Jury is still out on Montreal Canadiens 2009 NHL Draft class

By David Thicke

Louis Leblanc - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Forward Louis Leblanc was selected 18th overall in 2009 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. Leblanc is currently in his third season as a pro. (courtesy of Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

The 2008-09 NHL season was one of disappointment, turmoil, and failure for the Montreal Canadiens. After a first place finish the previous season, the team barely slipped into the Stanley Cup Playoffs and were swept in the first round by their longtime rivals, the Boston Bruins.

During the season, General Manager Bob Gainey decided to fire Coach Guy Carbonneau and return behind the bench to evaluate his team up close. Gainey went on to make wholesale changes to the NHL roster, through both free agency and trade. These moves are still debated today by Canadiens' fans young and old.

Montreal would keep all seven of their available selections while picking up the final selection of the 2009 NHL Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for the Canadiens' sixth round selection in 2010. Three of the prospects, Alexander Avtsin, Dustin Walsh, and Petteri Simila have already been released by Montreal and Michael Cichy is not likely to be signed before this summer's deadline. The jury is still out on Louis Leblanc, Joonas Nattinen, Mac Bennett, and Gabriel Dumont who are still in the organization's development system at this time.

Louis Leblanc, C, Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 1st Round, 18th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 50

Louis Leblanc was selected by the Canadiens for his intensity, passion, and the ability to play all facets of the game. The Montreal director of scouting, Trevor Timmins, believed that the mature and smart Quebec-born centerman would be able to handle the pressures of being Montreal's top draft choice for 2009. Leblanc was coming off a USHL Rookie of the Year award where he led the Omaha Lancers in scoring with 28 goals and 31 assists in 60 games.

Montreal felt Leblanc would have plenty of time to fill out physically while developing his overall game through the NCAA route at Harvard University. Leblanc played only his freshman season at Harvard and again leading his team in scoring with 23 points in 31 games. He left Harvard and returned to Montreal to pursue hockey at the junior level in QMJHL the following year.

Leblanc would play just one season with the Montreal Juniors in the QMJHL before turning pro the following season. He was once again one of the top offensive players for his team, putting up 58 points in 51 games. The feisty centerman also made Team Canada for the 2011 WJC tournament, playing a big role offensively and killing penalties while collecting seven points in seven games.

He started his rookie pro season late, as he was recovering from shoulder surgery, but would split time between the AHL and NHL levels. He appeared to be ready to make the jump to the Canadiens on a full-time basis coming into the 2012-13 season, but his game seemed to regress following an ankle injury early in the 2012 season. The high ankle sprain hurt his speed and aggressiveness along the boards. His numbers were not impressive and left Montreal's management no choice but return him to the AHL level again this year.

Leblanc has seen two short stints with the Canadiens but failed to stick with the parent club. The 23-year-old chose a difficult route playing in four different leagues since being drafted by the Canadiens almost five years ago but there is still a good chance Leblanc will get to the NHL level in the near future.

Joonas Nattinen, C, Espoo Blues (Jr. A SM-liiga) – 3rd Round, 65th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

The Canadiens believed Joonas Nattinen would not be available this late in the draft after playing on the first power play unit for his junior team as a 17- year-old. They felt the big rangy centerman possessed the size, speed, a solid two-way game, and a great shot. He was a type of player the organization needed up the middle of the ice.

Nattinen would play the next two years in the senior Finnish league but did not receive much playing time and was unable to score any goals. It was difficult as a younger player to get top line minutes at that level. He decided to leave for North American in order to develop his overall game at the AHL level.

The big centerman would play all the forward positions in his rookie season with the Hamilton Bulldogs. His game improved as the year progressed and he adjusted to the speed and size of the players in the AHL. His 2012-13 season was cut short by shoulder surgery.

For the 2013-14 season, Nattinen is playing on the bottom six for Hamilton but is slowly regaining his offensive game. He received a short one game call-up but saw only two short four line shifts in a difficult game for the Canadiens. There is still time for the 23-year-old to take his overall game to another level in order to play in the NHL but he must remain healthy and show more improvement.

Mac Bennett, D, Hotchkiss School (Connecticut Prep) – 3rd Round, 79th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

His family's NHL pedigree was not the reason the Montreal Canadiens selected Mac Bennett in the 2009 draft. The team liked his excellent skating and believed he could be a good puck-moving defenseman with offensive potential. An organization can never have enough of this type of blueliners in their talent pool. The 18-year-old would be taking the NCAA route with the University of Michigan after a year in the USHL.

After a solid offensive and defensive season with the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL, Bennett joined the powerful Michigan Wolverines. His offensive numbers increased each year as well as his ice time. The mobile defender opted to return for his senior year at Michigan as the team's captain instead of turning pro or exploiting a free agency loophole after his junior year. He is capable of more offensive upside and should rejoin his Wolverine defense partner, Greg Pateryn in Hamilton when his final year is over.

There is plenty of time left for Bennett to prove his selection at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft was a very good one.

Alexander Avtsin, RW, Dynamo Moscow 2 (RUS-3) – 4rd Round, 109th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens decided the risk of selecting another Russian-born player was well worth it, despite their past troubles with other prospects returning to Russia. The team's scouting department believed that Alexander Avtsin possessed good upside and liked his combination of size and offensive skill. The 18-year-old was planning on coming to North America after the 2009-10 season.

The big winger played in the KHL and the MHL with the Dynamos. He collected 18 points in 42 games. The Quebec Remparts held his QMJHL rights but Avtsin was sent to Hamilton as a 19-year-old instead of playing a year at the junior level. This would prove to be a costly mistake. The young Russian struggled to adapt to the North American style with Hamilton over the next three years. He showed flashes of brilliance offensively but could not seem to please his coaches with his defensive play and lacked the nightly consistency. Last season, Avtsin refused to report to the ECHL in March and left the team for good. The Canadiens released him after he cleared waivers in May of 2013.

Avtsin is currently bouncing around the KHL and VHL.

Gabriel Dumont, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL) – 5th Round, 139th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 15

The Montreal Canadiens loved Gabriel Dumont's attitude and passion to give it his all every game. Despite his small stature, the organization saw a skilled forward who played with an edge. His playing with a bad shoulder at the 2009 Memorial Cup helped their decision to select him at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Dumont finished his fourth year in the QMJHL with an impressive 51 goals and 94 points playing alongside Sean Couturier (PHI). His playoff numbers were equally good, finishing with 21 points in 14 games.

The gritty centerman turned pro in 2010 and has spent the last three seasons at the AHL level with the Bulldogs. His offensive numbers keep improving with each new season as a pro. He continues to gain opportunities at the NHL level, but cannot seem to stick with the parent club. His overall game continues to develop however, and Dumont should get a chance to play in the NHL someday, whether it is with the Canadiens or another team.

Dustin Walsh, C, Kingston Voyageurs (OJHL) – 6th Round, 169th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Dustin Walsh was selected by the Canadiens for his toughness, offensive upside, and potential to grow into his lanky frame. He put up excellent offensive numbers in his draft year and Montreal's scouts believed he was barely scratching the surface.

Taking the NCAA route with Dartmouth, Walsh put okay offensive numbers in his first two seasons showing good promise. A hip injury in his junior year sidelined the tall centerman for most of his junior season and he never seemed to fully recover his skating or playmaking skills with the Big Green. He was not offered a contract by the Canadiens following his graduation in 2013.

Michael Cichy, C, Indiana Ice (USHL) – 7th Round, 199th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Montreal selected Michael Cichy for his playmaking skills and excellent hockey sense. He was a small player with room to grow and his skating technique needed improvement but the team could not overlook his ability to play the game. The USHL standout was committed to North Dakota which was a good development program and he was going to be Danny Kristo's (NYR) roommate.

After two unproductive seasons at North Dakota, where Cichy had trouble getting playing time, he decided to transfer to Western Michigan University. This move forced the centerman to forego a whole season of playing and developing his overall game. His red-shirted junior season was okay but nothing spectacular. He is currently in his final season at the NCAA level and it appears like his overall game has regressed. It is highly unlikely that Cichy will be offered a contract by the Canadiens.

Petteri Simila, G, Oulun Karpat JR (Jr. A SM-liiga) -7th Round, 211th overall
Status: Released
NHL Games Played: 0

This selection was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins on the last day of the draft. The Canadiens felt it was better to pick Petteri Simila at this year's draft then wait until next year and have to use an early round selection on him. Being a 6'6 goaltender, he fit the new NHL goalie mold. His size would help with the rule changes for defensemen not being able to move players from the front of net. Also factored into Montreal's decision to choose him, was that the Finnish netminder would be playing with the Niagara Ice Dogs of the OHL for the 2009-10 season.

Simila struggled in his rookie season in the OHL and lost his starting job with the Ice Dogs to Mark Visentin (PHX). With a diminished role and traded to the Barrie Colts, the young goaltender decided to return home and signed a two-year contract with Kalpa. He played in the junior Finnish league as well as at the 2010 WJC Tournament for Team Finland. His game seemed to slide downhill and he struggled at the senior pro level.

Simila has bounced around the Finnish Mestis league for the last couple of years. Goalies have tendency to develop their games much later than forwards and defensemen but the Canadiens' Mr. Irrelevant is likely not going to become relevant any time soon.