Montreal Canadiens picked up key contributors in 2006 Draft

By Jason Menard
Photo: Taken in the second round, Ben Maxwell is on the cusp of playing in the NHL on a regular basis. (Photo courtesy of

The Canadiens took an uncharacteristic draft-day risk in 2006, with their eyes on a first-round prize, but holding a desire to obtain and extra second-round pick, they traded down and still got their man.

And although their man has not panned out the way they hoped, they did manage to pick up some key contributors to their current roster throughout the draft. Of the six players selected in the draft, four have a solid shot to be long-term NHL contributors — and three of those are still a part of the Habs’ organization.

Were it not for a first-rounder who didn’t develop as intended and a Russian blueliner who walked out on the team under questionable circumstances, this could have been considered a superlative draft for a Canadiens’ organization that was committed to rebuilding this franchise through the acquisition and development of young talent.

David Fischer, D, Apple Valley (USHSW) – 1st round, 20th overall
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Habs were enamored with the reigning Minnesota Mr. Hockey and were willing to pick him with their 16th overall selection. But when San Jose came calling and were willing to toss in a second-round selection to move up four picks, the Habs rolled the dice and still were able to get their man.

Unfortunately, that pick’s come up snake eyes and Fischer is no longer with the organization. After spending four years with the University of Minnesota and not developing the way they had hoped, Fischer is now in his first professional campaign with the ECHL‘s Florida Everblades, where he’s scored two goals and added 14 assists in 37 games.

At 6’3, but extremely slight, the team believed they had a worthwhile long-term investment on their hands. In addition to a challenging development path on the ice, off the ice, Fischer faced adversity with his mother’s cancer — and its subsequent return.

The club did not tender Fischer a contract and he became a free agent in August 2010. He spent the summer with the Vancouver Canucks‘ rookie camp, but was unable to catch on there either.

Ben Maxwell, C, Kootenay (WHL) – 2nd round, 49th overall
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 20

With Montreal’s second selection of the draft, they were pleased to find another player with whom they had assigned a first-round grade in Ben Maxwell. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons to end his junior career, patience appears to be paying off for the Habs as Maxwell has become a solid addition to their prospect pool.

The 6′ center has played 20 NHL games, but has been held pointless so far. Last year, he saw his first playoff action, suiting up for one game during Montreal’s surprising playoff run. However, he’s yet to translate his all-around game into a firm grip on a roster spot with the Habs.

He’s spent the past two seasons playing predominantly with the Hamilton Bulldogs, putting up 58 and 44-point seasons (last year’s campaign was only 57 games, where he scored 16 goals and spending 13 games — plus some press-box time — with the parent club).

Maxwell has gained about 20 pounds since his draft day and shows flashes of his talent. He just needs to remain consistent and stands as an injury call-up option for the Habs.

Mathieu Carle, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 53rd overall
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 3

With the pick obtained earlier from the San Jose Sharks, the Habs selected an offensive-minded blueliner, who they project as a potential future power-play quarterback.

Carle missed a significant part of last season due to an injury, but before suffering that setback, he managed to suit up for three games with the Habs. He’s spent the better part of four seasons playing with the AHL Bulldogs where he’s shown glimpses of the offensive potential that first drew scouts’ attention to him.

In his first two professional campaigns, Carle posted seasons of 24 and 29 points, before tailing off to 15 in just 31 games last year. This season, he’s gotten off to a flying start with 15 points in 36 games and the Gatineau, QC native is well on his way to posting career highs.

He’s currently working on a one-year contract with the Canadiens’ organization. Carle almost made the Canadiens’ roster coming out of training camp, but was a late cut due to the team’s desire to include an older, more physical presence on their blueline.

Ryan White, C, Calgary (WHL) – 3rd round, 66th overall
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 19

The Canadiens were delighted by the way the 2006 draft fell to them. Not only did they obtain Maxwell, a player they felt sure was going to go in the first round, but they also picked up Ryan White — a player who shocked many with his tumble into the third round.

However, feeling that their luck was about to run out, the Canadiens packaged their third and fourth-round selections to move up 13 spots. The Habs happily snapped up the rugged center and have been pleased with his progress to date. He’s currently on the NHL roster as a result of the injuries that the Canadiens have been facing this season, and he’s earned his way thanks to a solid, two-way game that’s set him up as a potential long-term third-line role with the club.

White’s known as a gritty, grinder type, but he’s shown that he has some hands to go with that edge. He scored a high of 34 goals in the WHL and has posted seasons of 11 and 17 goals in the AHL. He’s yet to score in the NHL, but has a couple of assists (and 21 penalty minutes) to his name.

The Brandon, MB-native has been caught in a numbers game over the past few years and will be looking to the injury-created opportunity he’s been given to make a claim at a long-term role with the club.

Pavel Valentenko, D, Neftekamsk (Russia) — 5th round, 139th overall
NHL Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens were enamored with the big-hitting, nasty Russian blueliner and were happy to add him to the organization. Unfortunately, their run of bad luck with Russian defensemen continued as Valentenko walked out on the Bulldogs in the 2008-09 season, signing a contract with the Moscow Dynamo of the KHL.

There were several rumors ab
out Valentenko’s motivation for returning to Russia — some regarding frustration with his playing time; others were more nefarious. This action came as Valentenko was away from the team — approved — to deal with family issues. He’s since explained as a desire to help his family financially — which he was better able to do under a KHL contract.

Eventually, the Canadiens gave up on the prospect, peddling him off to the New York Rangers, along with their prize blueline prospect Ryan McDonagh, Christopher Higgins, and Doug Janik in the Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, and Michael Busto trade.

Valentenko was injured for the most part of last season and missed all but eight games rehabbing a shoulder injury. With the financial issues now allegedly dealt with, he has since returned to North America and has resumed his pursuit of an NHL career with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate.

Cameron Cepek, D, Portland (WHL) — 7th round, 199th overall
NHL Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens took a flyer on this California-born blueliner, who they felt could be a sleeper pick. Not many teams had the opportunity to get a good look at the player before he suffered a broken wrist, which kept him sidelined for the majority of his draft-eligible year. The Habs had seen him a couple of times, liked what they saw, and thought they’d take a chance with the minimal investment that the 199th pick represents.

Not surprisingly, that pick didn’t pan out, but it was a worthy shot. Cepek finished his junior career as an overager with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, where he played in 69 games, and scored eight goals and 45 points — along with 142 penalty minutes.

The Canadiens did not sign the player, who then attended the Detroit Red Wings‘ training camp in 2008, where he was cut. He then played three games with the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters before dropping off the hockey map.