Canadiens 2007 draft review

By Jason Menard

There’s no truth to the rumor that the Montreal Canadiens’ scout for the state of Minnesota is paid by the pick. For the second consecutive year, the club selected a Minnesota high school defenseman with its first overall selection – and then followed that up with two more selections later in the round.

“That’s just an area that’s had a good crop of players over the past couple of years and I don’t see that changing for the next couple of years at least,” explained Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ director of player recruitment and development. “They’ve got a great minor system and their high school program is absolutely phenomenal in terms of talent and the players they’re developing.”

And an added advantage? When players opt for the collegiate route it gives a team a longer window of opportunity to assess and evaluate.

“If there’s a player going to the USHL then to college, that gives you five developmental years as opposed to two for junior and European players,” Timmins said. “In the past, you would see teams stocking up on Europeans in the later rounds of the draft, now you’re seeing more teams go to U.S. colleges during those rounds.”

“One of the obstacles we’re faced with now is the 50-contract limit. And with entry-level deals at three years, you better be damn sure about a player – you can’t afford to have contracts wasted.”

And while six of the club’s nine selections were on the blueline, Timmins explained that they didn’t go into the draft with positional blinders on. “I wouldn’t say [defense] was the focus of the draft for us,” he said. “We put defensemen on our list when we thought we needed to. We may have put a little more emphasis on them, but not at the expense of skill and talent.”

In addition to getting the best player available, the Habs’ draft philosophy is pretty basic.

“We weren’t taking any chances – we followed our list, that’s why you do the work all year,” Timmins added. “There’s no risk or gamble – all you’re trying to do is get players to play on your top two lines, or play in the top four defensemen. As you move along in the draft, that becomes harder so you start looking for players who can fill a role.”

Ryan McDonagh, D

1st round (12th overall)
Minnesota High School.
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 200 pounds, DOB: June 13, 1989

Sometimes the best moves are the ones that aren’t made. The Canadiens, a franchise that has not been afraid to move up and down in the draft, stood pat this year and had the apple of their collective eyes fall right into their lap.

A couple of days before the draft, General Manager Bob Gainey told the assembled media that there was one player in particular that they wanted at No. 12. And while they were able to obtain the player, Minnesota high school defenseman Ryan McDonagh, don’t think that the club was content to sit around and wait.

“We like a lot about Ryan. I had him high on our list – in fact, we were trying to trade up to get him, but we couldn’t find a dance partner,” he said. “Luckily, some things happened at the top of the draft that shook it up a bit and he fell to us at 12. I know there were a number of teams trying to move up to seven or eight to get him.”

The product of Cretin-Derham High School stands in at 6’1 and 200 pounds. He’s the second consecutive Mr. Hockey from the state of Minnesota that the Habs have plucked with their first overall pick – David Fischer was obtained at No. 20 last year. The left-shooting blueliner combines good size with exceptional puck-moving skills and skating. Arden Hills, MN.

“I don’t see too many weaknesses in his game – he’s a powerful skater and he’s a powerful player,” Timmins said. “He’s the complete package on defense.”

He was ranked as the 11th best North American prospect by Central Scouting, while ISS tagged him at 19th overall. In 23 games last season, the blueliner scored 10 goals, added 23 assists and spent 44 minutes in the penalty box.

While admitting that rumors abound, McDonagh said after the draft that he was confident about the chances of Montreal using its selection on him. “I knew that I had a good interview with them and I was excited about the staff,” he said. “I knew if their pick came around that I was going to be on their radar so I was excited to hear my name called, no question.”

Committed to the University of Wisconsin for his freshman season this year, McDonagh explained that he’s going to analyze his situation and determine on a year-by-year basis when he should make the transition to the professional ranks.

“It’s going to be an exciting year ahead of me,” McDonagh said. “After my year at Wisconsin is completed I’ll have to make the decision as to whether I’m ready to make the jump to the Montreal Canadiens franchise.”

Max Pacioretty, LW

1st round (22nd overall)
Sioux City, USHL
Ht: 6’1, Wt: 203 pounds, DOB: Nov. 20, 1989

The Canadiens second selection in the entry draft came as a result of a deadline trade wherein the club sent defenseman Craig Rivet to the San Jose Sharks for their first-rounder – and with the selection, the Habs are hoping that they’ve unearthed a diamond in the rough who can be hewn into the power forward they’ve been looking for.

“We think he has the potential to be a power forward at this level,” Timmins said. “He’s got the size, he’s a physical presence, and he has good balance and speed. We think he’s going to be a player not unlike Eric Cole.”

In 60 games with the Musketeers, Pacioretty accounted for 63 points (20 goals) and racked up 119 penalty minutes. He also fared well in his brief playoff stint, scoring 10 points in seven games, buoyed by four goals. Timmins explained that he’s come a long way in a short period of time, but the club feels he has much, much more to give.

“This guy was playing at Connecticut High School two years ago, last year was his first season in the USHL, and now he’s going to play at Michigan and that’s a hockey factory,” he said. “He has a lot of potential that he hasn’t even tapped into. His fitness tests are already at NHL standards, which is incredible coming from a somewhat weak hockey background.”

P.K. Subban, D

2nd round (43rd overall)
Belleville, OHL
5’10, 200 pounds DOB: May 13, 2007

With their second round selection the Canadiens are hoping to be rewarded for their persistence, as P.K. Subban may have left many with a bad taste in their mouths early in the season.

“We like him a lot. He’s a guy that if you would have only seen him in the first half of the season and didn’t do any follow-up in the second half, you’d wonder what we were thinking,” Timmins said. “He really stepped up his game in the second half and he played at an elite level in the playoffs.”

In 68 regular season games this year, Subban scored 15 goals and added 41 assists. However, it was his playoff performance that really solidified the pick in the Canadiens’ eyes. In 15 games, he scored five goals and added eight assists – but it was his commitment to an all-around game that made the difference.

“He was a little bit of a wild colt during Belleville’s first half, but he played a more controlled game in the playoffs and earned the trust of his coaches,” he said. And Timmins added that he’s not to concerned about that wildness returning. “It’s easier to put the reins on them than it is to get the whip out.”

The Habs were very high on Subban, believing that he brings a number of positive aspects to the ice. But as impressed as they were on-ice, they were equally enamored with this off-ice demeanor.

“He’s a dimensional skater – somewhat comparable to Brian Campbell when you look at his height and skating. And like Darcy Tucker, he can be a bit of a pest to play against – he’s full of piss and vinegar,” Timmins said. “He also has a real hard point shot. Physically he’s powerful and he’s in great shape. When we went to visit him we came away impressed – he’s an intelligent, knowledgeable kid.”

If Subban’s favorite players are any indication, he should be bringning a lot of excitement in the not-too-distant future. “Bobby Orr was my favorite player, but I like Denis Savard – you know, that spinarama. I like to do that a lot,” Subban said.

And even if he’s only half as good as them on the ice, he’s soon going to be a favorite among the beat scribes in Montreal. “He’s a good quote,” Timmins said, laughing. “He’s full of energy and that’s what makes him him.”

Olivier Fortier, C

3rd round (65th overall)
Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL
5’11, 168 pounds, DOB: May 2, 1989

The first of Montreal’s two third-round selections, obtained in the Richard Zednik trade with Washington, was used on a player who is the polar opposite of the mercurial, streaky player for whom the pick was traded

Olivier Fortier enjoyed a breakthrough season with the Oceanic this year, accounting for 28 goals and 36 assists in 69 games. And while the offense is nice, it’s the other parts of his game that really excite the Canadiens.

“At every level he plays, his coaches can’t say enough good things about him,” Timmins said. “They know each and every time he steps on the ice what they’re going to get. He’s a low-maintenance player. He’s a solid two-way player – I can’t say he has any real weaknesses.”

In fact, Timmins sees a lot of a current Hab in him.

“He’s got that twinkle in his eye – he’s going to be a player,” he said. “The last guy that I saw with that look was Maxime Lapierre.”

Fortier is in great shape – unfortunately it’s the wrong one. “His dad is a marathon runner, so he’s been training along the lines of cardio and fitness levels. That will be adjusted,” Timmins explained.

Like Lapierre, Fortier has a solid perspective on what his long-term role will be.

“I think in the NHL I’ll be on the fourth line or third line, because of my defensive game,” Fortier said. “But I also have some offensive skill so I can jump on the first two lines. I’m a two-way player. I’ll do what I have to do to play.”

Yannick Weber, D

3rd round (73rd overall)
Kitchener Rangers
5’11, 194 pounds, DOB: Sept. 23, 1988

Originally from Bern, Switzerland, Weber made quite an impact in a city formerly known as Berlin – Kitchener, Ontario – as he played a key role in the Rangers’ success this season. More importantly, he displayed the type of skills needed for success in the new NHL.

“I like the confidence that he plays with, he has a lot of poise with the puck,” Timmins said. “He’s one of the new breed of defensemen that’s able to move the puck quickly out of his own end.”

In 51 games, the 5’11 blueliner scored 41 points, paced by 13 goals. He also performed at a point-per-game pace in the playoffs with nine points in nine games. Timmins explained that at a position that’s increasingly putting a premium on mobility and getting the puck cleanly out of one’s own end, Weber is well versed in those skills.

“We drafted him for his puck-moving abilities,” he said. “He’s not tall, but he’s thick – he and [Nichlas] Torp have got big, thick legs on them.”

If the Swiss native can perform at the same level as a current Swiss Hab – Mark Streit – the club will be overjoyed with this third-round selection.

Joe Stejskal, D

5th round (133rd overall)
Grand Rapids, MN
6’2, 186 pounds, DOB: Apr. 30, 1988

The club took a bit of a flyer on a long-term project with their first of two fifth rounders, but the fact that Stejskal — an elite tennis player in addition to his hockey pursuits — will be attending university affords the Habs with a little more time than they would have otherwise had.

 “He’s pretty green around the edges, but there’s a lot to like about him. He’s big and he plays with an edge. And he’s got a howitzer of a shot,” Timmins said. “He’s going to Dartmouth, so that means you have four years on him. He have seen some upside on his game.”

In 24 games last season, Stejskal scored 11 goals and added 17 assists. He’ll be joining a Dartmouth club that already has one Habs prospect on the roster in T.J. Wyman.

According to a report in the Duluth News Tribune, Stejskal has a 119 mph serve in tennis. What’s even more attractive to Habs’ watchers is that he’s also got a 96 mph slap shot that he hopes to put to good use at the NHL level one day.

Andrew Conboy, LW

5th round (142nd overall)
Omaha, USHL
6’3, 190 pounds, DOB: May 16, 1988

In a pick received in return for the diminutive Mike Ribeiro, the club went with size by selecting the rough and rugged Conboy out of the USHL.

“Here’s another classic late bloomer. He’s a big, strong forward who’s mean and tough,” Timmins said. “There are not too many players in the USHL who wanted to mess with him – and he also scored about 25 goals. We think he could develop into a good role player.”

And it’s that addition of skill that made Conboy so attractive to the club. As Timmins explained, pugilism is not enough – you have to have some punch in your game, not just in your fists.

“In today’s game you just can’t be tough – it’s not just about grit, you have to have some talent.”

With the Omaha Lancers last season, Conboy scored 25 goals and added 25 assists in 56 games. In addition, 11 of those goals came on the power play.

Nichlas Torp, D

6th round (163rd overall)
HV 71 Jr., Sweden
5’11, 196 pounds, DOB: Apr. 10, 1989

It took a while, but Torp finally was able to show what he was made of – and despite signing a two-year contract with HV ’71, the Habs feel they got a steal selecting the young Swede so late in the draft.

“If you take a look at the European scouting list you’ll see that he was listed sixth or seventh – we’re not sure why he slipped so far down,” Timmins said. “It’s probably the height thing, but he was over here for the pre-draft events and he did well on the fitness testing.

“He was injured in the first part of the season, but then he was on the under-18 club and he was one of, if not the best defensemen in Sweden at that level,” he added. “He’s about 5’10 ½ and 196 pounds, but he’s thick and strong. He plays like he’s 6’2. He makes some big open-ice checks.”

While there was not much NHL interest before the Habs made their sixth-round selection, there was considerable interest from other leagues.

“You wouldn’t believe how many teams called me for the CHL import draft to see if he’d be able to come and play on their team,” Timmins explained. “He signed a two-year contract with HV ’71, but eventually we’d like him to come over and get some time with a junior team.

“It’s a little different in Sweden and Finland – the hockey’s pretty good and if you’re in your own country and able to make some good money with a contract, it’s hard to turn that down and wait to be drafted.”

Scott Kishel, D

7th round (192nd overall)
Virginia USHSW
5’11, 170 pounds, DOB: Apr. 21, 1989

This pick came as a bit of a surprise and served two purposes – it allowed the Habs to obtain the rights of a long-term project in whom they were interested, and it afforded them the opportunity to peddle off never-used netminder Michael Leighton, obtained late last season.

“[Carolina] came over [in the sixth round] and asked if we would trade him because they wanted to have a chance to sign him before the free agent period,” Timmins said. “It was a nice bonus because we felt we had already made our seventh-round selection with Ryan Russell.” (The Canadiens Russell obtained from the New York Rangers prior to the draft for their seventh-round selection.)

So the Habs went back to their list and took the young American blueliner. For a frame of reference, Timmins pointed to the Dallas Stars’ organization. “Take a look at a player like Dallas’ [Matt] Niskanen and they’re very similar,” he said. “[Kishel] is very skilled and he’s a good skater. He’s going to play at Sioux Falls this year, then he’ll be off to Duluth.”

One way or another the club was going to get Kishel. “We looked at him and said if we didn’t draft him, he would have been a college free agent down the road,” Timmins said.

Of all nine picks, only one is a true center. And while media pundits suggest the club needs more help down the middle, Timmins explained that they feel they’re well along that road already.

“I think we’ve done a good job of addressing those needs in the past: we have [Kyle] Chipchura and [Maxime] Lapierre, and [Mathieu] Aubin can play a little center as well,” he said. “We really feel that last year we really hit a home run with [Ben] Maxwell and Ryan White.”

Unfortunately, the cost of obtaining a true No. 1 is prohibitive – either in cash or in reputation for such a storied franchise.

“To get that No. 1 center, you have to pick in the top three and the only way to get those selections is to bottom out,” Timmins explained. “Look at Pittsburgh – now they have Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal, but for many years they were a laughing stock. The only other way to get those players is through free agency and that’s going to cost you a lot.”

In the end, the Canadiens believe in continually stockpiling their already impressive group of prospects. And for the Habs this isn’t a luxury – it’s an essential part of any future success.

“You have to have a great feeder system – if you don’t have that system, it’s going to be tough to be competitive,” Timmins said. “You can’t go sign a free agent for your third line and pay a lot for them – look at what Anaheim was able to do with [Corey] Perry and [Ryan] Getzlaf. If you can get a guy performing at that level on your top two lines on his entry-level contract, then you’re going to be successful.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Bob Gainey for hanging on to those picks and even obtaining more.”

From here, the Canadiens’ prospects will head to Montreal on July 9th to participate in a development camp that runs until the 15th of the month. “We like to get our new players in here right away and put our stamp on them,” Timmins said. “We want to teach our guys and give them the information they need to help them develop on and off the ice, both as an athlete and as a human.”

And this approach, instituted when Timmins first started with the club, appears to be paying off in both tangible – a Calder Cup win in Hamilton – and intangible ways. “Our kids have come up together, been through these camps, and become friends while becoming teammates,” he explained. “By doing that, they’ve become better players and are able to be successful.”

Ken McKenna contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.