After reading up a bit on the Canadiens last draft, I can see where the latest picks fit in the scheme of things.
I'll be up front about it, I would have picked Esposito if I had the chance, but that was when I was overlooking the overarching theme going through the current Canadiens team.
What I believe Gainey and Timmins have been moving to do since they arrived is to build a more mature group of players. A group who have wide experiences and are adaptable thanks to both their experience and maturity. This is where drafting the Americans comes into it – in my opinion. I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but American hockey players give the best interviews. They can articulate, and thank heavens, think of original things to say. Higgins, a Yale man, is our current embodiment of a mature youngster, some of the recent picks may come and show the same qualities.
I don't think Americans have a monopoly on these qualities, not by any means. I think Chipchura for example has those qualities among our prospects. Also, players like "Gretzky, Niedermayr, Yzerman, Lemieux, Brodeur and Iginla all have (had) these same qualities. The thing with the Americans is that when you are taking a bet on them (as in the draft), their route to the NHL lends itself to building more mature players. For one thing they have to stay in school – balancing studies with hockey. Many junior players finish at high school, if they get that far.
Why maturity counts in championships is leadership. Everyone touts the big leaders, the overt and outspoken guys. This was Souray last year from what I hear. But there are also deputies. These guys are critical, they lead by example. theymay voice an opinion in a disagreement, but will be mature enough to focus their energy in the right direction (helping the team win) at game time. This would be Saku Koivu in his younger days (he's gone furthere than that now), and Higgins and Plekanec now. These guys earn respect from their play and can get through to the ones who have lost touch with the leader or coach. They help hold the team together – something vital to a championship (unless the Habs plan on winning all their games and everyone stays happy all the time...)
I also think a lot of emphasis is placed on the interview. We can all see how Esposito, Cherepanov and McDonagh play on the ice, but how they answer questions in that important interview is not information us armchair enthusiasts are privy to. I liken it to the interviews I have done in hiring. CVs can look good, even tests, but an interview can change the whole impression of a person. In a draft, the team is looking for someone that could potentially be in the fold for the long haul, so personality and perceived work ethic, etc are very important. For the Canadiens, I think they also want players to represent them well, while playing well of course.
McDonagh, Mr. Hockey Minnesota, may or may not be that mature now. I have no idea. But the Canadiens minders seem to like the maturing process that can be gained from a few years at a decent hockey playing university like Wisconsin. Same goes for Pacioretty at Michigan. Esposito would either be entrusted to the Habs, Hamilton or Patrick Roy again in Quebec. I get the feeling the Habs would like the maturing to be someone else's responsibility.
I believe the maturity of the top prospects is a big reason why the Habs seem to have soured a bit on the QMJHL. It is no longer producing the classy forwards it once did in Beliveau, Lafleur, Lafontaine and Savard. Nowadays it seems a lot of the bigger stars are brats, at least for a few years. Ribeiro was, Theodore to some extent (especially in Ribeiro's company), Lecavalier was for a long time. Even Sid the Kid has his moments, though on most nights he puts in an honourable effort to be very mature. Gems like Simon Gagne, who seems very mature, come few and far between. Hopefully Latendresse can follow that path. he already seems mature.
I do, however, believe that the Canadiens would be well served (and indeed very eager themselves) to add a French Canadian star with the maturity and qualities they are trying to encourage. Lecavalier seems to have grown up now, and would be a fine addition. I mentioned Gagne, and he would be quite an acquisition too. Briere would be fine, but as long as Koivu is here just does not fit the need. The list isn't endless, but is long enough that they might be able to grab a player who fits both the new ethic of the team and the local star ticket.
Wouldn't it be nice to just buy the league with the Quebec Aces and bring in Beliveau? The perfect fit and with Art Ross talent too. Those were the days. As we're stuck with the draft, at least it seems our guys have a plan.
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