Canadiens 2000 Draft Review
Canadiens Stay Close To Home on Draft Day
In a draft which was dominated by players overseas, the Canadiens opted to stay close to home with their draft selections. Despite adding several full-time European scouts, specifically Dave King, the Habs focused on American-born players in the College and high school ranks for a second year in a row after neglecting the NCAA route for years. To continue the trend started in ’99, Montreal primarily drafted blueliners, particularly when they drafted south of the border; all five college and high school players drafted over the last two years are defensemen.
This trend surprisingly started quickly in this year’s draft. With Montreal’s first pick, they selected Ron Hainsey: a College player with offensive tools. The swift skating defenseman out of Hockey East plays with poise, intelligence and has terrific vision to make crisp outlet passes out of his own zone; something the Canadiens desperately need. However, he was pegged as a late first round draft pick, and perhaps even an early second rounder. Is this yet another foolish move by the Canadiens’ management?
While the Canadiens most likely could have selected the Czech center Nedorost, and waited to call out Hainsey’s name with their second selection, it was an unnecessary risk which would put a dent in the Canadiens’ long term plan. After years of selecting lumbering behemoths on skates, the targeted players in each draft need speed, quickness, intelligence and creativity. This is a similar strategy in which the Red Wings and Devils’ superb Cup-winning franchises were built: good team speed, puck control and positioning. If the defensemen can’t get the puck up to the forwards, the team will have a difficult time creating chances offensively. This is an area which has needed to be addressed for the greater part of this past decade, and it seems management has finally caught on. There’s three parts to this plan: goaltending, defense, forwards. With Theodore in the NHL, and Garon, Tarasov, and Lindsay in the prospect ranks, the first phase is complete. The second is a work in process, and the third has yet to begin.
However, not everything is fine and dandy with this selection. Hainsey does offer something which none of the current Canadiens defensemen do, in that he makes good decisions with the puck, and he’s creative. However, like at least four other defensemen in the prospect ranks (Markov, Mikkola, Beauchemin, DeWolf), not to mention Bouillon, who offer a similar package, they all have a similar shortcoming: size. Despite the fact that DeWolf and Hainsey have a good frame, neither use their size to their advantage. The need for mid-sized defensemen with offensive tools, but whose strength is exposed in play down low is limited. This could mean that negotiations with Andrei Markov have come to a halt, which would not come as a surprise seeing as how the young Russian defenseman wants to be assured a spot on the pro team, while earning first round money.
While the selection of Hainsey is a less than stellar pick as he does not have the potential to be a top flight defenseman, it’s certainly not a bad pick. Hainsey fits into the Canadiens’ plan, and that’s what matters. He will help fill the need for two-way creative defensemen who make intelligent decisions. While Orpik is an intriguing selection, and a selection which was expected around the Canadiens’ pick, he does not add the attributes which the Canadiens need more. Orpik’s a rugged defensive defenseman, who has a presence and adds a physical dimension to any game. But the Canadiens acquired Souray, who has a similar stature and upside as Orpik, to fill this role. Carkner, who could make the club as a depth defenseman, also fills the role as he boasts a larger frame and injects pain into his opponents as well as anyone. And while Laflamme, and Rivet are diminutive in comparison, their game is physical, and in the trenches. The Canadiens have enough physical defensemen, and it’s easier to obtain a physical presence than it is to acquire talent.
With their second pick in the first round, the Canadiens began the third phase of the building process: forwards. With this pick, the Canadiens once again selected a player who was predicted to go late in the first round or perhaps even early on in the second: Marcel Hossa. However, that doesn’t take away from Hossa’s talent. While he won’t be the force his brother has already become, the younger Hossa has all the tools to make his own name in the NHL. He’s a creative centerman who doesn’t have any glaring flaws. Hossa, like his brother, doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff or digging in the corners for the puck, though he excels in the open ice. He boasts a large frame, however, he’s quick and accelerates very well. While his positioning could use some work, he’s a raw talent with enough offensive tools to become a strong second line center.
To make Hossa feel more at home in a city which expects each first round draft pick to become a 50-goal scorer, the Canadiens selected his linemate Jozef Balej. The Slovakian is one of the fastest skaters in the draft, but he’s also one of the smaller players. The 5’11 170lbs right winger doesn’t have a natural scoring ability, nor is he a terrific playmaker, but he does bring other attributes to the table. Balej brings a tremendous work ethic, and he’s one of the better forechecking players due to his positioning and incredible speed. He’s an aggressive, borderline cheap shot artist, who doesn’t take abuse, despite his lack of size.
With their last pick before the draft becomes a complete crapshoot, the Canadiens drafted yet another defenseman. This time it’s a rugged, hard-nosed, crease-clearing, glove-dropping (if needed) defenseman out of Brampton of the OHL. Tyler Hanchuck adds to the depth of physical defensemen on the Canadiens, and he isn’t far from the NHL. The young defenseman needs to work on his decision making with the puck, and could use some more muscle added to his large 6’3 210lbs frame in order to maintain his physical presence in the pros.
Although there are question marks surrounding each draft pick, the Canadiens have drafted with a long-term scheme in mind. Unlike in past drafts, the Habs drafted with a purpose and plan, without any political influence. The birthplace of their draftees is insignificant, and the size of a player isn’t the most intriguing aspect of a player’s attributes. While Montreal surprised many with their drafting, this has been a step in the right direction for the Canadiens future.