atlanta on waivers, the organization he still plays for today. After very brief flashes of brilliance, Marcel Hossa would be flipped to the New York Rangers for Garth Murray, who after a few stints as a 4th line grinder with the Canadiens, has since bounced around the AHL affiliates of various NHL clubs

What kind of players could the organization have added with their 2 first rounders in 2000?

1st round, 18th overall: Pittsburgh selects Brooks Orpik
1st round, 21st overall: Ottawa selects Anton Volchenkov
1st round, 24th overall: Toronto selects Brad Boyes
1st round, 28th overall: Philadelphia selects Justin Williams
1st round, 29th overall: Detroit selects Niklas Kronwall
2nd round, 44th overall: Anaheim selects Ilya Bryzgalov
4th round, 118th overall: Los Angeles selects Lubomir Visnovsky
7th round, 205th overall: New York Rangers select Henrik Lundqvist
and of course many others


1st round, 7th overall: Montreal selects Mike Komisarek
1st round, 25th overall: Montreal selects Alexander Perezhogin
2nd round, 37th overall: Montreal selects Duncan Milroy

The 1st rounders in 2001 weren't all that bad, as Komisarek gave Montreal a few solid seasons before his career took a turn for the worse, and Perezhogin looked like a promising young player, but never quite fully embraced North American hockey and life, and now has a place as one of Russia's KHL's top players. Montreal did find a steal in the third round, however, as you will see below in who they could have taken instead of these guys.

2nd round, 32nd overall: Buffalo selects Derek Roy
2nd round, 49th overall: Lose Angeles selects Mike Cammalleri
2nd round, 55th overall: Buffalo selects Jason Pominville
3rd round, 71st overall: Montreal selects Tomas Plekanec
3rd round, 95th overall: Philadelphia selects Patrick Sharp
4th round, 106th overall: San Jose selects Christian Ehrhoff
5th round, 151st overall: Vancouver selects Kevin Bieksa
6th round, 172nd overall: Philadelphia selects Dennis Seidenberg
6th round, 175th overall: San Jose selects Ryan Clowe
6th round, 192nd overall: Dallas selects Jussi Jokinen
6th round, 193rd overall: Ottawa selects Brooks Laich
and many others


1st round, 14th overall: Montreal selects Chris Higgins
2nd round, 45th overall: Montreal selects Tomas Linhart

Higgins seemed like a reasonable pick early on in his career, showing potential of a 30+ goal man. Unfortunately, it became apparent in short time that he was truly a borderline 2nd/3rd line two-way forward. Not a bad player, but not a star like the Canadiens could have picked. And we won't even talk about Linhart.

1st round, 25th overall: Carolina selects Cam Ward
2nd round, 54th overall: Chicago selects Duncan Keith
3rd round, 95th overall: Detroit selects Valtteri Filppula
5th round, 156th overall: Chicago selects James Wisniewski
and a few more, though admittedly, this wasn't the strongest of drafts.


1st round, 10th overall: Montreal selects Andrei Kostitsyn
2nd round, 40th overall: Montreal selects Cory Urquhart
2nd round, 61st overall: Montreal selects Maxim Lapierre

Ah, 2003. A draft that goes down as one of the best in history, and as a result, represents what has kept Montreal a middle-of-the-pack team, rather than being amongst the contenders. Hey, I like Andrei Kostitsyn. he's a reasonable, big, top 6 forward. But, for those that don't know, wait to see who else was available in the 1st round, and salivate at what could have been.

1st round, 11th overall: Philadelphia selects Jeff Carter
1st round, 13th overall: Los Angeles selects Dustin Brown
1st round, 14th overall: Chicago selects Brent Seabrook
1st round, 17th overall: New Jersey selects Zach Parise
1st round, 19th overall: Anaheim selects Ryan Getzlaf
1st round, 23rd overall: Vancouver selects Ryan Kesler
1st round, 24th overall: Philadelphia selects Mike Richards
1st round, 28th overall: Anaheim selects Corey Perry
2nd round, 33rd overall: Dallas selects Loui Eriksson
2nd round, 45th overall: Boston selects Patrice Bergeron
2nd round, 49th overall: Nashville selects Shea Weber
2nd round, 62nd overall: St. Louis selects David Backes
8th round, 239th overall: Atlanta selects Tobias Enstrom
8th round, 245th overall: Chicago selects Dustin Byfuglien
and many others that had much larger impacts than Cory Urquhart


1st round, 18th overall: Montreal selects Kyle Chipchura

With only one pick in the first 2 rounds, Montreal's selection didn't quite work out. Chipchura is a borderline 4th liner who was drafted based on a need for a big and physical center, but his skating ability held him back. The Canadiens did draft Alexei Yemelin in the third round, and we may know as soon as this year if they found a steal there or not. Another astute selection was Mikhail Grabovsky in the 5th round, though he left Montreal before his best days. Finally, Montreal also picked up overager Mark Streit in the 9th round, who like Grabovski, would star for another club. Who could Chipchura have been?

1st round, 20th overall: New Jersey selects Travis Zajac
1st round, 23rd overall: Ottawa selects Andrej Meszaros
1st round, 29th overall: Washington selects Mike Green
2nd round, 32nd overall: Chicago selects Dave Bolland
2nd round, 53rd overall: Florida selects David Booth
2nd round, 60th overall: New York Rangers select Brandon Dubinsky
2nd round, 61st overall: Pittsburgh selects Alex Goligoski
2nd round, 63rd overall: Boston selects David Krejci
3rd round, 91st overall: Vancouver selects Alexander Edler
3rd round, 97th overall: Detroit selects Johan Franzen
4th round, 127th overall: New York Rangers select Ryan Callahan
5th round, 134th overall: Boston selects Kris Versteeg
8th round, 258th overall: Nashville selects Pekka Rinne
and several others


1st round, 5th overall: Montreal selects Carey Price
2nd round, 45th overall: Montreal selects Guillaume Latendresse
4th round, 121st overall: Montreal selects Juraj Mikus

I added a 4th rounder here, because I won't argue that there was a better pick at 5th overall than Carey Price, even if there were a number of good players available (Anze Kopitar, Marc Staal...), and Guillaume Latendresse also seems like he will develop into the player Montreal wanted him to be, albeit in Minnesota. The Canadiens did well in the later rounds this year as well, taking Matt D'Agostini in the 6th and Sergei Kostitsyn in the 7th. Here are just a couple of names they could have drafted:

2nd round, 51st overall: Vancouver selects Mason Raymond
3rd round, 62nd overall: Pittsburgh selects Kris Letang
3rd round, 72nd overall: Los Angeles selects Jonathan Quick
5th round, 142nd overall: Buffalo selects Nathan Gerbe
7th round, 230th overall: Nashville selects Patric Hornqvist
and several others


1st round, 20th overall: Montreal selects David Fischer
2nd round, 49th overall: Montreal selects Ben Maxwell
2nd round, 53rd overall: Montreal selects Mathieu Carle

While Carle and Maxwell are fringe NHLers, not the strongest first two rounds for the Habs. Fischer was never signed and thus earned the Canadiens a compensatory pick, which was also traded. Maxwell was dealt to Atlanta this year in order to rent Brent Sopel and Nigel Dawes. Carle remains in the organization and cleared waivers last year.

1st round, 22nd overall: Philadelphia selects Claude Giroux
1st round, 25th overall: St. Louis selects Patrick Berglund
2nd round, 44th overall: Toronto selects Nikolai Kulemin
2nd round, 50th overall: Boston selects Milan Lucic
3rd round, 69th overall: Columbus selects Steve Mason
3rd round, 71st overall: Boston selects Brad Marchand
3rd round, 72nd overall: Minnesota selects Cal Clutterbuck
4th round, 99th overall: Toronto selects James Reimer
and a few more; painful to see Montreal could have picked up Lucic and Marchand


1st round, 12th overall: Montreal selects Ryan McDonagh
1st round, 22nd overall: Montreal selects Max Pacioretty
2nd round, 43rd overall: Montreal selects P.K. Subban
3rd round, 65th overall: Montreal selects Olivier Fortier

This looks like a good crop overall, and you can add Yannick Weber at pick #73. McDonagh, unfortunately, will develop as a New York Ranger, but Pacioretty and Subban form major components of the young Canadiens nucleus. Who else was available at these picks?

1st round, 26th overall: St. Louis selects David Perron
2nd round, 61st overall: Los Angeles selects Wayne Simmonds
4th round, 97th overall: Edmonton selects Linus Omark
5th round, 129th overall: Dallas selects Jamie Benn
and around this year is when players taken in later rounds are still developing, so it may take more time to find some diamonds in the rough.


2nd round, 56th overall: Montreal selects Danny Kristo

Kristo has a lot of potential to end up being a great pick, but he's still far from a sure thing. The Canadiens had only 5 picks total in this draft, and aside from Kristo, the others are all long shots. Hard to say at this point if anyone taken after Kristo will be better than him, but a couple off to decent pro careers while Kristo is still in college:

3rd round, 85th overall: Anaheim selects Brandon McMillan
7th round, 186th overall: San Jose selects Jason Demers


1st round, 18th overall: Montreal selects Louis Leblanc

Leblanc still looks like a decent player, but a few names taken after him have shown better progress since the draft. With no 2nd rounder in 2009, some of the alternatives for the top pick were:

1st round, 19th overall: New York Rangers select Chris Kreider
1st round, 24th overall: Washington selects Marcus Johansson
2nd round, 33rd overall: Colorado selects Ryan O'Reilly


1st round, 22nd overall: Montreal selects Jarred Tinordi

Making only one selection in the first 3 rounds, many question Pierre Gauthier's decision to trade up to draft Tinordi, who didn't have a banner first season in the OHL. Still, given his size, he may have a slower but better development than others in the draft, and no one taken after him made the leap straight to the NHL, so tough to evaluate the pick. 38th pick Jon Merrill (New Jersey) looks like a better selection amongst defensemen thus far, though their progress will be interesting to monitor.

So for argument's sake, if one were to make a team just by re-selecting these picks, and ignore other restrictions like that silly salary cap (anyone that doesn't fit could be traded for other draft picks or cheaper fill-in players), it might look like this:

Justin Williams - Ryan Getzlaf - Patrick Sharp
Milan Lucic - Patrice Bergeron - Brad Marchand
Valtteri Filppula - Derek Roy - Claude Giroux
Max Pacioretty - Patric Hornqvist - Wayne Simonds

Lubomir Visnovsky - Duncan Keith
Kris Letang - Shea Weber
Christian Ehrhoff - P.K. Subban

Carey Price
Pekka Rinne

Not too shabby. Best team in the NHL by a mile, I'd say. Of course, it also would have been almost $10M over last year's salary cap, but I'm sure for names like these it wouldn't have been too tough to pull off moves like Boston's Phil Kessel to Toronto for 2 first rounders to make sure you can fit and still keep a veritable all-star team.

Now if only we could invent some future-seeing glasses for the Habs brass... in the meanwhile, I suggest you tune in next Friday night and watch things unfold in the present.

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