Canadiens 2007 draft preview

By Jason Menard

Canadiens Top 10 prospects

1. Carey Price, G
2. Andrei Kostitsyn, RW
3. Kyle Chipchura, C
4. Mikhail Grabovski, LW
5. David Fischer, D
6. Maxim Lapierre, C
7. Alexei Emelin, D
8. Sergei Kostitsyn, LW
9. Jaroslav Halak, G
10. Ben Maxwell, C

A few years of solid drafting has left the Montreal Canadiens in the enviable position of having few organizational holes to fill, allowing them to pick the best player regardless of position. But even if the organizational depth wasn’t so solid, the club’s Director of Player Recruitment and Development said he wouldn’t approach the upcoming draft any other way.

“You can’t go into a draft focusing on one position,” Trevor Timmins said. “You want to keep all your options open and we’re trying to build depth at all levels.” And with Timmins laughing off any idea of giving a hint as to who the club is looking at, predicting the Canadiens’ 2007 draft is truly a shot in the dark.

The club enters this draft with a solid complement of picks. They have the 12th and 22nd selection in the first round (the latter obtained in a trade with San Jose for Craig Rivet), and have all the rest of their selections save for a fourth round selection, traded to the Phoenix Coyotes in return for Mike Johnson and a seventh rounder which recently was sent to New York in exchange for Ryan Russell. In addition, they have the Washington Capitals’ third-round selection (received in return for Richard Zednik) and Dallas Stars’ fifth-round selection (obtained in the Mike Ribeiro trade). In total, the club has eight selections (two first round, one second, two third, two fifth, one sixth), giving the club incredible flexibility to move up and down as they see fit.

Some pundits have suggested the club may look to bundle and trade their first-round selections for an established player to bring immediate help to the club, but with a talented stream of young talent ready to make the jump and an organizational commitment to grow from within, expect any trading of draft picks to be ones that would net more picks, or to target the young prospect they’re looking for.

In addition to this being a fairly deep draft, some once highly-touted prospects have fallen down some people’s draft boards. With their first pick scheduled for 12th overall, the Habs would be over the moon if either the Quebec Remparts’ Angelo Esposito or the Ottawa 67’s Logan Couture fell into their laps. Last season, both players were in the discussion as to who would go first overall and after a season of inconsistency and illness, respectively, the two youngsters could find themselves still available when the Canadiens pick. Either one of those players would fill an organizational need for talented centers with some size.

Team Needs

The years change but the song remains the same. The Canadiens are still searching for a second option up the middle to take some of the scoring load off of captain Saku Koivu. And this matter grows in importance each year as Koivu will be turning 33 in November. Eventually those years of wear and tear, including major challenges like defeating cancer and coming back from a serious eye injury, will take their toll on the Finnish center. Finding someone to help ease his load has to be a priority for the club.

The club could also stand to shore up its defensive corp. While things are not as bleak as they once were, they could still use an infusion of young talent on the blue line.

In reality, though, the fact that the club really doesn’t have any pressing team needs that are likely to be solved through the draft enables the Habs to pick the best player available once they’re on the clock. That gives them enormous flexibility both in terms of the selection now and how they can compose their roster in the future.

Organizational Strengths

The Canadiens have done an excellent job of accumulating talent at every position, but it’s arguably between the pipes where the Habs are most well established. Cristobal Huet offers a steadying veteran presence at the NHL level, which has afforded the club the luxury of developing its prospects at a more appropriate pace.

Obviously, Carey Price is the future of the Canadiens between the pipes. A superlative season saw lead Team Canada to gold at the World Juniors – picking up a bevy of individual honors along the way including tournament MVP and top netminder. In addition, his first taste of professional life has been sweeter than expected as Price joined the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs following the conclusion of his WHL season and has backstopped them to the Calder Cup final. In addition to Price, Jaroslav Halak made a case that he’s ready for the NHL, Yann Danis and Christopher Heino-Lindberg continue to have a presence in the organization, and even Cedrick Desjardins has impressed and may earn a contract with the club soon.

With this wealth of goaltending, one would expect the club to shy away from drafting a netminder, but Timmins would never rule out the option. “You can never have too much goaltending in an organization,” he said.

The Canadiens also boast an impressive array of forwards ranging from breathtaking offensive talents like the Kostitsyn brothers, Mikhail Grabovski, and Guillaume Latendresse to defensive stalwarts like Maxime Lapierre and Kyle Chipchura. And while a number of those players are expected to contend for an NHL role, the club’s embarrassment of riches up front (including players like Ben Maxwell, Ryan White, Matt D’Agostini, Mathieu Aubin, Jonathan Ferland, and Francis Lemieux) means that those minor-league voids will be filled with talent.

Even the Habs’ much-maligned blue line has seen an infusion of talent. Rugged rearguard Ryan O’Byrne may be ready to make his massive presence felt in the NHL, and players like Mathieu Carle, last year’s first-rounder David Fischer, and the Russian duo of Alexei Yemelin and Pavel Valentenko show that top-end blue line talent may be on its way sooner than expected.

Organizational Weaknesses

Size still matters and the Habs are woefully small up the middle. While they are blessed with a bevy of crafty, dynamic centers both at the NHL level and in the minors, they lack that imposing center with first or second-line potential. Prospect centers like Grabovski, Corey Locke, and Lemieux all come in shy of the 6’ marker. Aubin and Cory Urquhart are 6’2 and 6’3 respectively, but the former is years away while the latter may never make the jump. The only player with potential and size is Chipchura who measures 6’2 – but he’s probably more suited to a third-line center/penalty-killing role as opposed to being counted on for offense.

While the blue line corps looks better than it has in years, immediate help is scarce and the boom/bust potential is huge for many players. Yemelin and Valentenko have to extricate themselves out of Russia, and Fischer played little as a university freshman. All may be years away from joining the big club.

Draft Tendencies

The Canadiens have shown themselves adept at targeting the players they want and maneuvering up and down the draft board to ensure they obtain the objects of their affection. In doing this, the club has also shown it’s willing to take a calculated risk to maximize their return in the draft.

For example, during last season’s draft, the club had identified two players that it really wanted in the second round as they combined both potential and value: center Ben Maxwell and defenseman Mathieu Carle. Knowing that San Jose valued blueliner Ty Wishart and confident that Fischer would still be there for their selection, the club obtained an extra second round selection to drop four spots. In the end, they got all their men: Fischer at 20, Maxwell with their own pick at 49, and Carle with San Jose’s second rounder at 53.

But patience isn’t always a virtue – especially if you think your player won’t last. The club was shocked that Latendresse remained available in the second round, so they packaged a couple of picks to move up into the New York Rangers’ spot (45th) to select the Quebec native in 2005. And last year White endured an even more precipitous fall into the third round. Feeling he wouldn’t last to their 79th pick, they traded that selection plus a fourth rounder to move to 66th to add the gritty forward.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft selections: Alexei Cherepanov at No. 12 and Thomas Hickey at No. 22.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.