Montréal Canadiens’ draft preview

By Chris Boucher
Writing a draft preview is difficult at the best of times; that being when there are no trades involved and your team is picking first overall. Anything outside this scenario is simply a crapshoot. Even if we held in our hands the Montréal Canadiens’ rankings, we still don’t know which fourteen players will be gone by the time André Savard walks up to the podium. Nor would we have knowledge of any trade proposals coming their way.

Therefore, we can only guess which players might still be available fourteen picks into the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. This year’s draft is considered a weak draft; particularly when compared to 2001. There seems to be a limited amount of first-line potential coming down the pipe, while the popular opinion is that among defensemen, only Jay Bouwmeester has the potential to become a number one. Some even believe his development ceiling is as a number two or three defenseman on a strong team.

This year’s crop consists of three top-end defenseman coming out of North America (Jay Bouwmeester (Medicine Hat), Ryan Whitney (Boston University), Steve Eminger (Kitchener)). All three of these players are sure to be among the first 14 picks, which could leave the Habs with a shot at Hull’s Martin Vagner. The defensive talent coming out of Europe is slightly more difficult to predict. Finland’s Joni Pitkanen is the only European defenseman sure to be chosen early in the first round. Any one, but certainly not all of Anton Babchuk (Russia), Denis Grebeshkov (Russia), and Kiril Koltzov (Russia) might remain midway through the first round.

Among forwards there are three North American’s sure to be taken early. They include Rick Nash (London), Joffrey Lupul (Medicine Hat) and Scottie Upshall (Kamloops). This would leave a group of five forwards possibly available for Montréal, including Petr Taticek (Sault Ste. Marie), Christopher Higgins (Yale University), Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Chicoutimi), Jim Slater (Michigan State), and Eric Nystrom (Michigan).

As with European defensemen, European forwards are more difficult to predict. Likely taken early in the first round are Alexander Semin (Russia) and Jiri Hudler (Czech Republic). This would leave Sergei Anshankov (Russia), Alexei Kaigorodov (Russia), and Jakub Koreis (Czech Republic) as possible Montréal picks. And, although he’s fallen in the rankings we’ll also include Russia’s Vladislav Evseev as a potential first round selection.

Vagner is a 6’1″, 214-lbs defenseman with a strong defensive game. Unlikely to develop into an offensive contributor, the Czech native has the potential to become a versatile, but steady stay-at-home defenseman.

64 GP QMJHL (6-28-34)

Grebeshkov is a strong all-round defenseman, with a developing offensive game. He’s the only 2002 eligible player in Russia who competed during the most recent World Junior Championship. The 6’0″, 189-lbs. defenseman played 7 games in the tournament, producing 3 points (1-2-3).

26 GP Russian Super League (1-2-3)

Koltzov is a skilled defenseman who can play a punishing physical game. He’s one year older than most players available this year, as a document mix-up made him ineligible for last year’s draft. This past season was the 5’11”, 183-lbs. defenseman’s second season in the Russian Super League. He was named the RSL’s top rookie in 2000-01.

46 GP Russian Super League (1-5-6)

Babchuk is a 6’5″, 190 lbs. pole of a defenseman with an impressive reach and above average lateral movement. He sees the ice well, maintaining a strong positional game throughout most contests. He was a member of Russia’s squad at the Under-18 Championship, where he produced an impressive 6 points (3-3-6) through 8 games. He played this season in the Russian High League.

40 GP Russian High League (7-8-15)

Taticek is a Czech native who just completed his first season in North America. The 6’3″, 188-lbs. center has good size and is particularly effective in the face-off circle. His likely upside is as a strong two-way forward.

60 GP OHL (21-42-63)

Higgins is a speedy forward who impressed the scouting world with his performance in the 2002 World Junior Championship. As an 18-year-old the 5’11’, 192-lbs. center led the US squad in scoring; managing 6 points (4-2-6) through 7 games. He just completed his freshman season with Yale University where he led the team in scoring by 7 points over his closest teammate.

27 GP ECAC (14-16-30)

Bouchard can be described as the most talented player in this year’s draft. However some scouts aren’t convinced these talents will translate well to the NHL game. The 5’10”, 155-lbs. center was recently named the CHL’s top player, as he led the entire country in scoring as a 17-year-old. He was one of the last cuts from Canada’s WJC squad, but competed in the Under-18 championship, where he led Canada in scoring with 12 points (4-8-12) through 8 games.

69 GP QMJHL (46-94-140)

Slater has a solid two-way game with impressive hockey sense. Like Chris Higgins, he played for the US squad during the recent World Junior tournament. The 6’0″, 190-lbs center managed 5 points (1-4-5) through 7 games, while maintaining a strong defensive presence. He just completed his freshman season with Michigan State University.

37 GP CCHA (11-21-32)

Nystrom is the son of former Islander forward Bob Nystrom. Eric has a quick release and a nose for the net, but has also developed an impressive defensive game. The 6’1″, 195-lbs forward played for the US team during the recent World Junior Championship, but was shutout through 7 games. He just completed his freshman season with the University of Michigan.

40 GP CCHA (18-13-31)

Anshankov is a goal scorer who drives to the net with authority. His game still needs to develop other aspects to go along with his quick release and scoring ability. The 6’1″, 185-lbs right winger has a well-earned reputation as a coach-friendly player. Playing with his club team in the Russian High League he faded down the stretch, as most of his production took place early in the season. He was a member of the Russian Under-18 squad, where he picked up 4 points (2-2-4) through 8 games.

39 GP Russian High League (17-12-29)

Kaigorodov is a 6’1′, 181-lbs. center with great vision. He’s a solid passer and has already completed his first season in the Russian Super League. Although very creative, he lacks breakaway speed.

44GP Russian Super League (4-12-16)

Koreis is a creative playmaking center with the potential to become a solid two-way forward at the NHL level. He yet to develop the offensive game necessary to produce at the next level, but his size makes the 6’3″, 205-lbs Koreis a tantalizing project. He competed for the Czech Republic during the recent World Under-18 Championship, where he produced 3 points (1-2-3) through 8 games despite playing on an injured ankle.
20 GP Czech Extraliga (3-0-3)

Evseev is a 6’2″, 196-lbs forward who slid down the rankings as the season progressed. He was touted as a potential top-5 pick just one year ago, however a disappointing, injury plagued season led to huge drop in the 17-year-old’s stock. Despite his struggles, Evseev is a strong skating winger who plays an aggressive physical game.

15 GP Russian High League (2-5-7)

The last two drafts have seen the Canadiens grab NCAA defensemen with their top picks. With strong goaltending depth and a huge influx of defensive talent, most people predict the Habs’ will reach out for a forward with scoring ability at this year’s draft. That said, the NHL draft remains a guessing game. It’s the nature of the beast. Predicting the development of 18 and 19-year-old hockey players is a difficult proposition; for both NHL teams and fans alike. Come June 22nd, all Habs’ fans will be able to do is sit back, relax, and watch André Savard role the dice.

Feel free to E-MAIL me with any questions or comments (in English or French). Just click on my name at the top of this page to contact me. I am a former goaltender with writing, scouting, and coaching experience.

**Click on the Canadiens’ logo at the top left of the page to see a listing of the Habs’ top prospects. Including biographical information and updated 2001-02 stats.