Canadiens 2008 draft preview

By Jason Menard

Top 10 prospects

1. Carey Price, G
2. Ryan McDonagh, D
3. Sergei Kostitsyn, LW
4. Max Pacioretty, LW
5. Ryan O’Byrne, D
6. Kyle Chipchura, C
7. Ben Maxwell, C
8. Mikhail Grabovski, LW
9. Jaroslav Halak, G
10. David Fischer, D

The Montreal Canadiens, as an organization, have committed to developing through the draft. The club has been aggressive in moving to acquire the players it has an interest in, but does so without sacrificing draft picks or young prospects. In fact, while many expected the Habs to make a play for a proven veteran by peddling off some its stockpile of youth. To the surprise of many, the club reaffirmed its commitment to youth by trading veteran netminder Cristobal Huet for a second-round selection next year.

The club now has a stable of prospects that’s the envy of organizations throughout the NHL. That said, some of that stockpile was built upon trades to obtain players in previous drafts by mortgaging picks in the future. As a result, the Canadiens enter this year’s draft with only five selections, having forfeited their fifth and sixth-rounders in trades last year that returned 2007 selections in addition to roster players.

After a season that resulted in the Eastern Conference crown, the Canadiens ran out of steam in the second round of the NHL playoffs. As such, they will be selecting 25th overall in the first round. The remainder of their selections are as follows:
Second round – 56th overall
Third round – 86th overall
Fourth round – 116th overall
Fifth round – no selection. This selection and Craig Rivet were traded for San Jose’s 2007 1st-round selection (which the Canadiens used on Max Pacioretty) and Josh Gorges
Sixth round – no selection. This selection and Mike Ribeiro were traded for Dallas’ 2007 sixth-round pick (which the Canadiens used on Andrew Conboy) and Janne Niinimma.
Seventh round – 206th overall

Team Needs — Depth goaltending and size down the middle

The Canadiens are set at the NHL level with a pair of dynamic young netminders in Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak – potentially providing a decade of security between the pipes. But with the release of Chris Heino-Lindberg, the announcement that Yann Danis will be testing free agency on July 1, and the aforementioned trade of Huet, the Canadiens organizationally could benefit from the addition of a depth goaltender. After all, as Trevor Timmins, the club’s Director of Player Recruitment and Development has said, “You can never have too much goaltending in an organization.”  That said, don’t expect the Habs to use one of their early selections on a goalie, considering the investment they’ve made in Price and Halak.

It’s safe to say one of those early selections will be used on a perennial challenge for the Habs — depth and size in the middle. With Saku Koivu and the resurgent Alex Kovalev starting to creep up in age (and salary), secondary scoring is key. The Kostitsyn brothers have arrived to alleviate some of the scoring concern, but the Canadiens are still a little thin down the middle, especially in terms of size. Koivu and Tomas Plekanec are the organization’s top two centers, and obtaining a man with size to roam the middle would be a welcome addition to the roster.

But of course, their draft philosophy is in picking the best player possible, regardless of position.

Organizational Strengths –  Depth, goaltending, defensive prospects, skill forwards

The Canadiens have stockpiled quantity and quality at every position, creating vital internal competition for jobs not only at the NHL level, but also between the AHL and ECHL franchises in Hamilton and Cincinnati.  But there are simply not enough roster spots for the talent that the club has acquired. Whether by design or serendipity, the Habs have mined the U.S. ranks for players who end up in the collegiate system – thereby buying the club time to sign their picks.

Once a weakness, the club’s blueline prospects are now arguably the best thing the club has going for it. In addition to the arrival of Ryan O’Byrne at the NHL level, the club has spent its last two top selections on Ryan McDonagh and David Fischer. Add to that players like Mathieu Carle, Yannick Weber, Pavel Valentenko, and the contractually challenged Alexei Yemelin, and the club is rich in promising blueline talent.

Organizational Weaknesses – forwards with size

Although the club has seen a number of its forward prospects make the jump to the NHL level, they still remain thin on forwards – specifically centres – with size and talent. With the graduation of the Kostitsyn brothers and the expected arrival of Grabovski at the NHL level, the club could benefit from a replenishment in offensively gifted forwards.

Draft Tendencies

The Habs’ Minnesota scout should be getting paid overtime. With the last two top selections coming from that region, the Canadiens have shown an increasing willingness to mine the U.S. and collegiate ranks for players. They have also shown a willingness to aggressively target players in whom they’re interested, willing to package picks or trade down to maximize their draft-day return.

However, the overriding draft philosophy for the Canadiens is to take the best player available, regardless of position. It is that believe that netted them Carey Price, despite having a Vezina Trophy winner in the system at the time. The club believes strongly in internal competition to drive success, and they also focus on instilling the “Canadiens’ Way” into their rookies and draft picks by implementing training programs almost from the get-go.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selection:
Jake Gardiner, D, Minnetonka HS, Minnesota.