Canadiens 2004 draft evaluation

By Jason Menard

The picks the Montreal Canadiens had in the 2004 NHL entry draft continue to pay dividends for the Habs, not just with the players who were drafted, but also with the marquee player who was obtained for the club’s second-round selection.

At the end of it all, the Habs had nine draft choices in what was the last year of the nine-round NHL entry draft. Of those nine picks, four are legitimate NHLers (though not all with the Canadiens), two still have a limited chance to see action with the big club, two could be considered failed picks, and one remains an enigma.

Over the previous two seasons, the Canadiens wheeled and dealed, ending up with a pick in every round but the second. And while the second round is a premium position, that pick — along with Josef Balej — was turned into Alex Kovalev. At the time, the trade was considered a playoff rental, but it has since paid dividends as a long-term relationship.

The club also peddled its own fourth-round selection in 2003, trading it to the Minnesota Wild for Jim Dowd. They were comfortable trading that pick, because the Canadiens had previously obtained Chicago’s fourth-round selection in return for Sergei Berezin. Montreal also had San Jose’s third-round pick, obtained in the 2003 trade for Jeff Hackett, but that pick was then passed on to the L.A. Kings, along with Mathieu Garon, in the deal that brought Cristobal Huet and Radek Bonk to Montreal. Their final extra pick, the first of their two ninth-round selections, was a compensatory pick earned by losing Group III free agent Bill Lindsay.

Kyle Chipchura, C, Prince Albert Raiders WHL
1st round (18th overall) 
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 49

Chipchura remains a part of the Canadiens’ future, although claiming a roster spot has proven to be a challenge for the Westlock, AB native. Chipchura has enjoyed success, albeit at the AHL level, including winning a championship in his early foray with the Hamilton Bulldogs. He’s bounced back and forth between the Habs and its AHL affiliate, displaying solid defensive play at both levels, and a knack for scoring key goals at the AHL level.

In 49 NHL games, Chipchura has scored four goals and 10 assists. He’s continually lauded for his leadership ability and his work in all facets of the game. This year it’s expected that Chipchura will finally nail down that roster spot and be able to call Montreal his long-term home.

Alexei Yemelin, D, Samara, Russia
3rd round (84th overall)

Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Two summers ago, the Canadiens were expecting Yemelin to come to North America to join the Bulldogs following a solid training camp with the Habs. However, by the end of the summer, Yemelin had signed a contract with a Russian club, and was bound to Kazan Ak-Bars for two to three years. The Habs were disappointed with the decision, but were powerless to act.

Unfortunately, Yemelin’s development has been delayed, playing in a league that’s not as appreciative of his style of play. There’s still an opportunity for Yemelin to rejoin the club, but that’s dependent upon his contract status. He’s a quality defensive prospect who plays with an edge — unfortunately that edge tends to get dulled when you spend so much time in the penalty box.

J.T. Wyman, RW, Blake School MNHS 
4th round (100th overall)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Wyman’s enjoyed a solid rookie campaign at both the AHL and ECHL levels. Following graduation from Dartmouth College last season, Wyman played in eight games in the AHL. This year, the Wayzata, MN native bounced between Cincinnati and Hamilton, scoring six goals and adding 13 assists in 67 professional games.

At 6’4, Wyman has prototypical power forward size and remains a prospect with the club, although more of a depth player. He could spend a significant amount of time in the minor-pro ranks and likely will be a career AHLer unless his development accelerates greatly this season. This season will determine whether he will continue to remain a prospect, as his hold on that status is tenuous at best.

 Mikhail Grabovski, C, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik
5th round (150th overall)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 105

All the tools, but no toolbox. That’s the determination the Canadiens came to about their fifth-round selection. Grabovski received ample opportunity to stick with the Habs, often electifying observers, but his on-ice returns were modest at best. In 24 games, Grabovski scored only three goals with the Habs, which wasn’t enough to off-set his defensive liabilities. He was traded to the Maple Leafs in the 2008 offseason for a 2009 second-round selection and defensive prospect Greg Pateryn.

The Habs’ brass thought that Grabovski would only be successful on a top-six forward role, something he was not likely to earn with the Habs. With a less-talented Leafs squad, he performed well, scoring 20 goals and earning 48 points in 78 NHL games. However, his season was marred by immature moments and time spent in the coach’s dog house. That said, Grabovski will likely remain a key contributor to the Leafs’ offense.

Loic Lacasse, G, Baie-Comeau Drakkar QMJHL 
6th round (181st overall)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Lacasse’s contract with the Habs is up shortly, and it’s not likely that the netminder will be retained. He could be signed by an affiliate to fill a role in the system, either in Cincinnati or Hamilton.

In the ECHL playoffs, where Cincinnati was eliminated in the semi-finals, Lacasse split netminding duties with Ryan Nie. He played in 11 games, posting a 5-5 record behind a 3.25 GAA and a .890 save percentage. His NHL prospects appear dim, but he could carve out a career at the minor-pro level.

Jon Gleed, D, Cornell University NCAA
7th round (212th overall)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Gleed has bounced around the minor leagues, both in and out of the Habs’ farm system. After the club decided not to renew his contract, Gleed found himself in the Islanders organization, playing for both the Utah Grizzlies and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He signed a contract on May 14 with Bridgeport, locking him in that organization for another season.

At 6’2, 210 pounds, Gleed showed promise coming out of Cornell University, but was unable to progress in a way that kept pace with the organization’s other defensive prospects. With a thinner minor league system, Gleed may be able to enjoy more success in the Islanders organization.

Gregory Stewart, L, Peterborough Petes OHL
8th round (246th overall)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL games Played: 21

On a team short of muscle, Stewart came in this season to beef up the Habs’ bottom line. While his hands are known more for their pugilism than their puck skills, Stewart showed enough in all aspects of the game to stick with the club for 20 games. He played in 20 games, with only one assist to his name, although he enjoyed more success in the AHL level with seven goals and 10 assists in 51 games, racking up 170 points.

Stewart likely will remain a marginal prospect at the NHL level, filling in only for spot duty with the club when size matters. Otherwise, his style of game doesn’t seem to fit as greatly in today’s NHL — especially if he’s not able to contribute with points as much as punches.

Mark Streit, D, Zurich Swiss-A
9th round (262nd overall)
Status: NHL player
NHL Games Played: 279

The Swiss-born overager Streit was the steal of the draft. Using the Bill Lindsay compensatory pick, the Habs picked up a future power-play point man. After a solid pair of seasons with the Habs, the latter replacing Sheldon Souray as the Habs’ power-play quarterback, Streit left for the green(back)er pastures of the Islanders. The Habs deemed the Islanders offer too great for the value they placed upon him, choosing not to match the free agent offer.

Compounding the problem, the Habs couldn’t decide where Streit’s value truly lied. He played both forward and defense with the Canadiens, but they club couldn’t confirm a position for the now-32-year-old. Over the three-and-a-half-year duration of his NHL career, Streit’s scored 41 goals and 124 assists in 279 games with both the Habs and the Islanders. It’s safe to say that Streit is the top NHLer taken by the Habs in this 2004 entry draft.

Alexandre Dulac-Lemelin, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar QMJHL 
9th round (278th overall)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Dulac-Lemelin, who participated in 14 games during the 2007-08 season with the ECHL‘s Cincinnati franchise, was signed in the summer by the IHL’s Fort Wayne Komets. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out well for him in Michigan, as the 6’4 blueliner was assigned to a non-roster spot early in the season before being passed, unclaimed, through waivers.

The Levis, QC native has flamed out in his chance with the Habs and appears to have a long road back to the pro ranks — even though he’s only one year removed from junior hockey. He could get picked up by another NHL franchise, but his long-term projections are not promising.