Canadiens 2006 draft preview

By Jason Menard

Canadiens Top 10 Prospects

1. Alex Perezhogin, RW
2. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW
3. Carey Price, G
4. Tomas Plekanec, C
5. Kyle Chipchura, C
6. Yann Danis, G
7. Guillaume Latendresse, RW
8. Corey Locke, C
9. Alexei Emelin, D
10. Ryan O’Byrne, D

The Montreal Canadiens have emerged from their self-induced drafting dark period thanks to savvy front-office signings of such noted talent scouts like André Savard, Trevor Timmins, and General Manager Bob Gainey.

With a renewed focus on developing from within, the team has been able to stockpile an impressive collection of talent, replenishing a cupboard that was left bare by previous administrations’ inability to effectively recognize talent, reaching for players based on immediate need, and mismanagement of draft picks.

Team Needs

The Habs have been able to develop a solid, overall roster at the NHL level that blends savvy veterans with dynamic – and less expensive – youth, as per the model that the new salary-cap ruled National Hockey League requires. However, they’re still lacking in a few key areas.

The Canadiens have excellent top-six talent, but they’re missing a reliable second-line center – a deficiency that was made all the more glaring with the loss of first-line center Saku Koivu during the 2005-06 playoffs. There was no one player who was either able to share the scoring load during the regular season, or step up into the wake left by Koivu’s injury.

As they have for years, the Canadiens continue to search for that elusive power forward. Their flirtation with keeping junior prospect Guillaume Latendresse prior to the start of the 2005-06 season betrayed their true desire to have a big banger with touch on the roster. But, honestly, that could be said for more than half the teams in the NHL.

Finally, the team boasts attractive top-end players on the blue line, but their overall rearguard depth is lacking. Specifically, they spent all year shuffling players in and out of the lineup, trying to find a reliable fifth, sixth, and seventh defenseman. This lack of depth was exposed when marquee players like Andrei Markov and Sheldon Souray were injured – no one was able to adequately step up and make up for those lost minutes.

Organizational Strengths

The team is rich in young, skilled forwards and promising goaltenders. In fact, they may have too much depth between the posts – preventing some attractive prospects from getting the opportunity and ice time they need to progress to the next step. However, the team has no less than two A-list netminders in the system in Yann Danis and Carey Price – with Jaroslav Halak knocking at the door.

Up front, the team has weaned itself off the big, slow, gloves-of-stone WHL fixation they once displayed to show some true creativity in acquiring an impressive collection of young, fast, skilled forwards including the Kostitsyn brothers, NHLers Alex Perezhogin and Tomas Plekanec, and prospects Corey Locke, Mikhail Grabovsky, and Juraj Mikus. They’ve recently been able to add some grit to their collection with the addition of Kyle Chipchura and Latendresse.

As the organization stands now, the future looks bright when it comes to putting pucks in the net and having the guys between the pipes to keep them out on their own side of the rink.

Organizational Weaknesses

As it is at the NHL level, the Habs’ minor league system is thin on the blue line. Alexei Emelin made some noise (both for good and bad reasons) in Russia this year and Ryan O’Byrne continues to be an attractive commodity in the college ranks, but the rest of the club’s prospects fall into the “hopefully-maybe” category.

At the minor-league level, few of the team’s blueliners look to be able to make that jump into the top-four and appear to be destined as NHL depth players or career AHLers. In addition, the defensemen that the team does have in the system aren’t exactly the prototype rearguards that the new NHL requires: size and physicality are not at as much of a premium as mobility, skating, and passing are.

And despite the physical presence of Latendresse and the solid two-way commitment that Chipchura has shown, the team is still light on the heavies. The team is noticeably lacking in gritty, physical players who won’t embarrass themselves on the ice. It is for this reason that the team dipped into its reservoir of skilled players earlier this year trading the flashy Marcel Hossa for the rugged Garth Murray.

Draft Tendencies

The Habs have gone from picking guys with gloves and feet of stone to finding diamonds in the rough at all levels of the draft, led by the savvy eyes of Savard and Timmins, and with the proven draft prowess that Gainey brings to the squad.

Once predictable at the draft table, the team now has shown its willingness to make the bold move and think outside the box. And, most importantly, the Habs have shown that they’re willing to go after whichever player they want, regardless of what the pundits or fans may think.

Few thought that with the fifth pick in the last entry draft they would select Price considering their goaltending depth, but the team believed that he was a rare talent with long-term star quality. During that same draft, Gainey showed he was willing to take the steps necessary to secure players that his trusted advisors coveted. Enamored with Latendresse, Gainey swung a deal to move up in the draft and get a player that they had ranked far higher.

More importantly, the team has shown an ability to mine the later rounds of the draft for quality, impact players. With the 200th pick in last year’s draft, the Habs selected Sergei Kostitsyn, who broke out this year, leading the CHL in rookie scoring and cementing himself as a brick upon which the future can be built. In previous drafts, the Canadiens were able to pick up noted prospects late such as: Jonathan Ferland (212th in 2002); Christopher Heino-Lindberg, Oskari Korpikari, and Halak (177th, 217th, and 271st respectively in 2003); and Grabovsky, Mark Streit, and Alexandre Dulac-Lemelin (150th, 262nd, and 278th in 2004).

With picks from all over the map, the team appears to adhere to the best player available mentality and has invested the resources to mine all sources of talent, instead of simply focusing on one particular league.

And, in a welcome change from the past, the team is willing to invest in the future and let their players develop at their own pace, instead of rushing them through the system towards failure. This philosophy has allowed players like Mike Komisarek to transition slowly into the line-up, and was instrumental in the success that Higgins, Plekanec, Murray, and Perezhogin enjoyed this year.

This year, the team holds the 16th pick in the Entry Draft.

Hockey’s Future mock draft result: Ty Wishart, D, WHL, Prince George Cougars

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