Over the past few seasons, the Canadiens have mined the collegiate ranks for prospects. And while many of them are showing that they’re learning the ropes, a couple of players got a bit of a rude education over the World Junior Championships.
Highly touted first-round picks David Fischer (2006) and Ryan McDonagh (2007) were left off the American roster for the WJC. And while some players would take that rejection harshly, the blueline duo has stepped up their respective games since.
"Both of them have had some of their best performances over the past few weeks since the tournament," explained Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ Director of Player Recruitment and Development. "The way these players have carried on and improved their play since the World Junior Championships is a credit to them."
Timmins added that their exclusion isn’t exactly a surprise. "Neither of them were part of the US under-18 development program, so it’s not a shocker," he said. "It’s a disappointment though."
Especially when one considers the value of playing in that tournament, its impact on players (such as the Canadiens’ Kyle Chipchura and Carey Price), and the ability to allow young players to experience playing in high-pressure situations. But in the end, Timmins is pleased with how his young charges are progressing.
"We drafted them to play for the Montreal Canadiens, not the U.S. squad," he said. "Although the World Junior Championship would have been a great development vehicle, we think they’re still on the right development curve."
After playing minimal minutes last season on a stocked Golden Gophers’ squad, Fischer has played a more integral role on the squad this year. In 25 games, he’s accounted for one goal and nine assists. His -1 rating on a middle-of-the-road club is solid as well, and he’s played key roles on both the power play and penalty kill.
McDonagh’s made an immediate impact on his University of Wisconsin Badgers club, second among the team’s defensemen (behind senior Kyle Klubertanze [ANA]) in points with four goals and seven assists in 24 games as a freshman. He’s also shown a willingness to throw around his ample size, with 11 penalties taken over the course of the season. Like Fischer, McDonagh’s been stuck with a middle-of-the-road Badgers squad that’s playing .500 hockey to date this season.
But those two, although the marquee names, are not the only Canadiens’ draftees making an impact in the collegiate ranks. Another first-round selection, Max Pacioretty (2007) started off the WJC well, but suffered what Timmins describes as a "major setback" in the first period of the first game against Kazakhstan.
"He was hit knee on knee – he came back playing, but his knee was completely taped up," he said. "Basically he was playing on one leg for the tournament and after starting on the first line and part of the first power play, he was relegated to fourth-line duty.
"Once his leg healed up they started using him on different lines, but it was a challenge for him."
Since returning to the Michigan Wolverines, Pacioretty has only appeared in one of three contests. Yet he continues to enjoy a sterling rookie campaign, fourth on the club in scoring with four goals and 15 assists in 19 games – a point-per-game pace. He’s accounted for three goals on the power play and has used his rugged power-forward frame to rack up a dozen penalties in his 19 contests. Pacioretty has been a huge part of the Wolverines’ powerful 22-2-0 performance this season.
"His performance just shows his warrior mentality. In the WJC he wanted to stay and play through pain. He was a physical presence in the line-up and he was able to show his ability to play through pain."
A pair of Habs’ prospects have paced the Dartmouth Big Green’s season to date. J.T. Wyman, a fourth-round 2004 draft pick, leads the team in scoring as a senior with 13 goals and 23 points in just 17 games. Joe Stejskal (5th round, 2007), a rugged blueliner, has made his presence felt as a rookie as he’s second on the team with 18 penalty minutes. Known for his robust style of play on the blueline, that’s reflected in Stejskal’s meager offensive totals with just one assist to his name.
Finally, Clarkson junior Phillipe Paquet (7th round, 2005) has been in and out of the Golden Knights’ line-up. He’s suited up for just 10 of the club’s 22 games and has only three assists to his name. Paquet missed the club’s first six games with an injury and has been working his way back into a regular line-up spot.