Montreal Canadiens mined some golden prospects in the 2007 Draft

By David Thicke
Photo: Taken in the second round of the 2007 Draft, P.K. Subban has quickly developed into one of the Canadiens’ top offensive threats from the blue line. (Photo courtesy of NHL)

The Montreal Canadiens, having just failed to make the 2006-07 Stanley Cup playoffs by one point, stockpiled draft picks over the 2006-07 season. The team would make nine selections in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, choosing six defensemen along with two big wingers and only one natural centerman.

Canadiens management struck gold, with four of their first five picks playing in the NHL and three presently with the NHL team. Even though the Canadiens’ first selection, Ryan McDonagh (NYR) was traded away, this draft group has still produced two rising stars for Montreal in P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty.

There are three players selected who are still prospects on the farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs and another player who has not yet finished his college career. Only one player of the nine selected, Nichlas Torp failed to sign with the Canadiens, making the 2007 Draft a very successful year for the organization.

Ryan McDonagh, D, Cretin-Derham (HIGH-MN) – 1st Round, 12th overall
Status: NHL Player (NYR)
NHL Games Played: 89

McDonagh was the prize that the Montreal Canadiens‘ management had their eye on prior to the start of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and were lucky enough to have him fall right into their laps. He was the big, mobile, puck moving defensive defenseman who had offensive upside to his game which was a big need for the Canadiens’ organization.

After his second solid season at the University of Wisconsin, McDonagh was traded by the Canadiens to the New York Rangers on June 30th, 2009 in the now infamous Scott Gomez trade. After a successful junior year, he decided to forego his senior year of university to sign an entry-level contract with the Rangers on July 6th, 2010. The young defenseman would start the 2010-11 season with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Connecticut Whale but was called-up to the NHL on January 3rd, 2011 after just 38 games into his first professional year. McDonagh scored the game winning goal and first of his NHL career against the New Jersey Devils on April 9th, 2011, giving New York the final playoff spot of the Eastern Conference. The big defenseman finished the year having played 40 NHL games and five Stanley Cup Playoff games.

McDonagh has become a big minute, stable, and reliable defenseman this season for the Rangers while playing in all game situations. He has scored four goals along with 15 assists and an excellent plus-17 rating in 49 NHL games so far in the 2011-12 season. The solid all-round defenseman has truly become the player that got away in the Gomez deal for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans.

Max Pacioretty, LW, Sioux City (USHL) – 1st Round, 22nd overall
Status: Graduated to the NHL.
NHL Games Played: 171

The Montreal Canadiens traded Craig Rivet to San Jose for Josh Gorges and their first round pick which allowed the Canadiens to select Max Pacioretty. At the 2007 NHL Entry draft, Montreal’s Director of Scouting and player development, Trevor Timmons felt that Pacioretty had the size, physical presence, good balance and speed to potentially be a power forward in the NHL similar to Erik Cole.

Pacioretty would only play his freshman year at the University of Michigan before jumping to sign an entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens. After two and a half years of being recalled to the NHL and re-assigned back to the AHL Bulldogs, the big young winger would finally start to play like the power forward that the Canadiens management saw when drafting him. His 2010-11 NHL season was ended just as Pacioretty was starting to show his full potential, by the infamous Zdeno Chara hit into the stanchion at the Bell Center on March 8th, 2011. He would suffer a fracture of the fourth cervical vertebra and a severe concussion from the vicious bodycheck.

Pacioretty returned for the 2011-12 NHL season with the hope and determination to prove that the severe injury would not hamper his development as an NHL power forward for the Montreal Canadiens. He has scored 18 goals along with 19 assists through 48 NHL games and has spent considerably time on a top line with Erik Cole and David Desharnais. Pacioretty has indeed turned out to be the hidden gem that Timmons was looking for in the 2007 NHL Entry draft.

P.K. Subban, D, Belleville (OHL) – 2nd Round, 43rd overall
Status: Graduated to the NHL.
NHL Games Played: 129

Subban was the second round selection by the Montreal Canadiens because he had impressed their scouts with his skating abilities, strength, conditioning, and hard point shot. The offensive defenseman, who could be as wild as a young colt, really improved his overall defensive game in the second half and into the playoffs of his draft year, making the decision to pick Subban very easy for the Canadiens.

After an outstanding fourth and final season in the OHL for the Belleville Bulls along with two WJC Tournament gold medals, Subban would start his first professional season in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs. The offensive defenseman improved his overall game while playing the complete season in the AHL but not without a mid-season call-up for two games. The young defenseman was impressive in his brief appearance. They recalled him on April 26th, 2010 during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoff against the Washington Capitals. Subban scored his first career NHL goal along with eight assists in 14 playoff games.

For 2010-11, Subban was thrust into the NHL spotlight as a rookie where he would score 14 goals while collecting 24 assists and a minus-eight rating in 77 NHL games.

The 2011-12 season has been a difficult one for the star defenseman. Subban has not put up the offensive numbers of his rookie season through 50 NHL games. He has scored just three goals along with 16 assists but has improved his defensive play. Subban has been the Canadiens’ number one defender with the absence of Markov and has played the shutdown role, power play, and penalty kill while logging big minutes this season. After scoring nine power play goals in his rookie year, the offensive defenseman has just one power play goal and the team’s power play has now fallen to 30th in the NHL.

Subban has clearly shown the Canadiens’ management he can be a future superstar in the NHL and that their risky decision to select him in the 2007 NHL Entry draft has struck gold.

Olivier Fortier, C, Rimouski (QJMHL) – 3rd Round, 65th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Montreal Canadiens would use their third round draft pick received from the Washington Capitals for Richard Zednik to select Fortier. Even after showing a noticeable offensive improvement in his draft year, the Canadiens’ organization chose him because the solid two-way centerman was a low maintenance player who had no real weaknesses in his overall game.

Fortier would suffer a string of injuries in his fourth season at the junior level which has slowed his overall development. He suffered a knee injury which kept him sidelined early in the season but the centerman returned to form at the end of year and into the QJMHL Playoffs. The Canadien’s chose to sign the two-way centerman to an entry-level contract despite missing most of his last year of junior due to injury.

Fortier made his professional debut in the last game of the 2009-10 AHL season after suffering a shoulder injury in the AHL pre-season. The rookie was able to play in 10 of the 19 AHL playoff games for the Bulldogs and scored his first goal, a game winner in the second round series against the Abbotsford Heat. In his second and third years at the AHL level, the two-way centerman has played solidly when he has remained healthy and in the Bulldogs’ lineup. Fortier’s development towards the NHL has suffered from his numerous injuries and he may never reach his potential as a third or fourth line checking forward in the NHL.

Yannick Weber, D, Kitchener (OHL) – 3rd Round, 73rd overall
Status: Graduated to the NHL
NHL Games Played: 90

The Canadiens continued to stockpile puck-moving defensemen in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft when they selected the Swiss-born, Weber on their second pick of the third round. The Team’s scouting staff was impressed by the blueliner’s poise, patience with the puck, his quick strike passing out of the defensive zone, mobility, and his hard shot. He was coming off a successful rookie season in his draft year with the Rangers where the offensive defenseman put up excellent numbers and ran Kitchener’s power play.

Weber had an even better second season with the Rangers in the OHL before making the transition to the professional level the following year. The mobile offensive defenseman continued to show his skills on the power play but was improving in the defensive zone over the next two and half year at the AHL level with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The young defenseman was called-up to Montreal on several occasions for short stints in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs. The Canadiens recalled Weber from Hamilton midway through the 2010-11 season as a replacement for some injuries on their blue line but he would stay with the Canadiens right through the Playoffs even seeing action as a forward. Weber impressed the Canadiens’ management enough for them to sign the offensive defenseman to a two year NHL contract in the off-season.

The rookie defenseman has played quite solidly but has found himself out of the Canadiens lineup at times this season due to the strong play of rookies, Alexei Emelin and fellow countryman, Raphael Diaz. Weber has scored four goals along with 10 assists and a respectable minus-one rating through 41 NHL games this season. He has clearly shown the talent to play in the NHL and continues to improve his overall game as he gains more experience in the league.

Joe Stejskal, D, Grand Rapids (HIGH-MN) – 5th Round, 133rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Montreal Canadiens took a flyer on their first pick of the fifth round when they selected Stejskal who they knew would be attending Dartmouth College in the fall of 2007. The organization liked the defenseman’s aggressive play, 96 MPH slap shot, and the fact he would have four years to develop his overall game in the NCAA.

Stejskal would spend the next four years at Dartmouth College playing as a shutdown defenseman for the Big Green before signing a two year entry-level contract on March 22nd, 2011. He joined the Hamilton Bulldogs for the last seven games of the 2010-11 season and played five AHL Calder Cup Playoff games.

Stejskal has struggled so far in his rookie professional season with the Bulldogs. He has not played physical enough and has struggled at times positionally in the defensive zone. The big defenseman has played only 31 of Hamilton’s 43 games while missing six games for an injury and six more as a healthy scratch.
Stejskal needs to improve his overall game in order to see more responsibilities as the season progresses. He has another year left on his entry-level contract to assess whether the risky selection from the 2007 draft will bear any fruit for the Canadiens’ organization.

Andrew Conboy, LW, Omaha (USHL) – 5th Round, 142nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens used their fifth round draft pick received from the Dallas Stars in the trade for the diminutive Mike Ribiero to select the big and physical Conboy. The team’s management felt that the big, mean, and rough forward could be a classic late bloomer and develop into a solid role player. He had just finished with 25 goals (11 on the power play) along with 25 assists and a plus 11 rating while taking 105 penalty minutes in 56 games during his draft year.

After playing just 21 games for the Michigan State Spartans in his freshman year, Conboy was suspended for the rest of the school year for an on-ice incident. He would decide to turn professional when the Canadiens offered him a three-year entry-level contract on March 2nd, 2009 for the start of the 2009-10 season. The big physical winger has improved over his last two seasons in the AHL with the Bulldogs but has not seen any time at the NHL level yet.

Conboy has struggled to stay healthy this season only to go down again on December 3rd, with a lower-body injury. The tough, physical forward has only one goal in just ten AHL games for Hamilton this season. He will need to improve his offensive numbers and stay healthy the rest of the season in hopes to receive a new contract. Conboy projects as a fourth line role player in the NHL but could end up playing only in the AHL.

Nichlas Torp, D, HV 71 JR (SWE-JR.) – 6th Round, 163rd overall
Status: Released
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens organization decided to take a chance with their sixth round pick by selecting Torp who had just signed a two-year contract in April 28th, 2007 to play in Sweden for HV-71 (SEL). The Team’s management was interested in Torp for his physicality, skating and hard slapshot, but also hoped to have the young defenseman come play at the Canadian junior level at some point in the future.

Torp re-signed a two-year contract with HV-71(SEL) on April 17th, 2009 so the Canadiens released him after deciding not to offer him an entry-level contract. He just signed a one-year contract with Timra (SEL) last March and appears to be staying to play hockey in Sweden. At this moment, it doesn’t look like Torp will come to play in North America but you never know, as the same was once thought of Alexei Emelin.

Scott Kishel, D, Virginia (USHL) – 7th Round, 192nd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The Canadiens made a late draft day deal by trading the rights to Michael Leighton to the Carolina Hurricanes for their seventh round selection. The team selected Kishel as a long term project because he would play in the USHL for the 2007-08 season before enrolling at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

Kishel has solid skills and is a good skater but has not been able to play too many games in his first three years with the UMD Bulldogs (WCHA) in the NCAA. So far in his senior year, the skilled defenseman has scored three goals along with 13 assists and an even rating in 26 games. Kishel hopes to continue improving on his numbers and impress the Canadiens’ management enough to receive a tryout contract with Hamilton in the spring. It is too early to say whether the defenseman will even be offered an entry-level contract over the summer.