Montreal Canadiens 2011 draft preview

By Ian Bross

Photo: In 2010 the Canadiens drafted defenseman Jarred Tinordi in the first round. Logic suggests they will take a forward this year with their first round pick. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects:

1. Danny Kristo, RW
2. Louis Leblanc, C
3. Jarred Tinordi, D
4. Yannick Weber, D
5. Aaron Palushaj, RW
6. David Desharnais, C
7. Alexander Avtsin, RW
8. Brendon Nash, D
9. Mathieu Carle, D
10. Andreas Engqvist, C

Team Needs

The Canadiens made the playoffs for the fourth straight season, finishing in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. It was their highest point total since 2007-08 when they won the Northeast division. The team’s Stanley Cup aspirations after reaching the Conference finals last year, however, were defeated in round one by the rival Boston Bruins, who have since moved on to win the Stanley Cup.

Scoring is an area of concern for Montreal, with the lowest tally of goals of any team to crack the top eight in the East this season. Tomas Plekanec led the team with 57 points. The team did not have a 30-goal scorer. Though the Canadiens can transition from defense to offense as well as anyone, under Jacques Martin, the emphasis has been on responsible play in the defensive zone first and foremost. The team relied heavily on Carey Price, who has assumed the role of franchise goaltender.

The Canadiens could still use an infusion of youth, especially on the blueline. With 22-year-olds P.K. Subban and Yannick Weber appearing in 77 and 41 games last season respectively, they are beginning to get it. Last season, however, Montreal lost their 32-year-old number one defenseman Andrei Markov to injury yet again. The defensive corps also comprised of 37-year-olds Roman Hamrlik and Jaroslav Spacek, and 36-year-old Hal Gill. As of now, Spacek and Gill are under contract with the team for next season.

As for the younger members of the team, Subban was second behind newcomer James Wisniewski in scoring among defensemen. In his first full year as an NHLer, Benoit Pouliot amassed 30 points. But most notably up front, even more promising was the contributions of David Desharnais and Max Pacioretty. Since joining the team full-time in January and December, the pair of rookies provided a boost to the offense. The 24-year-old Desharnais finished with 22 points in 43 games, and better yet, the 22-year-old Max Pacioretty had 24 points in 37 games before an unfortunate injury derailed his season.

Organizational Strengths

Over the years, the Canadiens have consistently taken a particular approach when selecting their forward prospects. The club has demonstrated a clear preference for two-way forwards. The top three prospects up front presently – Danny Kristo, Louis Leblanc and Aaron Palushaj – each possess this quality. It is a trait that exists all throughout the system.

And on the backline, Montreal has tended to favor defensemen with puck-moving capability. Offensively adept defenders are plentiful in the organization, from the recently graduated P.K. Subban, to Yannick Weber, free-agent signing Brendon Nash and Mathieu Carle. Last year’s first-round pick, Jarred Tinordi, represented a slight departure from this strategy.

The Canadiens have shown an equal affinity for North American and European players alike. The organization’s overall diversity is also a strength, boasting prospects from a variety of locales. For example, Alexander Avtsin, Maxim Trunev and Alexei Yemelin from Russia, Sweden‘s Andreas Engqvist, and Finland‘s Joonas Nattinen. And of course, Montreal has turned extra attention to the NCAA lately, and has snatched a vast number of noteworthy current and former collegians, namely the aforementioned Kristo, Leblanc, Palushaj, and Nash.

Organizational Weaknesses

Last June, with a limited amount of selections at their disposal, the Canadiens opted not to take a goaltender. Carey Price has emerged in the wake up Jaroslav Halak‘s departure as quite possibly the team’s most valuable player. At age 23, the organization’s future between the pipes seems set for a number of years.

Nevertheless, the weakest position in the organization in terms of depth is, without question, the goaltending position. Karri Ramo, acquired in exchange for Cedrick Desjardins a summer ago, has recently renewed his contract in the KHL for another two years. Other than Ramo, the only other remaining goaltending prospect is Robert Mayer, who has struggled considerably early in his AHL career.

Another persistent need of the Canadiens – certainly coveted by all 30 NHL teams – is the acquisition of a top flight offensive prospect.

While there are a handful of intriguing sleepers in the system such as Alexander Avtsin, Maxim Trunev, and Brendan Gallagher, the last players to meet this standard (other than the recently graduated Lars Eller perhaps) were Max Pacioretty and Andrei Kostitsyn. In the event the Canadiens invested a first-round pick in the past decade on a forward – a relatively rare occurrence – these prospects have tended to be in the decidedly safer mold of a two-way forward.

Draft Tendencies

Last June, no two Canadiens’ draft selections played their 2010 seasons in the same league. But in recent years, in early rounds, the bleu blanc et rouge has seemed to favor red, white, and blue – four of the club’s last five picks in the first round have been American-born players. Even the lone exception, Louis Leblanc in 2009, was a USHL product.

The Canadiens made only five selections in the 2010 draft. They elected to use their first-round pick on defenseman Jarred Tinordi. In order to ensure his availabilty, Montreal had to sacrifice a second-round choice. They did not pick again until round four. This year, after placing such a high priority on defense, a forward may be next on the agenda. Almost half of Montreal’s current top 10 prospects play defense.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:

No. 17: Zack Phillips

Phillips played out the 2010 season in the QMJHL, where Montreal has traditionally turned for new talent. A member of the Saint John Sea Dogs, Phillips was a teammate of Jonathan Huberdeau, a consensus pick to be one of the first players taken this year, as well as other highly touted 2011 eligibles including Tomas Jurco. Phillips finished second on the team in goals (38), assists (57), and points (95), being outdone only by Huberdeau.