When it came to getting the players they covet, the Montreal Canadiens are showing the National Hockey League that they’re more than willing to go all Monty Hall on draft day and play Let’s Make a Deal.
The team played a high-risk game of cat and mouse in the first round, but ended up getting everything they wanted –- and then some.
“Coming into this draft our goal was to trade down and acquire another second-round pick,” explained Trevor Timmins, the Montreal Canadiens’ director of player personnel. “We felt we could get the guy we wanted in the first round a little later, and there was a pool of players in the second round that we wanted to bring into our organization.”
In what was a bit of a surprise, the Habs flopped picks with the San Jose Sharks, trading their 16th pick in return for the Shark’s first and second rounders (20th and 53rd, overall). Timmins said they were able to exact such a high return for swapping four spots due to a bit of a bidding war.
“[San Jose] had called us and wanted to move up and they offered us their third-rounder,” he said. “Then another team called and offered their second-round choice for the pick. San Jose matched and their second-round selection actually came before the other team’s.”
In the end, the Habs got their man, picking Apple Valley High School defenseman David Fischer with their first-round pick.
“We would have happily taken [Fischer] at 16,” Timmins explained. “But we took a calculated risk. We looked at the teams that would be picking before us and we didn’t think they would choose him. Throughout the year, you get an idea of who people like. You take notice of who is in the rink.”
Timmins added that the team was able to obtain players that they really were keen on – including a couple of surprises – and were able to fortify some areas that were in need of some support. They also chose to strike while the iron was hot, moving up in the third round later in the draft at the expense of their own third and fourth-round selections.
“We added good depth to areas of the organization that may have lacked a little,” Timmins explained. “We shored up the defense and we added some grit. I think it was a very productive day for our organization.”
David Fischer, D
1st round (20th overall)
Apple Valley, USHSW
Ht: 6’3, Wt: 185
“We know this player as well as anybody could know a player,” Timmins said, which may explain why the Habs took what many may perceive to be a chance with this young rearguard from Minnesota who was ranked the 29th North American player by NHL’s Central Scouting.
Timmins explained that a Minnesota-based scout in the Canadiens’ organization actually coached Fischer as part of a 16-year-old camp. It was that familiarity and the perceived upside of this player that made the selection a no-brainer.
Fischer is a solid, two-way defenseman with significant offensive upside. Named the state’s Mr. Hockey for 2006, Fischer will be patrolling the blue line for the University of Minnesota next year.
“We liked all the things that he brings to the game,” Timmins said. “He’s a great skater, great agility, he’s a high skill player. And he’s got some bite to his game.”
Timmins added that Fischer’s leadership abilities didn’t go unnoticed, playing on teams with fellow prospects and first-rounders Kyle Okposo (NYI) and Peter Mueller (PHX).
“When it comes to talking about Fischer we’re talking about upside and we like what we see,” Timmins said.
Ben Maxwell, C
2nd round (49th overall)
Ht: 6’, Wt: 177
The Habs were surprised that the smooth-skating Maxwell was still there when their first of two second-round selections, having ranked him in the first round. However, they didn’t hesitate to add this playmaking center to the organization when it came time to announce the 49th pick of the draft.
“We like his skating upside, he’s a very cerebral player and very intelligent with the puck,” Timmins explained. “He can project to being a top-two center for the team.”
Maxwell exploded in his sophomore season, racking up 28 goals and 32 assists in 69 games. His play also earned him a spot on the under-18 national team and the CHL/NHL prospects game this season. Maxwell was the 44th-ranked North American according to NHL Central Scouting’s final numbers.
Mathieu Carle, D
2nd round (53rd overall)
Ht: 6’, Wt: 206
The Habs continued to shore up their blue line with this home-grown product. Carle has some offensive punch to his game, potting 18 goals and adding 51 assists for the QMJHL’s Titan.
Timmins explained that Carle’s style of play fits in well with the NHL’s new offensive-oriented focus. “The thing we liked best about him were his positioning and his passing,” he explained. “We think he’s one of the best passers in the entire draft.”
In fact, Carle’s offensive prowess is so promising, Timmins added that he could foresee the young blueliner as a defensive quarterback at the NHL level.
Ryan White, C
3rd round, (66th overall)
Ht: 5’11, Wt: 200
If the Habs were shocked that Maxwell was still around in the second round, they were absolutely flabbergasted that White was still on the board in the third. Because of that – and unwilling to risk White getting snatched up by another team – Timmins advocated a move up in the third round to pick White.
“We had to step up and get this guy – it was similar to what happened last year with [Guillaume] Latendresse.”
The Habs packaged their third and fourth-round selections to the Philadelphia Flyers to move up from the 79th selection to the 66th overall where they chose the gritty center/winger from Calgary.
“We really did our homework on White and did all of the research,” Timmins explained, adding that White – who was projected to go in the first round of the draft – may have felt the backlash of a lackadaisical approach to training earlier this year.
“He didn’t come into the under-18 camp in shape and he got a bit of a bad rap because of that,” Timmins explained. “I think he learned a lot last summer. At the combine he came in great shape and had lost 20 pounds.”
The fact that White was passed over so often may be a blessing in disguise for the Habs. “We’re going to see big things from him this season,” Timmins explained. “He’s disappointed that he went in the third round and he’s going to come in with a chip on his shoulder wanting to prove some people wrong.”
White, ranked 27th amongst North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting, adds some grit and scrappiness to a Habs organization that is desperately looking for that type of player. He finished the season with 20 goals and 33 assists in 70 games while displaying a rugged edge to his game.
Pavel Valentenko, D
5th round (139th overall)
Neftekamsk, Russia 1st Division
Ht: 6’2, Wt: 202
Timmins compared the big Russian blueliner to another player in the organization, Alexei Emelin. “He’s a defensive defenseman with a big, heavy shot who plays physical,” Timmins explained.
The young Russian caught Timmins’ eye during his participation in a Russian touring that played against CHL All-Stars. “After that we sent some scouts out to watch him – the rink where they went to see him was nasty cold – probably the coldest, most unpleasant place they’ve ever seen.”
Cameron Cepek, D
7th round (199th overall)
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 170
Cepek didn’t play much this season due to a broken wrist that saw him sidelined for all but a handful of games. However, he made enough of an early impression on the Habs brass.
“We got a good look at him early and we locked on to him,” Timmins said. “We’re hoping we got a sleeper in him.”
Cepek’s injury cost him the opportunity to garner much in the way of exposure, however, the Huntington Beach, CA native was racking up an impressive season before his injury derailed it. In just 21 games, the blueliner had two goals and eight assists for the Winter Hawks – more than doubling his previous year’s total output over 66 games. The rearguard also plays with some edge, as he was well on his way to eclipsing his WHL rookie campaign’s total of 104 PIMs with a total of 71 in just over a quarter of a season.
In the end, the Habs bolstered their organizational defensive depth by selecting four blueliners. Although they’ve added two centers, White has played the wing, so Timmins said he feels they’ve addressed their main areas of concern: defense and grit.
And now the next step is to get the kids in camp. Timmins explained that they’ll be part of a development camp coming up in a couple of weeks in July. “We’re going to bring them in for development and get our stamp on them right away,” he said. “We want to get our fingerprints on them as soon as we can!”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.