Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bob Hartley Announced as Flames Head Coach

The coaching candidate pool in Montreal took a blow today as the Calgary Flames announced that Bob Hartley will be the team's next Head Coach.

Hartley was considered a frontrunner for the Montreal job, though we may never know if GM Marc Bergevin opted for another candidate, or if it was Hartley who turned down the Canadiens interest to join the Flames.  Many fake Twitter insiders took an educated guess that Hartley would be Bergevin's man, announcing it as fact over the internet during the past week, which should be a lesson to many in trusting certain sources.  It seems Hockey Insider 101 has become make a pre-emptive announcement then hope it comes true so you can claim yourself an insider.  If it doesn't, just say your sources were wrong or some parameter changed.  Appears to be a great recipe for gaining followers, but not one this site or Twitter account will ever endorse.

With Hartley out of the equation (and reportedly Patrick Roy out of consideration as well), that leaves Guy Carbonneau, Michel Therrien, and Marc Crawford as the most widely-discussed Montreal coaching candidates.  Other bilingual names mentioned include Martin Raymond and Benoit Groulx, though many hope an unheralded candidate ends up winning out, unimpressed by these names.

Bob McKenzie appears to believe it's down to Therrien and Crawford for the job:

UPDATES: A few tidbits from Hartley's press conference in Calgary this afternoon.

- Yes, he had met with the Canadiens, and had several phone conversations with them.
- When Alex Tanguay was with the Habs, and the team was looking for a coach, Tanguay phoned Hartley (the two had been together in Colorado) to say that he'd appreciate if Bob came to Montreal, as he was the type of coach he needed.
- Hartley had a meeting scheduled with the Canadiens for "later this week," but phoned Marc Bergevin this morning to inform him he'd opted to take a deal with Calgary.  Bergevin was quoted as wishing Hartley good luck, indicating that while they had spoken, he wasn't ready to name a coach just yet.

So from this, we can gather that Hartley was one of Bergevin's final candidates.  It remains to be seen what he'll do now that Hartley is out of the running.

Player Spotlight: P.K. Subban

If you're a Habs fan, you love him.  If you're a fan of any other team, you think he's overrated and love to boo him every time he touches the puck in your building.  But an objective hockey fan will tell you that Montreal's P.K. Subban is one of the league's more promising young blueliners.  But you know about him on the ice.  So today, we're going to focus on a few off-ice Subban stories you may be less familiar with.

It is no surprise to anyone that P.K. can be described as a character off the ice.  It being NHL draft season, with the Central Scouting Combine taking place this whole week, a lot of attention has been placed on Subban's relationship with is brothers, given that Malcolm Subban is the top-rated North American netminder out of this year's crop.  The next Subban in line is another blueliner, Jordan, who made his debut for the Belleville Bulls (meaning that, yes, all three Subbans have played for the OHL's Bulls) last season as a spry 16-year old.  He impressively scored 20 points in 53 games a rookie, and is one many are following closely for the 2013 draft, deemed to perhaps be just as skilled as big brother P.K.  What he doesn't have is P.K.'s size, measuring in at only 5'9" and 170 lbs as of now.

P.K. and his brothers were a big part of the George Stromboulopoulos show after last night's game 1 win by the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Here's a clip of most of the Subbans segment if you missed it:

You can watch the full episode on the CBC website here:

For those not on Twitter, P.K.'s personality also shone through a little teasing he did for his followers last week.  He first posted the following:
Naturally, this had many Hab fans dreaming the announcement would be that the Restricted Free Agent has agreed to a new long-term deal with the Canadiens.  The Twitter world was abuzz, and P.K. made them wait it out for nearly 24 hours before this announcement, done in a style only fitting of Mr. Subban himself:
So yes it was Subban who officially unveiled the new Twitter account of Carey Price - or apparently C-Prizzle / Carey Cash Prizzy to his friends - to the world.  Still waiting on that contract announcement, P.K.!

For his antics, a lot of people around the web have referred to Subban as a "troll."  This led to HFBoards user Seb creating a meme, creatively warped a photo of Subban by integrating the infamous troll face drawing to create this masterpiece, side by side with the troll face for comparison:

Pretty well done!  But P.K. isn't ALL jokes and gags, so we leave you with one of his Nike AlwaysOn pieces that show the more intense side of the training-obsessed Subban that has gotten him to where he is today:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Habs Sign Nathan Beaulieu to Entry-Level Deal

The Montreal Canadiens announced today the signing of defenseman Nathan Beaulieu to a 3-year entry-level contract.  While it was a matter of time / a formality, since Beaulieu will certainly be making his pro debut in the Fall rather than returning to the QMJHL as an overager, the signing is notable as he becomes the first player given a deal by new GM Marc Bergevin.  Official release:

Beaulieu, Montreal's first round selection last June, had an up-and-down year, but one full of good experiences.  His Saint John Sea Dogs won the QMJHL championship for a second year in a row, and thus returned to the Memorial Cup, where they were unable to repeat as winners, falling in the semi-final to host Shawinigan.  Beaulieu also got to represent Team Canada at this past winter's World Junior Championship, though he spent much of his time as a powerplay specialist / 7th defenseman.

Beaulieu will join the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Fall as part of a strong in-coming class of rookie pros that includes Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis, Michael Bournival, Brendan Gallagher, Patrick Holland, and Greg Pateryn, all already under contract with the team.  Fans should temper their expectations in his regard, as while he has good size, amazing skating ability, slick passing, and good offensive instincts, he still has a lot to work out in his game, notably in his own end and in maturity.  But he has time.  He'll be one of the youngest players in the AHL when the season begins at age 19, eligible to play because of his December birthday.

Congrats Nathan!  Feel free to send him your best wishes via Twitter, @n8theggr8.

Restocking the Cupboard #2: Movin' on Down

[This is the second of a five-part series, going live every Wednesday on http://www.YourCanadiens.Info/, previewing possible Hab selections for the 2012 Entry Draft.  See Part 1, about who the team might pick if they hold steady at #3, HERE]

Last week, we discussed the four possible candidates for the Canadiens' first draft choice if they are to remain at 3rd overall come June 22nd.  But as I went over, none of them are without their issues, and even at that, whichever of the four that the Columbus Blue Jackets sees as the best for them won't be available by pick three, leaving the Habs to take the best of the rest.  This year's draft has more questions than answers.  So let's say that, for all the reasons specified, Trevor Timmins, Marc Bergevin, and co aren't convinced that the players who will be available at, say, pick 6-10, project with less certainty or less potential than those available at #3.  What happens then?

Yes, the team could still keep the pick, as at 3rd, they can go with "their guy" out of a greater number of available prospects.  But it's also possible that "their guy" isn't one of Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Alex Galchenyuk, or Ryan Murray.  In this case, rather than just go off the board with a lower-ranked name, the team could trade down, swapping with a club that holds a pick later in the first round in order to collect other assets (like say an additional 2nd round choice).  While there are other options (trading up or trading the pick outright), today we'll look at where the team could trade down to, and who they might fancy at that slot.

The order of the first 28 picks of the draft have been locked in, and they are as follows:
1. Edmonton Oilers
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. New York Islanders
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. Minnesota Wild
8. Carolina Hurricanes
9. Winnipeg Jets
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
11. Washington Capitals (from Colorado Avalanche)
12. Buffalo Sabres
13. Dallas Stars
14. Calgary Flames
15. Ottawa Senators
16. Washington Capitals
17. San Jose Sharks
18. Chicago Blackhawks
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (from Detroit Red Wings)
20. Philadelphia Flyers
21. Buffalo Sabres (from Nashville Predators)
22. Pittsburgh Penguins
23. Florida Panthers
24. Boston Bruins
25. St. Louis Blues
26. Vancouver Canucks
27. Phoenix Coyotes
28. New York Rangers

Might the third overall choice be worth Tampa Bay's 10th and 19th?  Washington's 11th and 16th?  Buffalo's 12th and 21st?  Perhaps the Canadiens want to stay a little higher up than that, but could poach picks 6 and 36 from Anaheim or 8 and 38 from Carolina (Minnesota doesn't have its own 2nd round selection).  For this exercise, let's focus on the 6-12 range and some of the names that might interest the Habs.  The good news is, there is very likely to be a run on defensemen early on in the draft, since they make up a big part of the top rated prospect group.  So by trading down, the Canadiens should still be able to snag one of the top prospects at forward, an area where they have the far greater need.

If the team does opt for such a strategy, here's a look at five forwards and three d-men to consider with a later pick.

Radek Faksa - C - Kitchener Rangers, OHL
6'3", 202 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 7th (North America); Future Considerations - 13th; The Hockey News - 11th

Faksa is a native of the Czech Republic who made the jump to the CHL this season after several years in Czech junior leagues.  Scoring 29 goals and 67 points in 62 games for Kitchener had him finish as runner-up to young phenom Aaron Ekblad for the Ontario League's Rookie of the Year.  In tournament play, Faksa scored 2 goals in 6 games for Team Czech Republic at this year's World Juniors (where he was the youngest player on his team) after a disappointing U18 a year ago had him pointless in 6 contests.  His production in these small-sample events dipped in the OHL playoffs as well, where he netted only 6 points in 13 games.  Those numbers may have been hurt by a head injury suffered in March, causing him to miss some playoff action, and potentially scaring a few teams that have or had interest in him who must now worry about concussions.

So what's to like?  If the Canadiens weren't drafting as high as they are, most fans would be clamouring to find a way to land Faksa.    A big and strong center, Faksa offers the kind of complete package scouts dream of: size, skill, good skating ability, and a willingness to backcheck hard.  He is built in the mold of a power forward and has success winning battles in the offensive zone, which is more his game rather than one of finesse.  His frame and reach make him difficult to contain for opposing defenders, which means as he fills out further he could become a dominating offensive presence.

Concerns about Faksa's play are relatively minor and can mostly be attributed to it being his first year in North America.  He started the season a little slow, normal for a player adjusting to a new country and league, but then picked it up, earning ice time and becoming one of Kitchener's top players.  However, later on in the year, whether it was a lack of endurance and conditioning in his own game or just struggling to deal with other teams keying on him more, he was less noticeable, which has kept him out of the top 10 in final rankings.

Definitely a top candidate for the Canadiens if they choose to move down, for the same reason the tools brought by Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko make them likely picks for the team at #3.

Teuvo Teravainen - RW - Jokerit, Finland
5'11", 165 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 2nd (Europe); Future Considerations - 8th; The Hockey News - 12th

The first thing you'll undoubtedly notice is the size issue; right away something that means Teravainen might not be an ideal choice for a team wanting to get bigger like Montreal.  But it's hard to ignore the elite level of skill and creativity Teravainen displays on ice, which makes him a dangerous threat who scored 11 goals and 18 points in 40 games in Finland's men's league this past season.  He was dominant against peers his own age, notching 12 goals and 20 points in just 11 junior league games, and adding 2 goals and 8 points in 6 games in this year's World U18.

His shiftiness with the puck is the skill that stands out the most, just as competent a scorer as he is a playmaker.  He isn't a dangler, but his vision and quick hands allow him to create room in the offensive zone.  He has quick feet, though isn't one to blow people away with his speed, which is a potential issue given that smaller players often need elite quickness to compensate for their lack of size.

This is basically what it comes down to with Teravainen: on the one hand, he has the ability to control a game, to patiently slow it down and create chances with the puck that always seems to find itself on his stick (all abilities scouts looking for in judging a player's upside), but on the other, adding strength to his frame is a real concern.  5'11" isn't "too small" for the NHL, but Teravainen is skinny, which makes battling along the boards and protecting the puck concerns for his future.  Ultimately scouts will have to determine if his huge offensive upside outweighs the concerns, and most seem to think it does, with McKeen's even ranking him in their final top five.  For these reasons, despite the team's need to get bigger, he becomes an option for the Canadiens whose biggest need is a top-flight superstar.

Brendan Gaunce - C - Belleville Bulls, OHL
6'2", 215 lbs - Shoots L

Rankings: Central Scouting - 13th (North America); Future Considerations - 18th; The Hockey News - 17th

Does Gaunce have enough upside to satisfy Hab fans in a year where the team starts off at third overall?  He did score 28 goals and 68 points in 68 games this season for Belleville, but how will that project in the long run?  These are the kind of questions scouts will have to consider if trading down for him is an option.

If Montreal were drafting 17th overall as they did a year ago, then Gaunce might be a perfect fit as a 6'2" center already possessing a thick enough frame to compete against men.  His big body lets him play a power and puck protection game, while also being an adept puck handler.  He possesses the leadership traits and intangibles that the Canadiens have historically loved to draft, and plays a good two-way game, reliable defensively, also a trademark of a Trevor Timmins pick.

While Gaunce sounds like an ideal center to build a team around, he isn't without fault.  Most notably, scouts are concerned about his skating, lacking both in top-flight speed and first-step quickness.  While he is a reasonable finisher, there are also concerns as to whether his offense will translate to the professional ranks.  Finally, while he is capable of being a physical, dominant player, there are times where the has lacked a bit of that intensity, so consistency is something he'll also need to work into his game.  This has polarized many scouts as to his future, some seeing him as a top 10 prospect from this draft class, filling out to be a top 6 power forward, while others see him as a later safe pick, projecting as a two-way third liner.  Based on this evaluation, it wouldn't be unfair to compare him to a Kyle Chipchura pre-draft, though Chipchura's development after being selected was largely derailed by injuries.  And just because Chipchura didn't pan out as Montreal had hoped, doesn't mean Gaunce will follow the same trajectory should he land with the Canadiens.

Zemgus Girgensons - C - Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL
6'1.5", 200 lbs -
 Shoots L 
Rankings: Central Scouting - 18th (North America); Future Considerations - 19th; The Hockey News - 16th

There are a lot of similarities between Girgensons and Radek Faksa, also included on this list.  Future Considerations has Faksa 6 slots ahead of Girgensons, while McKeen's has Girgensons one spot ahead of Faksa.  Both are big European centers - Girgensons being Latvia - who came over to play hockey in North America prior to their draft year.  Girgensons has already been on this side of the ocean for three seasons, most recently playing the last two years with Dubuque of the USHL.  If you're hearing a lot about Dubuque lately, that is because there is a tie to recently hired Canadiens scout Bobby Kinsella, who served as Director of Scouting and Assistant Coach for the club for the past two years, meaning he has one of the better informed opinions of Girgensons of anyone out there.

Girgenson's 44 points in 43 games last season were a modest improvement from his 49 points in 51 contests the year prior, which has some scouts worried about his offensive upside.  He can play a physical power game, producing 2 goals at this year's World Juniors on a weak Latvian squad, and has the type of build that fast-tracks youngsters to the big league.  The question will be what role he can fill once he gets there.  While a natural center, many feel he lacks the skill set to project in that position long-term, with puck distribution not at the top of his list of skills, making some question his hockey sense.  His skating - while powerful and not a huge weakness - is also a bit of a concern, lacking a top gear.

Still, there is no doubting Girgensons's intensity and aggressiveness, which makes him a very safe prospect even if he ends up being limited to a third line role.  If Kinsella's recommendation comes in strong enough - and it likely will given that he served as Dubuque's captain this season - it is possible that the club works hard to nab Girgensons.  If it's not a trade down, maybe Girgensons's Latvian origin has him slip a little, and the club tries to trade up from pick 33 to select him late in the first round.

Sebastian Collberg - RW - Frolunda Jr. - Sweden
5'11", 175 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 3rd (Europe); Future Considerations - 12th; The Hockey News - 14th

Like Teravainen, Collberg lacks the size Hab fans are dreaming of, but the winger packs a punch offensively.  Whereas Filip Forsberg was held to just a single assist in six World Junior Championship games this season, Collberg finished second on the squad with seven points, including four goals.  He was also dominant offensively in the World U18 tournament, where as one of Sweden's assistant captains, he scored 4 goals and 9 points in 6 games, but was also criticized for looking fatigued an umotivated at times after a long season.  Like Forsberg, Collberg spent much of the season playing against men in the Swedish Elite League, though he got very little ice time with Frolunda, held off the scoresheet in 41 games.  He spent 21 games with the team's junior club, registering 9 goals and 17 points in that span.

As a player, Collberg's quick and accurate release is probably his best attribute.  He's a great skater, and despite his size, doesn't shy away from traffic areas on the ice.  His defensive game is quite well-rounded with a solid work ethic making him a tough back checker, typical of many players coming out of Sweden and Finland the last several years.  Still, the lack of strength on his frame is concerning, limiting his effectiveness against bigger defenders, so it's something he'll need to work on if he is to produce at the North American professional level.  A final concern is his development if he remains in Sweden, as Frolunda can be tough on its younger players.  In addition to a lack of ice time, playing on a fourth unit, Collberg's game became one of puck retrieval, chip, and chase, limiting him from using his strengths in the attacking zone.

His style has drawn comparisons to the likes of Phil Kessel and Jeff Skinner, but if the Canadiens do decide that trading down for Collberg is what they're after, they might be wise to get him to join a CHL club for next year to continue his progression.  He may be on Trevor Timmins's radar, as when talking about top prospects for the upcoming draft, rather than single out Forsberg, Timmins alluded to, "the Swedes."

Mathew Dumba - D - Red Deer Rebels, WHL
5'11.5", 180 lbs - Shoots R
Rankings: Central Scouting - 11th (North America); Future Considerations - 10th; The Hockey News - 5th

The first of three blueliners on the list, Dumba is the smallest, which has undoubtedly hurt his pre-draft rankings.  However, he plays a lot bigger than the size he's listed at, which is both a compliment and a concern, causing some to fear for his longevity in the big league and his ability to handle his own in a men's league if his style doesn't translate against larger opponents.  His rankings are a little all over the place, with both McKeen's and The Hockey News having him as the #2 defenseman in the draft after Ryan Murray, while Future Considerations has four blueliners ahead of him.

So other than being a more physical player than he was built to be, what makes Dumba a top prospect?  He's got a well-rounded game, with vision that allows for great breakout passes, a heavy shot, and soft hands that help him make quick plays.  He possesses good leadership skills, rebounding after taking an early cut from Team Canada WJC camp very hard by captaining the country's World U18 team and producing a phenomenal 5 goals and 12 points in just 7 games to lead the club by a fair margin.  In Red Deer, he more than doubled his production from a year ago, scoring 57 points in 69 games to rank sixth among WHL rearguards.

Other than size, the only other real concern about Dumba is his consistency, as he can go through spells where he is less involved physically, and is caught watching the play, or being reactive rather than using the hockey intelligence he is blessed with.  But he is blessed with talent, and the rest (other than size) will mostly be worked out through coaching and maturity, so if Montreal wants to add a dynamic player - the kind who might have as good or better a career than anyone available at pick 3 - while picking up an additional selection, Dumba could be on their list.  He just might be my favourite d-man in the draft due to the exciting game he plays.  And as I've said before, I don't believe that the other top 10 blueliners are all that far behind Murray.

Griffin Reinhart - D - Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL
6'4", 205 lbs - Shoots L
: Central Scouting - 10th (North America); Future Considerations - 7th; The Hockey News - 8th

Reinhart is a consensus top 10 selection in the coming draft, blessed with the body that would make a guy like Dumba a contender for first overall this year.  Reinhart has hockey bloodlines - his father Paul is a former NHL d-man - which we know Trevor Timmins enjoys, and got added experience this year as his Edmonton Oil Kings won the WHL title and most recently competed in the Memorial Cup.

Reinhart may have the frame, but he doesn't play a physical, punishing game.  He is a two-way blueliner, less flashy than Dumba, having scored 12 goals and 36 points in 58 games this season, but makes up for what he lacks in toughness by playing a positionally sound coverage game in his own end.  He is strong, and even dropped the gloves on three occasions this season, but many would like to see him use his size to throw hits on a more regular basis rather than just relying on his long reach.  His skating is unique, often the case with young players who are adapting to their bodies, and while it shouldn't hold him back significantly, is an area he can strive to improve.

Perhaps the biggest positive with regards to Reinhart is that he improved significantly as the season went on. Players at this age are still developing as athletes, and it is a scout's job to project where they may be years in the future, thus to see a good learning curve is encouraging for what that future may hold.  As he gets increasingly comfortable in his role as a top pairing blueliner over time, we may see some of that toughness creep into his game with more consistency, which could make him an addition to a stacked Montreal back end some years from now.

Jacob Trouba - D - USNTDP, USHL
6'2", 195 lbs - Shoots R

Rankings: Central Scouting - 9th (North America); Future Considerations - 6th; The Hockey News - 9th

Future Considerations likes Trouba ahead of Reinhart, while both The Hockey News and McKeen's have him a little behind.  A little smaller than Reinhart, Trouba also plays an all-around two-way game.  However, where Reinhart can shy away from physical play and needs to work on his skating, both are core elements to Trouba's game.  Between his size, quickness, and toughness, he is difficult to beat in his own end, but he also possessed a hard point shot, which allowed him to score 18 points in 22 USHL games with the U18 team this season.  He was so good, in fact, that he made the American team for the World Juniors, contributing 2 assists in 6 games, and was later named an assistant captain for the World U18 squad, where he added a goal and 3 points in 6 more contests.

There is little at fault in Trouba's game, which the Canadiens might like when the players at the top of the draft all come with warning labels.  Critics sometimes worry about his puck-handling, which has many questioning whether his offensive skills can translate to the next level, but if he won't be a puck-rusher, his shot should mean it won't handicap him too badly.  He is a true competitor, but there are still some questions about consistency, though it is hard to gauge a player off such a small sample size with the US National Team Development Program.  He is expected to continue his development with either the University of Michigan or the Kitchener Rangers.

Now, if on draft day, prior to pick #3, we hear Gary Bettman utter those highly anticipated words, "We have a trade to announce," you have an idea of who it might be that the Canadiens are really looking to select.  Of this list, given the organization's needs, I'd be happy adding a Faksa or Girgensons.

However, truth be told, I'm not particularly in favour of the trade down option this year, even with a draft full of uncertainties and the need to bolster a thin prospect pool in Montreal.  It hopefully won't be often that the Canadiens get to speak so early on in an entry draft, and this gives them the opportunity to add a superstar-calibre player.  Sure, I'd be open to listening to offers for the pick, particularly if somehow Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk both go in the two spots before the Canadiens.  But in the end, I'd say draft your Galchenyuk or Mikhail Grigorenko and then hope for the best; all of the above players will make fine NHL'ers, but that's not the need.  Come June, a new star must be born to rise Hab fans out of their seats once again.

Next week, we'll look at the possibilities of trading up to nab Nail Yakupov with the first overall selection, or potentially trading the third overall pick away altogether.  The week following, we'll look at possible candidates for all of the rest of Montreal's picks in the draft.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

9 Hab Draft Hits & 4 Hab Misses

With Habs GM Marc Beregevin in Toronto today to take in part of the NHL's Central Scouting Combine, where today NHL clubs get a chance to hold one-on-one interviews with some of next month's top prospects, it seems like a good day to talk about drafting.  Our series of articles, "Restocking the Cupboard," about who the team should take this year will resume tomorrow, but today, to paraphrase Pitbull, to understand the future, we gotta go back in time.

It's been well-documented that Montreal has a great overall drafting record - one of the best in the league - over the last 10 or so years.  While first rounds have been hit or miss, Trevor Timmins and co have an uncanny ability to pluck gems out of drafts' later rounds.  So today will look at the last 5 years and go over some hits or misses by the team which will show both how much of an impact every selection can have on an organization moving forward, and why we should have faith in the men in charge in Montreal.

But when I say the last 5 years... It's still far too early to judge the class of 2011.  It's even too early to judge the class of 2010, though Morgan Ellis and Brendan Gallagher are looking like more mid-round steals for the Canadiens.  And while for some teams it might be an ok time to look at 2009, there are still too many questions around the players Montreal took to properly assess it.  So our five year span will instead cover the drafts between 2004 and 2008.


9) Matt D'Agostini - Round 6, 190th Overall, 2005

D'Agostini got off to an explosive goal-scoring start in Montreal as a rookie, but failed to earn ice time during a sophomore slump.  Ultimately, this led to his being shipped off to St. Louis for Aaron Palushaj, and while D'Ags is far from a household name with an uncertain future, he already has a 20-goal and 40-point season under his belt.  Not bad for the 6th round.

Similar OHL players other teams took ahead of him:
Chris Lawrence, Tampa Bay Lightning, Round 3, 89th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Dan Collins, Florida Panthers, Round 3, 90th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Bobby Bolt, Anaheim Ducks, Round 5, 127th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Josh Beaulieu, Philadelphia Flyers, Round 5, 152nd Overall - 0 NHL GP

8) Alexei Emelin - Round 3, 84th Overall, 2004 

The hard-hitting Emelin finally made his much-anticipated NHL debut this season and was worth the wait.  He looks to be a fixture on Montreal's back end for a long time to come.

Similar European players other teams took ahead of him:
Johan Fransson, Dallas Stars, Round 2, 34th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Kirill Lyamin, Ottawa Senators, Round 2, 58th Overall - 0 NHL GP

7) Ryan McDonagh - Round 1, 12th Overall, 2007

As hard as it has been for Habs fans to watch, McDonagh has been a revelation for the New York Rangers this year, which is a credit to Trevor Timmins nonetheless.  He may end up having the best career of any defenseman taken in 2007, a standout defensively while amassing 41 points over his first 122 NHL games.

Defensemen other teams took ahead of him:
Thomas Hickey, Los Angeles, Round 1, 4th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Karl Alzner, Washington Capitals, Round 1, 5th Overall - 39 PTS, 215 NHL GP
Keaton Ellerby, Florida Panthers, Round 1, 10th Overall - 17 PTS, 116 NHL GP

6) Carey Price - Round 1, 5th Overall, 2005

It may seem weird to include a fifth overall selection on this list, but I qualify this as a hit because of the overwhelming disappointment among Hab fans that followed.  Most were clamouring for either Benoit Pouliot, taken one pick before Price, or Gilbert Brule, who Columbus took 6th.  Looking back at those three, we can say that Timmins was on the ball with this pivotal selection.  With the exception of Anze Kopitar and perhaps a healthy Marc Staal, no one taken after Price in that year's first round comes near his value today.

5) Max Pacioretty - Round 1, 22nd Overall, 2007

Another astute first rounder, there were those upset when Angelo Esposito was taken prior to Montreal returning to the podium for pick 22.  Esposito, we now know, has yet to play an NHL game, while Pacioretty just finished a 33-goal campaign.

Forwards other teams took ahead of him:
Zach Hamill, Boston Bruins, Round 1, 8th Overall - 4 PTS, 20 NHL GP
Colton Gillies, Minnesota Wild, Round 1, 16th Overall - 16 PTS, 127 NHL GP
Logan MacMillan, Anaheim Ducks, Round 1, 19th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Angelo Esposito, Pittsburgh Penguins, Round 1, 20th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Riley Nash, Edmonton Oilers, Round 1, 21st Overall - 1 PTS, 5 NHL GP

4) Sergei Kostitsyn - Round 7, 200th Overall, 2005

Things may not have worked out for the younger Kostitsyn brother in Montreal, but there's no doubt that plucking a top 6 forward in round 7 of a draft is a big steal.  Funny that he now plays in Nashville, since the Predators had perhaps a bigger steal that same round with Patric Hornqvist.

Similar European players other teams took ahead of him:
Philipp Gogulla, Buffalo Sabres, Round 2, 48th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Christofer Lofberg, Detroit Red Wings, Round 3, 80th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Fredrik Pettersson, Edmonton Oilers, Round 5, 157th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Lukas Vantuch, Boston Bruins, Round 6, 172nd Overall - 0 NHL GP
Johan Dahlberg, Toronto Maple Leafs, Round 6, 173rd Overall - 0 NHL GP

3) Mikhail Grabovski - Round 5, 150th Overall, 2004

Grabovski may not have been able to flourish in Montreal, but he at least returned the team a 2nd round pick (later traded for Robert Lang) and a current prospect in Greg Pateryn.  Pretty good value for a fifth rounder.  Only four players selected outside the first round have scored more than Grabovski's 201 points, achieved in 319 NHL games.

Similar European players other teams took ahead of him:
Lauri Tukonen, Los Angeles Kings, Round 1, 11th Overall - 0 PTS, 5 NHL GP
Lukas Kaspar, San Jose Sharks, Round 1, 22nd Overall - 4 PTS, 16 NHL GP
Johannes Salmonsson, Pittsburgh Penguins, Round 2, 31st Overall - 0 NHL GP
Roman Voloshenko, Minnesota Wild, Round 2, 42nd Overall - 0 NHL GP
Mikhail Yunkov, Washintgon Capitals, Round 2, 62nd Overall - 0 NHL GP

2) Mark Streit - Round 9, 262nd Overall, 2004

Some were unhappy when the Canadiens used a draft pick on a 27-year old, but the team snagged the rights to what would be a premiere NHL blueliner in the 9th round.  Only three players from the entire 2004 draft have scored more points than Streit thus far, being third round steal Johan Franzen, and the draft's top two selections in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.  Of course, being 27 when drafted, Streit started off at an advantage, but Montreal certainly made the most of a late-round selection here.

1) P.K. Subban - Round 2, 43rd Overall, 2007

Montreal's young dynamic blueliner is well on his way to a promising career as a 20+ minute tough offensive d-man.  The 2007 selection already has 160 regular season games under his belt, scoring 76 points, and adding 12 points in 21 playoff games.  Certainly there are quite a few teams regretting having passed on him.

Defensemen other teams took ahead of him:
Alex Plante, Edmonton Oilers, Round 1, 15th Overall - 2 PTS, 10 NHL GP
Nick Petrecki, San Jose Sharks, Round 1, 28th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Nick Ross, Phoenix Coyotes, Round 1, 30th Overall - 0 NHL GP
Taylor Ellington, Vancouver Canucks, Round 2, 33rd Overall - 0 NHL GP
Josh Godfrey, Washington Capitals, Round 2, 34th Overall - 0 NHL GP


4) Jason Missiaen - Round 4, 116th Overall, 2008 

The goaltending pipeline in Montreal is quite barren, but the team has tried to restock it with a couple of picks.  Unfortunately, they haven't panned out, with the giant-sized Missiaen not earning a contract with the club.  Some netminders taken after him have fared much better.

Goaltenders other teams took after him:
Dustin Tokarski, Tampa Bay Lightning, Round 5, 122nd Overall - 7 NHL GP
Kevin Poulin, New York Islanders, Round 5, 126th Overall - 16 NHL GP
Anders Lindback, Nashville Predators, Round 7, 207th Overall - 38 NHL GP

3) Mathieu Carle - Round 2, 53rd Overall, 2006

Carle showed promise early on, but never reached his potential partly due to injuries, playing only 3 NHL games before being sent to the Anaheim Ducks last summer.  Unable to get playing time there, he recently signed a deal to pursue his career in Europe.

Defensemen other teams took after him:
Mike Weber, Buffalo Sabres, Round 2, 57th Overall - 25 PTS, 132 NHL GP
Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes, Round 2, 63rd Overall - 67 PTS, 166 NHL GP
Theo Peckham, Edmonton Oilers, Round 3, 75th Overall - 17 PTS, 156 NHL GP
Andrew MacDonald, New York Islanders, Round 6, 160th Overall - 53 PTS, 184 NHL GP

2) Ben Maxwell - Round 2, 49th Overall, 2006

Maxwell had a good junior career, but could never transition his game beyond solid AHL production.  He does have 47 NHL games to his name, but as an offensive player, has scored only 8 points.  The thing that hurts most is the player, coming out of the same league, taken one spot after him.

Forwards other teams took after him:
Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins, Round 2, 50th Overall - 212 PTS, 359 NHL GP
Artem Anisimov, New York Rangers, Round 2, 54th Overall - 108 PTS, 244 NHL GP
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins, Round 3, 71st Overall - 97 PTS, 173 NHL GP
Cal Clutterbuck, Minnesota Wild, Round 3, 72nd Overall - 100 PTS, 304 NHL GP

1) David Fischer - Round 1, 20th Overall, 2006

I'm sure you saw this one coming.  A first round flop who was left unsigned, the team opting for a compensatory pick instead.  Fischer currently plays in the ECHL, where his Florida Everblades just won the league championship, though Fischer had to absent himself late in the team's run to be with is ailing mother.  The young man's career is far from over at age 24, having scored 50 points in 65 ECHL games this year and another 12 in 13 playoff games.  He will most likely be looking for a full-time AHL contract next season as he continues to try to get on track.  This was a pretty weak draft overall in fairness, but there was much better talent still on the board in that first round.

Players other teams took after him:
Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers, Round 1, 22nd Overall - 243 PTS, 285 NHL GP
Patrik Berglund, St. Louis Blues, Round 1, 25th Overall - 163 PTS, 310 NHL GP
Jamie McGinn, San Jose Sharks, Round 2, 36th Overall - 62 PTS, 221 NHL GP
Nikolai Kulemin, Toronto Maple Leafs, Round 2, 44th Overall - 152 PTS, 303 NHL GP

So what can we take out of all this?  On draft day, you win some and you lose some.  It is not an exact science, but we should on the whole be happy with the track record of Montreal's staff.  Things also look good for the future, with Bergevin stating his intention to beef up the scouting staff.  Let's hope 2012 looks a lot more like the 2007 or 2005 drafts for the Canadiens than it does the 2006.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Habs Name Mellanby Director of Player Personnel

In yet another poorly-kept secret, the Montreal Canadiens officially announced today the appointment of Scott Mellanby ad Director of Player Personnel.  See the official announcement here:

Mellanby, 45, is a veteran of 1,431 NHL games, split between the Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, St. Louis Blues, and Atlanta Thrashers.  A Montreal native, he was a teammate of Marc Bergevin's for two seasons while in St. Louis.  Also of note is that for his final two seasons during which he captained the Thrashers, he was coached by Hab head coaching candidate Bob Hartley.  After retiring following the 2006-07 season, Mellanby first joined the Vancouver Canucks as a scout and special advisor to General Manager Mike Gillis.  He moved to St. Louis as an Assistant Coach for the last two years, prior to stepping down days ago, claiming that hockey operations were more of a passion than coaching for him.

This is the latest in a series of moves as Bergevin - as he puts it - surrounds himself with good hockey people, of which you can never have enough.  His group now includes two Assistant General Managers - Rick Dudley and Larry Carriere - a Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development in Trevor Timmins, and Mellanby.  We don't know the exact division of labour yet, with speculation that Timmins may focus on scouting, leaving development tasks to Dudley and Mellanby.  In any case, it's hard not to be excited about the team Bergevin is building, with lots of experience and well-respected throughout the hockey world.

Recapping the Memorial Cup - Congrats Bournival + Ellis!

Last night, the Memorial Cup Final was played to determine the 2011-12 champion of the Canadian Hockey League.  After a great week of hockey, the host Shawinigan Cataractes emerged victorious, with an Anton Zlobin overtime goal allowing them to get past the London Knights 2-1 to win the first Memorial Cup in franchise history.  The Cup was presented to Montreal's own Michael Bournival, as captain of the Cataractes, so congratulations to both him and future Hab defenseman Morgan Ellis, who was also named the game's second star.  Let's recap how our Habs fared during the tournament.

First, of the four Canadiens prospects in the tournament, the only one not appearing in the Finals last night was Nathan Beaulieu, whose favourited Saint John Sea Dogs lost in the semi-final to QMJHL rivals Shawinigan after having beaten them in the round robin two days earlier.  Though he did have 4 assists, 13 shots, and an even +/- rating in his four games, Beaulieu's overall performance in the tournament could be described as disappointing.  His silky smooth skating was on display, as he never hesitated to jump into the rush, or create chances on the transition, but he has two major areas where significant improvement is needed: his defensive zone play and his mental game.  With regards to play in his own end, he was notably a -4 with multiple turnovers in that semi-final matchup against the Cataractes. He is prone to giveaways and his positioning in his own end is sometimes questionable.  In terms of mental game, Beaulieu is prone to lazy or frustrated penalties, often for hacks and slashes, which we saw on numerous occasions during the Cup.  If we remember back to this year's World Junior Championship, one could blame Beaulieu's "giving up" on the play on a delayed penalty call that ultimately led to the winning Russian goal on gaps in his mental game as well.

Don't be discouraged by the above paragraph; I'm by no means calling Beaulieu a bust, or suggesting he has any less potential than he appeared to when the Canadiens made him a first round selection.  But I am suggesting the guy remains a project, needing time to develop before he becomes a real NHL player.  He is very naturally skilled, and the issues in his game can be worked on in Hamilton.  In fact, the issues he is facing aren't unlike the doubts many had about P.K. Subban as a prospect.  I'm not saying Beaulieu will necessarily be as good as Subban, but he's a mobile blueliner with size who can put up points, with enough balance to his game to project as a top four rearguard.

The sting of defeat is still fresh for London Knights' captain Jarred Tinordi, but he has nothing to be ashamed of in his own game, being named to the tournament's all-star team.  Tinordi and d-partner Scott Harrington played upwards of 30 minutes on a regular basis, and he was generally a beast in his own end, intercepting passes, blocking shots, and rubbing forwards out.  I maintain that offense is an underrated part of Tinordi's game (when you look at his OHL production, it's certainly underwhelming), and he showed some nice flashes with a couple of sequences yesterday where he jumped into the rush.  He'll never be a powerplay quarterback, but I don't think he's a Hal Gill either; in London, his role is very focused on its defensive aspect, but in another situation he might put up more points.  Tinordi finished the event with no points, but five shots on goal and a tied-for-team-lead (with forward Matt Rupert) +2 rating.

On to the winners.  Captain Michael Bournival started the Memorial Cup slowly, and fears rose that his poor QMJHL playoffs might carry over to this tournament.  But he silenced doubters with a strong performance, ranking fourth on the Cataractes with 7 points and tied for 3rd with three goals in 6 games.  While a natural center, he most frequently played the wing in the tournament, adding to speculation that he may have some kind of injury which will require repairs during the off-season.  Of course, playing on any sort of injury would make the intense, aggressive, speedy game he played all the more impressive, and bodes well for his professional future.  Bournival likely projects to a third liner at the NHL level, though it will be interesting to see if his goal-scorer's touch can carry over to the AHL next season.

Lastly, Morgan Ellis has opened a lot of eyes during the course of this season.  A mostly unheralded prospect, he served as the captain of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, a bottom feeder in the QMJHL.  When the contending Cataractes traded for him this season, he took his game to a new level, producing at a point-per-game clip for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs, while playing on the team's top defensive pairing with Brandon Gormley.  Ellis, a 6'2", 200 lbs right-handed buleliner, continued his responsible play into the Memorial Cup, tying for fifth on the Cataractes with five points in 6 games, firing 17 shots on goal and finishing a +3.  Of the three d-men in the tournament, Ellis appears to have the most mature and complete game, meaning he may actually be the most NHL-ready of the group.  That doesn't necessarily mean he'll be the one to have the best career of the three, but he is likely the one that will soonest be ready to fill-in for spot duty on a third pairing in case of injuries.

All in all, the Memorial Cup was a fun tournament for Habs fans to follow with four prospects in the fray, and we should be quite happy with the showing.  Yesterday's game marked the final game of the 2011-12 season for any player in the Hab organization, and also the final game of the junior careers of all of Tinordi, Bournival, and Ellis.  The three of them, along with Beaulieu, Brendan Gallagher, and Patrick Holland, will graduate from the CHL to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Fall, as they continue their development towards becoming NHL players.  It is important to be patient with these youngsters and not expect too much from them too quickly, as for each to reach their full potential, the organization mustn't rush them.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Canadiens Officially Announce Hiring of Dudley

The Montreal Canadiens let another of the hockey world's worst-kept secrets out of the bag today as the club officially announced that Rick Dudley would become an Assistant General Manager with the club.  You can read a bio of Dudley - a very well respected hockey man and a phenomenal talent evaluator - in the official announcement here:|MTL|home

Bergevin also remained true to his word regarding Larry Carriere, announcing that his contract had been extended and that he would stay on under his old title of Assistant GM.  So yes, that means both men carry the same title, though it is still unclear how the tasks may be divided between the two.  Having Carriere on board - a guy who spent part of last season on the bench with the current players as an Assistant Coach - will certainly help introduce Bergevin to the roster he is taking over.  It isn't unthinkable that Carriere's main responsibility, once things settle down, is one of GM of the Hamilton Bulldogs.  As for Dudley, per his release from the Toronto Maple Leafs, he is unable to work this year's Entry Draft for the Habs.  But you wouuld have to imagine the amateur side will remain Trevor Timmins's show anyway, while Dudley focuses on Pro Scouting and Player Personnel.  If we take the press release at face value, it is also interesting to note that Bergevin says he is thrilled to have both Dudley and Carriere with him for several seasons, meaning they are likely multi-year deals in both cases.  This seems like a natural decision for an organization that has preached wanting stability.

After hiring a new scout in Bobby Kinsella yesterday (who, by the way, you can follow on Twitter here: @DFS_BobbyK), Bergevin continues to round out his "cabinet" if you will.  I take this as a positive for Habs fans, as the team has the resources to bring in the right hockey guys to build a large and strong front office, but has opted not to for many years.  As ex-Hab Jaroslav Spacek said, "It was only Pierre's (Gauthier) way."  All of these new perspectives bring a breath of fresh air to the organization, and fans should be excited to see where it goes.  The team still has room and need for a capologist (role currently filled by Patrick Boivin), additional scouts (at least one for Quebec, but hopefully also at least one more in Europe), and of course a new coaching staff, so the announcements are far from over.  This is the one area where I fully embrace adopting a Toronto Maple Leafs model of bringing in as many talented and knowledgeable hockey people with specific roles as the team can.

Bergevin and Dudley will address the media by means of conference call at 1:30 PM, and we'll have updates for you via our Twitter feed here: @DailyCanadiens.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Habs Hires Update

Whenever prompted, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin continues to utter that he has no specific deadline or timetable for making any hire.  He wants to go through a thorough process, he'll say, and examine all possible candidates.  That's all fine and good, but it has left Hab fans everywhere itching for news on a daily basis.  Who will be hired as coach?  When will his new front office staff be announced?  What about his scouts?

Well, the coaching situation appears to be at a standstill.  Darren Dreger on TSN Sporscentre last night indicated that there is no clear frontrunner for the position at this time, though he did mention the widely speculated names of Marc Crawford, Bob Hartley, and Michel Therrien.  One hold-up could be that Gerard Gallant, a popular candidate and my personal choice, is still currently coaching the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Memorial Cup, meaning any interviews with him would likely still be a few days away.  The caveat with Gallant is that he doesn't really speak French, though he can understand a fair bit after coaching several seasons in the QMJHL.

There is some movement on other fronts, however.  Thanks to Twitter follower @HabsLinks, an article HERE has confirmed today that the Canadiens have hired Bobby Kinsella (pictured at left) as a new scout for the mid-western United States.  He will be based in Chicago, covering primarily the USHL, but also the NCAA, and top-tiered high school and midget programs.  Prior to this move, the Habs had Ryan Jankowski scouting both western Canada and the western U.S.A., while also having Pat Westrum focused on amateur scouting in the west of the U.S.  No indication as of yet how the hiring of Kinsella will impact the geographic coverage, but adding additional scouts was one of Bergevin's missions from day 1, and will likely only help Montreal at the draft table moving forward.  I suspect the move will be good for Canadian scouting as well, with one likely option being that Jankowski now devote all of his energies just to the WHL, though Elmer Benning currently has that focus as well.

Kinsella most recently served as both Assistant Coach and Director of Scouting for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.  There are some interesting ties here, as the team's General Manager and Head Coach is former Hab Jim Montgomery, and the club just selected top 2012 prospect Mark Jankowski - nephew of the aforemention Hab scout Ryan - in the USHL entry draft.  (Might Kinsella push for the team to take Mark at pick 33?)  Moreover, Kinsella spent five years as an Assistant Coach and Scout with the Sioux City Musketeers, one of which was during Max Pacioretty's season there in 2006-07 just prior to his selection by the Canadiens.  In between these two stints, Kinsella also spent two seasons as Head Coach and GM of the Boston Junior Rangers, a Midget AAA-U18 club, so all in all, he seems to be a good hockey person well experienced at working with and watching younger talent, while still young himself with room to grow in the organization at age 37.

A bit of news announced yesterday was that Scott Mellanby was stepping down from his role as Assistant Coach with the St. Louis Blues to pursue other opportunities, stating that his hear was in hockey operations rather than coaching.  TSN's Bob McKenzie was quick to Tweet that it wouldn't be a surprise if Mellanby - a Montreal native who speaks at least a bit of French - surfaces as one of Marc Bergevin's Assistants in Montreal.  After completing his playing career of over 1,400 games in 2006-07, Mellanby worked for three seasons as a Scout and Special Consultant to the GM with the Vancouver Canucks, before moving on to spend the last two seasons behind the bench in St. Louis.  Given his relative inexperience, it would be interesting to see what kind of role Montreal might offer him and what this means for Rick Dudley joining the organization - a process that appears mysteriously stalled, though the team might simply be opting to wait until after the draft to avoid any accusations of tampering (though Dreger Tweeted this morning that it is likely to happen prior to draft day).  One likely scenario is that if both are to join the organization, Mellanby might gain experience by being tabbed GM of the Hamilton Bulldogs, while Dudley would cover Pro Scouting.

These are the names being thrown around as of today, but the talk is only likely to intensify as we move towards the draft and July 1st, or particularly as Bergevin has had more days on the job.  Whatever the case, with more and more negative perceptions of the old Gauthier / Gainey / Martin regime coming out all the time, all of these new names are a breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Restocking the Cupboard #1: Holding Steady - Fantastic Four

Welcome to the first installment of Restocking the Cupboard, a five week mini-series going live every Wednesday leading up to the NHL Entry Draft taking place June 22-23.  With the graduations of the likes of Carey Price, Max Pacioretty, and P.K. Subban over the past couple of years, combined with the trading of multiple 2nd round selections, Montreal's prospect system has thinned out considerably.  Yes, there are some interesting names turning pro in the Fall, but the organization needs some padding, particularly at forward and between the pipes.

Fortunately, Montreal is in a good position to do a lot of restocking at this very draft, with the third overall pick and a bonus second rounder obtained from Nashville in the Hal Gill trade.  For the first 3 installments, we'll look specifically at that third overall first round selection and Montreal's options with it.  Today we'll go in-depth about the only four players the team should or could be realistically considering in that spot, while next week we'll discuss the possibility of trading down, and in 2 weeks we'll look at what it might take to move up and whether or not it would be worth it.

With that said, today we will take an in-depth look at the four players who could become Canadiens on the draft's Friday evening if the team holds steady at #3.  Here's my take on each of the players and the pros and cons of selecting them.

Mikhail Grigorenko - Center - Quebec Remparts, QMJHL
6'2", 200 lbs - Shoots L
Central Scouting - 3rd (North America); Future Considerations - 4th; The Hockey News - 3rd;

A lot has been said about Grigorenko this season.  Entering the season, there was excitement that Grigorenko had chosen to spend the year in North America, debuting as a rookie for Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts in the QMJHL.  Some had him as a possible contender for the top pick, looking to dislodge Nail Yakupov.  It's hard to call a season of 40 goals and 85 points in 59 games, and another 10 points in 11 playoff games, all the while earning awards as the league's Top Rookie and Top Professional Prospect, disappointing.  But rather than see his stock rise, the questions about him have multiplied.

Let's start with the good.  Grigorenko came to the Q as a winger, but under Roy's tutelage, made a successful transition to center early on this season, even improving his face-off skills over the course of the year.  His big frame will provide size down the middle to whoever drafts him, and that is something the Canadiens could certainly use.  But despite his body, he doesn't play a power game.  Nor is he a speedster (not that his skating is a problem).  His game is high-end skill, with quick hands and good hockey sense, both as a playmaker and sniper.  Think the way Joe Thornton is a productive NHL'er, but more of a balanced offensive toolkit rather than an elite passer.  Though Roy himself indicated another year in the Q might be beneficial for the young Russian, if he can impress whoever drafts him in training camp, he already has the physical maturity to make the jump to the big league, which is something that can't necessarily be said about the other three below.

So what scares those who watch Grigorenko play about his NHL future?  First, he struggles with consistency, looking disengaged or unmotivated at times.  He has been accused of scoring the majority of his points against weaker opposition, and coasting/floating with important games on the line.  Some feel the lack of necessary intangibles (e.g. desire, work ethic...) will keep him from reaching his star upside, though scouts are divided on that; there are some who want nothing to do with him on draft day, and others who blame his disinterest on his being a man among boys in the QMJHL.  It was announced at the end of his team's season that Grigorenko had been battling mononucleosis, and some were quick to attribute this to a weaker-than-expected playoff performance on his part, so perhaps there are enough viable reasons to dismiss some of the fears about his future.

That would be all fine if those were the only concerns.  However, though Grigorenko played this season in Quebec, there have been murmurs coming out of Russia throughout the season that his former club CSKA still feels they have a legitimate claim to have him under contract.  Whether or not that is the case, further stories indicate that they will push hard to have him return home to play in the KHL as soon as next season.  The "Russian fear," if you will, has caused many clubs to pass on high potential prospects early in drafts before, and combined with the other concerns, this makes Grigorenko a risky selection.

In summary, Grigorenko is undoubtedly a potential future star.  But there are a lot of question marks to be resolved before he gets to that point.  Can the Canadiens risk gambling their highest pick in quite some time on such a player?  Or are they better off with a safer option?  Feel free to weigh in down below.

Alex Galchenyuk - Center - Sarnia Sting, OHL
6'1", 198 lbs - Shoots L
Rankings: Central Scouting - 4th (North America); Future Considerations - 2nd; The Hockey News - 7th;

There were both doubts and intrigue surrounding Galchenyuk at the start of the year, another player in the discussion as a top 2 or 3 selection.  While he is of Russian ethnicity, Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee and holds dual citizenship, having opted to represent the United States in international play.  After a season with the Chicago Young Americans, Galchenyuk joined the OHL's Sarnia Sting in 2010-11, where he played (at least some of the time) with consensus 2012 top pick Nail Yakupov.  This had some wondering if Galchenyuk's impressive rookie season of 31 goals and 83 points in 68 games wasn't partially attributable to the work of his skilled teammate, and all were looking forward to seeing his development this season.

Enter the problem in his case: in a September 16th, 2011 preseason game, Galchenyuk injured his knee and required surgery on his ACL.  The recovery kept him out until the final 2 games of the 2011-12 season, and clearly it is hard for an athlete at any level to jump in and have an impact so late in the year.  He was held off the scoresheet in those 2 games, but did manage 2 goals and 4 points in the 6 playoff games Sarnia had before being eliminated, showing that he had fully recovered.

Will the injury scare some clubs off?  Perhaps, as a lost season of development at such a young age could potentially damage a player's career.  ACL injuries are also tough to judge, with lingering effects sometimes a concern.  But Galchenyuk brings a number of assets to the table that have most scouts dreaming about him falling into their reaches.  He is seen as a full package; a good skater who plays an intense game in all three zones, just as reliable on the back check as he is dangerous in the offensive zone.  If work ethic is a concern in Grigorenko's case, it is one of Galchenyuk's strengths, as his an ability to make good use of his solid frame.  All of these attributes have some comparing his game to that of Marian Hossa, who Hab fans will remember their team selecting Jason Ward one pick earlier in 1997.

As a responsible two-way forward, Galchenyuk seems like a Trevor Timmins-type pick.  But that isn't to say he's "more of the same" for Montreal.  At third overall, you're getting a player with a lot more offensive talent than a Kyle Chipchura.  You're adding size down the middle, which addresses an organizational need, and you're adding a center to build around in the team's young core.  What you aren't getting is an immediate replacement for David Desharnais or Tomas Plekanec.  Barring an unbelievable training camp, after not playing this year, it is almost certain Galchenyuk will be returned to Sarnia for another season by whichever club takes him.

Filip Forsberg - Right Wing - Leksands IF, Swedish Elite League
6'2", 181 lbs - Shoots R
Rankings: Central Scouting - 1st (Europe); Future Considerations - 5th; The Hockey News - 2nd;

The advantage Forsberg has over the other three names on this list is that he has proven he can compete with older men.  After getting a 10-game look with the Swedish Elite League's Leksand last season, Forsberg played a full 43 games for them this year as a 17-year old (he only turns 18 in August) and managed 17 points.  Of course, this also presents a challenge to scouts, as comparing potential between guys playing in very different leagues is one of the great difficulties the scouting fraternity faces every year.  While impressive for a player of his age, 17 points in 43 games is far from a dominant offensive output, and Forsberg didn't help himself with just 1 assist in 6 games at this year's World Junior Championship.

Indeed, if you hadn't seen the guy play, you might wonder from his stat page why he's being talked about as a top 5 prospect for this draft class.  While the upside is there, there are legitimate questions as to whether or not Forsberg will be enough of a scorer at the pro level to be a true first liner.  Certainly he does have the potential to be; against peers his own age, he has been a point-per-game player, and capped his season with a highly impressive World U18 in which, as the Swedish team's captain, he scored 5 goals and 7 points in 6 games.

So what makes Forsberg (no relation to the legendary Peter) a top prospect?  Not unlike Galchenyuk, he combines a strong frame with great determination and two-way play.  If Bergevin is content with a small centre line provided he can surround the Plekanecs and Desharnais with more Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole types, then Forsberg becomes a real option, as he doesn't hesitate to dish out hits and play a power game.  Like Pacioretty and Cole, Forsberg's nose for the net means he's a shoot-first type, but there are concerns about his skill level as a high end prospect.  You won't confuse his ability to set up teammates with a Pavel Datsyuk, and that may limit his role at the NHL level to a good 2nd liner or ideal two-way third line winger that can still chip in 20+ goals.  Good at everything, master of little, which is often a red flag for scouts when looking at a prospect.

Still, if Grigorenko is a risk for factors mentioned, and Galchenyuk's knee causes concern, Forsberg is a very safe prospect, sure to be a contributor on an NHL club within a couple of seasons.  And, given that no one can be certain how he will respond to playing in North America, the team that acquires his services may end up pleasantly surprised, not unlike the Philadelphia Flyers with Sean Couturier.

Ryan Murray - Defenseman - Everett Silvertips, WHL
6'1", 201 lbs - Shoots L
Rankings: Central Scouting - 2nd (North America); Future Considerations - 3rd; The Hockey News - 4th;

Almost everyone has Murray as the top defenseman in this year's draft, and yet whenever I've watched him, I'm left wanting more.  Don't get me wrong, Murray is a stud prospect, sure to be an NHL defenseman in the very near future (particularly given his age, almost a full year older than Filip Forsberg).  But if we were to compare this year's draft with its plethora of talented d-men available to the phenomenal crop from 2008, Murray reminds me more of a Luke Schenn than a Drew Doughty or Alex Pietrangelo.

If there is a skill which sets Murray apart, it's his skating.  He has the look of a Scott Niedermayer on the ice, while slotting into a similar two-way role.  However, aside from his speed, he ranks as "good" in all other areas; shot-blocking, coverage, physicality, offensive awareness...  and all these "good"s combine to make him an extremely safe prospect to be an NHL player for many years.  But is a good and safe player what a team looks for at the top of a draft?  Generally not, as most want a home run in these slots, unless there is a real organizational need for something different (Hi, Edmonton).  Perhaps a team will think highly enough of him for his intangibles, as he does captain the Everett Silvertips

My problem with Murray isn't necessarily the player himself, but rather that I don't see him as leaps and bounds beyond the other blueliners available.  While Murray - to his benefit - is a picture of consistency, a player like Matt Dumba has shown a lot more flash during the course of the season.  Despite missing games with injury, Morgan Rielly's transition game and play in the offensive zone outclass Murray's.  Griffin Reinhart's 6'4", 207 lbs frame is something that Murray physically can't compete with.  Will Murray be better than these guys plus Jacob Trouba and Cody Ceci?  Perhaps, but I don't think he'll be that much better that it makes sense for a team who has taken d-men in the first round each of the last two seasons to select him at #3, with potentially comparable quality blueliners still to be on the board further down the top 10.

If Trevor Timmins and his staff disagree with my assessment and feel that Murray is too good to pass up on, it will at least shore up Montreal's left-handed shooting d-men for the foreseeable future, marking the third year in a row the team selected such a player with their first pick.  Certainly no one would complain about a young defense that includes Murray, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, P.K. Subban, Alexei Emelin, and Josh Gorges in 3 years time.

And there you have it, the four names that logically make up Montreal's short list for the third overall selection.    If the tone in my evaluations wasn't clear enough, as of today, if I were making the selection, I'd go with Alex Galchenyuk.  Elite superstar potential, size at center, reliable two-way guy meaning he may be as little as one year away from an NHL debut, and without the risk factors of a Mikhail Grigorenko.

But whoever the Canadiens end up taking with this pick, do know two things:
1) The team will be adding a huge piece of the future contender puzzle
2) Do not expect the player to spend more than a 10-game trial (IF that) in Montreal next season

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mark Your Calendars - 10 Hab Dates to Remember

As we're mired in a quiet time for Habs news, waiting on the announcement of a new Head Coach and then summer player movement, here are 10 dates of activity for you to add to your calendar.

1) May 28th - NHL Central Scouting Draft Combine Begins

From May 28th to June 2nd, 105 of the top prospects for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft will be in Toronto for a few days of intense testing (see this year's invitee list HERE).  The most publicized portion is generally the physical tests, of which a detailed overview can be found HERE.  But many teams are more interested in the interview time slots, where their scouting staff has the ability to schedule personal time with a number of the prospects in attendance, both to get to them and for a psychological evaluation.  It is often from this that you'll here a player say on draft day after being selected, "I knew they were interested in me because they wanted to spend a lot of time with me."  While reports about which teams spoke with which prospects are scarce and mostly secretive, generally a few stories will leak out.  Still, the physical testing isn't disregarded completely, as players that score very well are often prime candidates to move up a few slots, and those kind of results are more public.

One caveat this year is that top prospect Mikhail Grigorenko is unlikely to complete all of the physical evaluations as he continues to recover from mononucleosis.  There hasn't been an update on his condition recently, so it's possible he is doing better, but not partaking in the evaluation can't help his stock.

2) June 12th - Montreal Canadiens Combine

Following the Central Scouting Combine, many NHL clubs hold their own mini-combines, which may include on-ice portions, further testing, and certainly more one-on-one off-ice time with the team's staff.  Teams will invite players they are considering for all rounds, so the invite lists for these events are generally quite sensitive.  A few names will leak out, and we already know that Montreal has asked Shawinigan Cataractes goaltender Alexandre Dubeau and late-blooming overage Drumondville forward Andre Bouvet-Morrissette to attend their "camp."  Along with those players, given that the team is drafting third overall, expect names like Grigorenko, Alex Galchenyuk, and Filip Forsberg to be asked to be at the Bell Centre or in Brossard on this day.

Thanks to reader Marc-Philippe L'Abbe for pointing out THIS article confirming the presence of four other players at the combine, all from the Quebec Remparts: Grigorenko, goaltender Francois Brassard, defenseman Ryan Culkin, and forward Frederick Roy.

**UPDATE: June 13-16 - Habs Prospect Development Camp

Thanks to Twitter follower @darknngel for pointing out a date I had missed as confirmed, being the first Habs' development camp of the summer, June 13-16.  The dates were in an RDS article HERE, indicating it will take place at the Complexe Sportive Bell in Brossard, and that Gabriel Dumont will be one of the prospects in attendance.

3) June 15th - NHL Buyout Period Opens

June 13th is the final possible day for the Stanley Cup to be awarded if the series goes to 7 games based on the schedule announced today.  The buyout period opens two days after that.  I covered Friday why a buyout isn't the best option for Scott Gomez at this point (and the same applies to Tomas Kaberle), but we'll find out then a bit of how the Habs' brass feels about the issue.  It's also a time where other clubs may terminate some of their contracts, which could add a little depth to a very thin unrestricted free agent crop this summer.

The buyout period this year also has a bit of a footnote, as it is the last under the current CBA.  It is unknown how the new agreement governing the league will handle this procedure.  Will there be a one-time amnesty buyout period offered to allow clubs to get rid of players without taking a cap hit?  If managers believe so, they wouldn't want to buy out players now under the current CBA.  On the other hand, will the new agreement prevent teams from hiding unwanted salaries in Europe or the AHL?  If managers believe that to be the case, buying out a player in June might be their only hope of clearing some room.

4) June 20th - NHL Awards in Las Vegas

The 2012 Awards, featuring musical guest Nickelback, have only 1 Canadien attending as a nominee, but it could be a big night for him.  Certainly, Max Pacioretty should be considered a favourite for the Bill Masterton Trophy after his phenomenal comeback season following last year's brutal hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara.  Pacioretty, who was also a key performer for Team USA at the recent IIHF World Championship, doesn't need the award to be proud of his achievements over the past 365 days, but it would be a nice bit of recognition for a player who now also focuses on giving back through his foundation.  Tune in to the televised awards on the 20th to find out if he beats Daniel Alfredsson and Joffrey Lupul in the voting.  Check out all the award nominees HERE.

5) June 22nd - NHL Draft, First Round

If the awards aren't your cup of tea, then get excited for two days later; an evening likely to be the most important of the Habs' summer.  Beginning at 7 PM ET, and live on TSN, teams will be making their selections for the draft's first round, with Montreal currently holding pick #3.  I'll have a five piece weekly series on the upcoming draft beginning tomorrow, with the first installment looking at the players Montreal could realistically take with their first rounder.  What is certain is that the franchise will be adding an impact player for the future, and this acquisition will likely be of greater significance than any other roster move the team makes over the course of the summer.

If you want to take in the opening round surrounded by fellow Hab diehards, check out the AllHabs Tweet-Up scheduled for that evening, with more info HERE.  The Canadiens also Tweeted something alluding to an official Draft Party, but no details for it have been made available as of yet.

6) June 23rd - NHL Draft, Rounds 2 to 7

Only the first round is a primetime event on Friday night, but the Canadiens won't stop adding important pieces there.  The Habs have two picks in the second round (#33 and 51 overall), plus selections number 64, 94, and 154.  Each of these picks could potentially move up 1 slot if New Jersey opts to forego their first round selection this season as penalty for their illegal offer to Ilya Kovalchuk a couple of summers back - a scenario rendered likely by the team's deep run in these playoffs.  A later edition of my draft series closer to the actual draft day will look at a number of players to consider for each of these five other picks, but there will be plenty of interesting names on the board at 33, 51, and even 64.

7) June 25th - Deadline for Qualifying RFAs

Teams have until this day to submit qualifying offers to their restricted free agents so as to retain exclusive negotiating rights with them (and/or the ability to match any outside offers).  Montreal must tender the following players by this day to prevent them from becoming unrestricted free agents: Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Lars Eller, Alexei Emelin, Raphael Diaz, Ryan White, Blake Geoffrion, Aaron Palushaj, Mike Blunden, Petteri Nokelainen, Frederic St. Denis, Brendon Nash, Andreas Engqvist, Olivier Fortier, Mark Mitera, Hunter Bishop, Andrew Conboy, Danny Masse, and Robert Slaney.  Some of the Bulldogs are likely to be let go to make room for fresh blood, while with the possible exception of Nokelainen, all of the NHL'ers are probable to be at least qualified for the time being.  You'll remember one year ago, the Habs opted not to qualify Benoit Pouliot or Tom Pyatt, who then went on to sign with the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning respectively as UFAs.  Like with the buyout period, this day will also add a little depth to the UFA market, illustrated in THIS piece from a year ago where I talked about 10 interesting names that went unqualified (of course both D'Agostini and Kennedy did end up returning to their previous clubs).

8) July 1st - UFA Market Opens

The Habs have 9 players whose rights will be lost as unrestricted free agents if not re-signed prior to July 1st: Travis Moen, Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche, Brad Staubitz, Alex Henry (who has already signed in Germany), Brian Willsie, Garrett Stafford, Joe Callahan, and Nathan Lawson.  Since the club traded both Andrei Kostitsyn and Hal Gill prior to the deadline, there are no particularly big names on that list, though I do hope that Moen's services are retained.  Any of the other names could just as easily be replaced if allowed to leave.  As Canada Day approaches, we'll talk about some of Marc Bergevin's likely main targets from other clubs when the market opens, but the UFA crop is far from impressive this summer. It is headlined (for now, barring re-signings) by Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but there is a steep drop-off after those two.

9) Rookie Camp / Tournament (TBD)

Montreal's main summer rookie camp is generally held in early July, where fans get a good first close-look at the most recent crop of draftees, usually combined with some invitees and a smattering of older prospects.  However, there is a new regime in charge, which could mean changes to how Montreal handles this annual process.  The Pierre Gauthier era chose to pull the team out of any rookie tournaments, held annually by many clubs in August and September where squads of young prospects compete against those of other organizations.  These events are fun for fans in addition to being reasonable measuring sticks, but do come at a risk of injuries, so we will learn Bergevin's views on them at some point this summer.

10) September 15th - CBA D-Day

Lastly, just prior to what would be the opening of NHL training camps, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the National Hockey League and its Players' Association is set to expire.  We can only hope that both sides are in a more open and cooperative mood than they were the last time around, as there remain a number of contentious issues to be worked out with struggling smaller market teams around the league.  Certainly, over the course of the summer, we will hear many reports of updates, debates, disagreements, and hopefully progress in advance of the Fall deadline.