Canadiens 2001 draft evaluation

By Jason Menard

Now that the cupboards are well stocked in the Montreal Canadiens’ minor league pantry, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t that long ago that the Habs’ farm system was as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s.

The 2001 Entry Draft marked a watershed moment in turning around the Habs’ fortunes, both at the big-league level and in the minors, as this was the first year that André Savard was at the helm of the draft as Director of Hockey Personnel. Savard, currently the team’s Assistant to the General Manager, was brought into the organization in large part to his proven savvy at the draft table, which was evidenced by the bounty of prospects in his former employer’s – the Ottawa Senators – farm system.

In 2001, Savard proved his worth, executing a draft that was both rich and deep in talent. But prior to draft day, the team made a couple of deft moves that enabled it to acquire players and picks with an eye to the future.

The Habs were able to unload some aging and expensive veterans during the year, not only improving their draft standing, but acquiring some key chips that have helped lead the Canadiens to their current level of success. The Canadiens traded blueliner Vladimir Malakhov to the New Jersey Devils for Sheldon Souray, Josh DeWolf, and a second-round pick in the 2001 draft. They then packaged that second-rounder with Trevor Linden and Dainuis Zubrus in return for Washington’s first-round pick in 2001, Jan Bulis, and Richard Zednik.

On draft day, the Canadiens came to the table with a pair of first round selections: seventh and 25th overall. They retained possession of their second (37th) and third-round picks (71st), and their obtaining of a compensatory fourth-round pick (109th overall) received from losing Shayne Corson to free agency afforded them the opportunity to trade their fourth-rounder (104th) to Chicago for Stephane Quintal. Montreal had no fifth-round pick in 2001 due to a 2000 draft-day trade for Buffalo’s sixth-round pick (Montreal selected Petr Chvojka) The Habs also parted ways with their eighth-round pick (235th) for Ottawa’s Andreas Dackell.

In the end, Montreal came armed with two firsts, and one pick each in the second, third, fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth rounds. Five years later, they have three NHL regulars, two solid AHL contributors, two players developing in Europe, and only one pick that is no longer with the organization. Considering the Habs’ draft history to that point, this draft represented more than just a bumper crop – it was the harvest that ended a long developmental famine that signaled the arrival of brighter days ahead.

The eight picks have played a total of 278 NHL games, for an average of 35 games per pick.

Mike Komisarek, D – 1st round, 7th overall (University of Michigan, NCAA)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 140
DOB: 01/19/1982, 6’4, 237 lbs

The 6’4, 237-pound rearguard has slowly but surely worked his way up the ranks and now stands as a solid contributor on the Habs’ blue line. Big things were expected from this imposing West Islip, NY product early in his career, but consistency never caught up to potential – that is, until this season.

The Habs, with their new-found commitment to easing prospects into the league, took their time with Komisarek, allowing him to split time between Montreal and Hamilton, waiting for him to establish his presence. In his first two pro seasons, Komisarek spent 21 and 46 games respectively in 2002-03 and 2003-04. Following the lockout, Komisarek was expected to play a bigger role in the team’s success – and he delivered.

This season, 2005-06, Komisarek stayed the entire season with the big club and even broke through with this first and second goals of his career. He also showed his defensive prowess, earning a +4 ranking and increased time on the ice. Komisarek has learned to use his size and positioning to be a steady, but not spectacular, regular presence on the blue line. Comfortably entrenched as the team’s fourth or fifth defenseman, Komisarek hasn’t shown the offensive flair needed to move up the depth chart, but he does project to be a steady defensive presence for years to come.

Alexander Perezhogin, F – 1st round, 25th overall (from WAS) (Omsk Avangard, Russia
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 67
DOB: 08/10/1983, 5’10, 175 lbs

What turns the Linden trade with Washington from a steal to an all-out fleecing is the development of this 5’11 Russian winger. This year much was expected of the flashy forward, and he delivered. Although the level of competition and length of the season visibly wore him down as the year progressed.

Perezhogin was able to put the stigma of a reckless stick-swinging incident (which caused him to spend the lockout year suspended from the American Hockey League) behind him and parlay the promise he showed in the Russian Super League (during the lockout) into performance on the ice. At one point riding shotgun with Saku Koivu and Alex Kovalev, Perezhogin’s hot start cooled and he found himself sliding down the depth chart – even earning a trip back to Hamilton.

In the end, Perezhogin’s first season in the NHL in 2005-06 was one of promise. He played in 67 games, scoring nine goals en route to 19 points. He was defensively responsible, leading to a +5 ranking, and – more importantly – showed flashes of the offensive flair that the team has seen from him in the AHL. In six playoff games, Perezhogin added one goal and one assist.

Duncan Milroy, F – 2nd round, 27th overall (Swift Current, WHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 02/08/1983, 6’1, 198 lbs

Duncan Milroy is at a big crossroads in his career. Not only has the 6’1 Edmonton native has yet to make a dent on the NHL roster, he’s being passed by other prospects in the system. Milroy’s performance to date has been one of a steady and gradual progression through the ranks. However, with the loss of top teammates like Perezhogin, Chris Higgins, Jason Ward, and Marcel Hossa from Hamilton this season, the opportunity was there for Milroy to fill a void, and he was unable to do so.

Milroy’s production in 2005-06 remained virtually unchanged from his previous season, despite the extra opportunity. In 2004-05, Milroy was named the recipient of the Yannick Dupré trophy as the AHL’s man of the year.

With the size and heart to take it to the next level, Milroy needs to continue to work hard at the little things to set him apart from the pack. He could be a serviceable NHLer who combines defensive responsibility with the knack for chipping in with the odd goal.

Tomas Plekanec, F – 3rd round, 71st overall (Kladno, Czech Republic)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 70
DOB: 10/31/1982, 5’10, 189 lbs

The NHL’s commitment to opening up the game couldn’t have come at a better time for Tomas Plekanec. The 23-year-old Czech native was able to display both his hands and skill this season and steadily grew into one of the team’s brighter prospects. Appearing in 68 games this season, Plekanec scored nine goals and added 20 helpers en route to a +4 rating.

A question mark when he broke camp as one of a trio of highly-touted rookie forwards (along with Higgins and Perezhogin), Plekanec showed he belonged. After enjoying two games in the NHL during the 2003-04 season, he was not interested in returning to the minors and showed that he has the skill, the shot, and the offensive prowess to play a role in the NHL.

He also showed his ability to perform under pressure, being one of the highlights of the Habs abbreviated playoff run in 2005-06. In just six games, Plekanec chimed in with four assists and a +2 rating, despite the team’s eventual ouster by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Martti Jarventie, D – 4th round, 109th overall (compensatory pick) (TPS Turku, Finland)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 1
DOB: 06/04/1976, 5’11, 196 lbs

The 30-year-old defenseman has spent the majority of his career in Finland. He spent one year, following this draft, as a member of the AHL’s Quebec Citadelles and had a cup of coffee with the Habs in a one-game call-up. But the majority of his time has been spent effectively plying his trade in the Finnish Elite League, and the last three seasons he’s found a home in Jokerit.

Chances are, considering the comfortable life that Finnish players can enjoy playing in front of hometown crowds, Jarventie’s NHL days are long behind him. Another factor that would preclude Jarventie’s return is his age.

Eric Himelfarb, C – sixth round, 171st overall (Sarnia, OHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 01/01/1983, 5’9, 170 lbs

Eric Himelfarb continues to ply his trade in the AHL, however he’s no longer under the employ of the Canadiens who chose not to re-sign the 5’10 Thornhill, ON product. After getting cut from the Ottawa Senators’ training camp and spending an overage year in Kingston of the Ontario Hockey League, Himelfarb was signed by the Detroit Red Wings and immediately called up to their Grand Rapids affiliate in the AHL.

Himelfarb has never lived up to the expectations that followed him after being drafted as an underager by the Sarnia Sting. However, his noted work ethic and continued solid performance at the AHL level may end up leading him to the NHL – just not with the club that drafted him.

Andrew Archer, D — 7th round, 203rd overall (Guelph, OHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 05/15/1983, 6’4, 217 lbs

Andrew Archer almost seems like a pick from a different time. The rugged rearguard from Calgary has served as the muscle on the Hamilton Bulldogs’ blue line for the past three years. Hampered by injuries, the 6’4, 217-pound defenseman he has not developed as quickly as one would have hoped, but he’s been a steady presence and continues to develop both his offensive and defensive game.

Although he’s only played one full season in the AHL (2004-05, when he appeared in 68 games) he showed enough promise that year to make people think that the seventh rounder may have what it takes to play a role in the NHL. He’s got the size, he’s got the defensive acumen, and – in his one full season – he added 11 points to show that he has a bit of offensive spark to him.

Size, speed, effort, and dedication have made up for any offensive shortcomings. And the 23-year-old still has the time to develop and blossom in a system not exactly rife with blue-chip blueliners.

Viktor Ujcik, F – 9th round, 266th overall (Slavia Praha, Czech Republic)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 05/24/1972, 5’10, 194 lbs

Ujcik was a pick similar to that of Jarventie – nice to have if it panned out, but the forward has found a home overseas and will probably never see North American shores.

The Czech forward is comfortably ensconced in Finland as an import forward and will most likely play out his career in the Finnish Elite League.

But that wasn’t the extent of the harvest of talent that the Habs were able to reap from the 2001 Entry Draft. In fact, arguably their biggest contributor to the team’s current success was picked up in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Kings. Using the 214th pick overall, the Kings picked up a little-known Swiss goaltender from Lugano – Cristobal Huet.

Obtained as an extra in the three-team trade that saw Radek Bonk and Huet traded to the Habs for Mathieu Garon and the Habs’ third-round pick (95th overall) in the 2004 entry draft, Montreal faithful can be forgiven if they consider Huet as the world’s greatest throw-in. All Huet has done is come out of nowhere to become the Canadiens’ starting goaltender, and allow coach and general manager to relieve himself of some financial burden – not to mention a few headaches – by giving him the confidence to trade former starting netminder Jose Theodore.

Montreal was also able to pick up the New York Rangers’ 2001 third-round selection earlier this year. Garth Murray, the Regina Pats’ prospect, was picked by the Blueshirts with the 16th pick overall five years ago. The Canadiens parted ways with the second of their 2000 first-round picks, Marcel Hossa (16th overall) in return for the rugged forward.

While the trade was much maligned by fans early in the year as they felt they were giving up a sniper for a plugger, Murray has insinuated himself into the Habs’ big-league line-up, adding a measure of nastiness that was missing from the roster, while regaining some of the scoring prowess that he showed in the junior ranks.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.