Canadiens 2002 draft evaluation

By Jason Menard

Looking to build upon their stellar haul from the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens found themselves in a position where they needed to wheel and deal to ensure they obtained the players they wanted.

And while their overall take wasn’t as impressive as the previous season’s haul, where they netted key future building blocks such as Mike Komisarek, Tomas Plekanec, Duncan Milroy, and the recently departed Alexander Perezhogin, they were able to add some solid assets – not to mention a potential captain along the way.

The Canadiens did a lot of dealing leading up to this draft in an attempt to recoup picks sent off earlier in the year. The club went in to this draft shy a third-round selection, which was sent along with Brian Savage to the Phoenix Coyotes for Sergei Berezin. In addition, an off-season trade with New York netted the club Marius Czerkawski in return for the Habs’ fifth-round selection and Aaron Asham.

In the end, the team’s six picks totaled 150 NHL games, for an average of 25 games per pick, slightly above the NHL average of 22.5.

Chris Higgins, C – 1st round, 14th overall (Yale University, NCAA)
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 143 regular season
DOB: 06/02/1983

Sitting with the 15th pick in 2002, the Habs decided they couldn’t abide letting this rugged Ivy Leaguer slip through their grasp and offered the Edmonton Oilers their eighth-round selection (245th overall) for the right to flip first-round selections. And it’s a move that’s paid off in spades for the Habs.

In completing his second full professional season, Higgins has established himself as a significant part of the Habs’ future – and is often spoken as a future captain. Originally prized for his rugged play and attention to defensive detail, Higgins proved that he knows how to put the puck in the net as a stint riding shotgun on the first line with Saku Koivu saw his offensive production blossom.

Unfortunately, injuries set back Higgins’ development – and his loss played a key role in the mid-to-late-season swoon the Canadiens suffered as they fell from playoff contention. But before he found himself on the injury list, Higgins’ offensive contributions were powering the Habs into mid-season contention for the Northeast Division crown.

In the end, Higgins finished with 22 goals and 16 assists in 61 games. And while his point total was identical to his 2005-06 season totals of 23 goals and 15 assists, he accumulated those points in 19 fewer games. The Smithtown, NY native will be looked upon to continue his development both on the ice and in a leadership role with the club.

Tomas Linhart, D – 2nd round, 45th overall (Pardubice, Czech Republic)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 02/16/1984

Unfortunately for the Habs’ brass, North American shores weren’t all that friendly to the blueliner from Pardubice. After two seasons in the OHL – his final ending with his release from the London Knights, Linhart decided to ply his trade in the cozy confines of his homeland and doesn’t look to be making a return trip any time soon.

Linhart was a defensive defenseman with passable size that the club was hoping would make the transition from Major Junior to the professional ranks, but with three full seasons under his belt in Czech league, it’s safe to say that Linhart’s window of opportunity to come to the Habs has slammed shut – that is, even if he showed any inclination of looking through that window, which he hasn’t.

Michael Lambert, LW – 4th round, 99th overall (Montreal Rocket, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 03/10/1984

Playing in the Habs’ backyard with fellow Canadiens’ prospects Cory Urquhart and Maxim Lapierre, the club again made a move to ensure that their home-grown product wouldn’t slip through their grasp.

Figuring that the speedy Lambert wouldn’t fall to them with their own fourth-round selection (112th overall), the club packaged that pick with Minnesota’s fifth-round selection (141st overall) that they had previously obtained from Calgary in a trade for Chris Dyment to move up to 99th overall to get their man.

While Lambert has shown a lot of promise and heart, injuries have stunted his development over the past two seasons. Partly due to this, he’s been unable to secure an AHL roster spot and has bounced back and forth between that league and the ECHL.

When he has been on the ice, he’s shown flashes of that offensive flair and speed that make him such an attractive commodity in today’s NHL. In his 40 appearances in this injury-shortened season with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, he netted 11 goals and added five assists. In nine playoff games to date, Lambert has posted modest totals of one goal and one assist.

Lambert should lock up a full-time role with the Bulldogs next season and must work to avoid the injury bug that’s retarded his growth for so long.

Andre Deveaux, C – 6th round, 182nd overall (Belleville Bulls, OHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 02/23/1984

While Deveaux marginally remains an NHL prospect, it is no longer with the Canadiens organization. The club took a flier on this massive center, hoping that he would fill the gaping void the club continues to have when it comes to size down the middle. Unfortunately, he didn’t show enough for the club to retain his rights and Deveaux re-entered the 2004 Entry Draft.

It appears that the other NHL teams shared the Habs’ assessment of the Welland, ON native as Deveaux went undrafted and signed as a free agent by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Deveaux most noted NHL accomplishment has been to be a throw-in with Atlanta’s minor-league acquisition of Andy Delmore.

This past season, Deveaux has continued to bounce around the minor leagues, suiting up at various times for the AHL Springfield Falcons and Chicago Wolves, as well as the ECHL’s Johnstown Chiefs. He has shown a rugged edge to his game, but has yet to impress in any significant manner.

Jonathan Ferland, RW
– 7th round, 212nd overall (Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL)
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 7
DOB: 02/09/1983

Ferland was a late-round, low-risk selection who could pay significant rewards for the Canadiens’ franchise. A solid two-way player who has shown a gift for offensive play, Ferland has impressed the club’s leadership with his team play and grittiness.

This season, in 78 games with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Ferland scored 23 goals and added 14 assists. Those were welcome totals for the Quebec City, QC native after suffering through an injury-filled third season with the Bulldogs in which he only suited up for 39 games.

His persistence has paid off, however, as Ferland saw limited action in seven NHL games this season, which included his scoring his first NHL goal. Since returning to Hamilton, he’s played a key role in the Bulldogs’ march into the Calder Cup final, accounting for three goals and six assists in 17 post-season contests.

In his fifth season in Hamilton, Ferland will be looked upon to be a team leader and assume some of the offensive slack that may be lost should Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski make the jump to the NHL ranks. In addition, time is starting to run out on this rugged winger as a crop of impressive younger talents are beginning to work their way up the organizational ranks. One wouldn’t want to say this is a make or break year for Ferland, but a solid performance this season would certainly boost his stock.

Konstantin Korneyev, D – 9th round, 275th overall (Krylja Sovetov, Russia)
Status: NHL Bust
NHL Games Played: 0
DOB: 06/05/1984

When discussing blue line prospects from the former Soviet Empire in the Habs’ organization, Korneyev is way down the list behind shining lights like Alexei Emelin and Pavel Valentenko. In fact, it’s safe to say that Korneyev will play out the rest of his days in the Russian Super League.

The offensive-minded blueliner has bounced around the Russian league since being drafted out of Krylja Sovetov. He played three years with Kazan Ak-Bars before finding himself patrolling the blue line for CSKA Moscow this past season.

That said, his performance this year, where he scored eight goals and added 13 assists in 51 games may net the 22-year-old rearguard one more look to see if he’s interested in coming overseas, but the safe money is on Korneyev never donning the bleu, blanc, et rouge of the Canadiens.

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