BRAMPTON, ON. — Part way through my second year covering the Montreal Canadiens ECHL affiliate and their prospects in major junior and the NCAA, it is becoming apparent to me that general manager Marc Bergevin and his staff have done a less than stellar job of putting young talent on the roster that meets the needs of the Habs.
On the face of it, it would appear that the 2007 draft was the Canadiens last very successful one yielding a bumper crop of Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban. All three play regularly in the NHL and are star players.
Going back as far as the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens are near the top of the league in terms of draft picks who play 100 games in the NHL. Yet they have one of the worst percentage of prospects to make their own roster. How could that be?
In the last few seasons the Canadiens have been guilty of trading away draft picks and the few quality players that addressed specific needs in Montreal.
In something that has become a theme in Montreal, last season Marc Bergevin traded promising prospect Sven Andrighetto for very little return. The move was made to clear the decks for the native of Alma, Quebec, Charles Hudon. With a spot in the lineup gift-wrapped for him, Hudon has scored twice in 22 games. Andrighetto, the far more complete hockey player, has thrived in Colorado since his arrival.
The trading of Mikhail Sergachev returned a young hometown player, Jonathan Drouin, who Bell Centre fans can embrace but failed to fill the greatest need: a first line centre. In addition, the trade further exposed another need with the lack of top six quality players on defence.
The move depth forced rookie Victor Mete into a top pairing situation when it is very apparent to me that he doesn’t yet have the physical attributes to compete at the NHL level. As such, Mete has had his icetime significantly reduced while he slides down the pairings to finally a place in the press box on Wednesday night against the Nashville Predators.
Had Sergachev not been traded and veterans Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov been re-signed, the Habs would be in a much better position in the standings. Sergachev has five goals and nine assists for 14 points in his rookie season.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, the early results of the Drouin-Sergachev trade have initially all been in Tampa’s favor as Drouin struggles with the transition to centre. But chasing a local hero has had much more disastrous results for prospects in the Canadiens organization.
In 2009, when Timmins first round choice was Chris Kreider, management steered him towards Louis Leblanc, a popular choice that day at the Bell Centre. As a prima donna, Leblanc quickly flamed out of the league and hockey while Kreider is a productive member of the New York Rangers. The Blue Shirts are also home to elite defenceman Ryan McDonagh, foolishly given up in a trade engineered by Pierre Gauthier and approved by Canadiens GM Bob Gainey.
The year before, looking to bring in a local name for the Canadiens anniversary celebrations, the organization was only too willing to give up a first round pick. The Habs acquired forward Alex Tanguay from the Flames in exchange for the 25th pick overall. Trevor Timmins revealed that he would have taken John Carlson, another star defenceman sacrificed by the Habs to support a marketing project.
Timmins spoke recently about the Canadiens willingness to trade away very valuable second round picks. With the acquisition of third-liner Andrew Shaw, Marc Bergevin gave up two high second round picks to Chicago which turned into Alex DeBrincat and Chad Kyrs. DeBrincat, the OHL’s Player of the Year for 2016-17, is presently third in scoring for the Blackhawks with seven goals and six assists for 13 points.
With two of the best talent evaluators in hockey, in Timmins and Rick Dudley, the Canadiens should be brimming with prospects who are poised to step into problem areas of the roster. Shedding picks, trading young prospects and NHL setting roadblocks to transitioning to the big club have all been major problems for effective prospect development for the Montreal Canadiens.
Last season the Canadiens attempted to address their depth down the middle through the draft with the selection of first round pick (25th overall) Ryan Poehling. He has the tools to be an NHL player but only being in his second season with St. Cloud State in the NCAA, Poehling is years away from being NHL ready.
With the Canadiens moving many of their highly-touted prospects, the ones remaining have only been able to fill bottom six positions or unable to crack the lineup at all. Even at the ECHL level, there were two players last season who had shown flashes of potential to my eye. However, both Connor Crisp and Dalton Thrower were allowed to walk but have excelled this season in the ECHL with other organizations.
There is no easy answer to fix what ails the parent club but the direction they are heading needs to be addressed and starting fresh may be the only answer at this point. I’m not saying that this this is the only answer trading away picks and prospects has created a lack of depth in the organization that has become alarming to the Habs rabid fan base.