Habs Take the Conservative Approach

By Chris Boucher
Immediately following every draft there are question marks, as well as the odd exclamation point attached to every choice, and every non-choice. The initial impression given by the Montréal Canadiens 2002 draft is that they remained conservative during the opening round, choosing a player with a strong all-round game rather than trying to a hit home run with a potential one-dimensional offensive catalyst.

Speaking of one-dimensional players, the Canadiens opened the draft with a deal involving former New York Islander Mariusz Czerkawski. The Habs moved Aaron Asham and a fifth round pick to the Islanders in exchange for the offensively gifted Polish forward. Czerkawski’s acquisition immediately improves Montréal’s powerplay, giving them the depth necessary to put out two strong units.

The Habs moved up one spot in the first round. They traded the 15th overall pick as well as an eighth rounder to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for the 14th overall pick. The move was made to ensure the acquisition of Yale forward Christopher Higgins. Higgins was the CSB’s highest rated forward still available.

Higgins is a speedy forward who impressed the scouting world with his performance in the 2002 World Junior Championship. As an 18-year-old the 5’11’, 192-lbs. center led the US squad in scoring; managing 6 points (4-2-6) through 7 games. He just completed his freshman season with Yale University where his 29 points (13-16-29) led the team in scoring by 7 points over his closest teammate.

The New York native was recently named the Ivy League’s rookie of the year. He was also the only freshman named an All-Ivy first team all-star. He was the ECAC’s rookie of the year, as well as a member of the ECAC all-rookie team. Higgins is a strong skater with an excellent work ethic. His talent is obvious but not overwhelming. He has good hands, a quick release and plays to win. Despite his size, he’s quickly developing a strong game along the boards.

Higgins did most of his scoring during intra-Conference play. He averaged 1.23 points per game through 22 intra-Conference games. His PPG average fell dramatically when playing teams outside the ECAC. Although the number of inter-Conference games played gives us a small sample, the numbers do seem surprising. In 5 games against non-ECAC opponents Higgins managed only 3 points (1-2-3).

The talent base in the 2002 draft was shallow at best. The top four players available were considered blue-chippers, while the talent level fell off sharply after the top-10. The Canadiens chose to stick to their script, as they simply chose the next player available on their pre-draft list. Rather than swing for the fences, André Savard went for a high percentage pick whose future may not be as a top-6 forward, but his all-round game and strong work-ethic make him an almost sure-fire future NHLer.


Hab you Heard?

The Canadiens’ second round pick (45th overall) Tomas Linhart was drafted by the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dogs during the 2002 CHL Import Draft. Linhart had made it known prior to the Import Draft that he hoped to continue his career in the CHL as soon as next season. The Dogs grabbed the 6’2″, 210-lbs defenseman with the 10th overall pick.