Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Canadiens Best 2013 Draftees May Be Small Again

The Canadiens took the biggest forward of consensus quality to be selected in the NHL draft this past Sunday. This is the story.

The Canadiens lost in the playoffs because a big Ottawa defence corps shut their small forwards down. The answer was to get bigger in order to make sure this won't happen again (well at least not in 6 years when this college-bound prospect is anywhere near to playing at an NHL stride).

It's one story line, but I don't put money on it being the one we end up heaping praise upon Trevor Timmins for. Let's take a look at the Habs picks and those of others.

Round 1 (picks 1-10)

The proverbial promised land in the deep draft is the top ten pick. Apparently, the Canadiens (like every other team with an ounce of sense and no larcenous trade on their mind) wanted a top ten pick in the draft.

We might be thankful that didn't come off:

"The price was big and we were willing to pay, but it didn't work," Habs GM Marc Bergevin said Sunday night, explaining he made an offer that included draft picks and players.
The gamble of many players for one bet (no matter how surefire one thinks it is) can be devastating for a rebuild when that one player doesn't pan out, or simply gets injured in the playoffs and leaves the team without a plan.

The teams picking in the top 10 did mostly as expected. I like Florida picking Barkov ahead of Drouin and Jones, as I think what he accomplished in Finland deserves to put him on that plane. Carolina opting for Lindholm seemed premature, but he needed to go within 3 picks of that. I do like Edmonton's selection of Nurse over the centre they are alleged to need. Taylor Hall still scored without a centre, but tell me who defends on that team. The one anomaly in the top 10 for me is Bo Horvat. I may be wrong, but I think far too much significance can be attached to these playoff goals in junior. Someone has to be the gamewinning goalscorer, and +3 on the London Knights for me for the kind of player one trades up for is a big flag. Further, I think Domi (though shorter) will be the power forward from that outfit. Dllas getting Nichushkin at #10 was a good end to the first tier.

First round (picks 11-24)

None of the players in the first ten were supposed to be around for the Habs, so my interest in that section of the draft was mostly academic. Come pick #11, the players we hoped and thought might be future Habs started to fall. Samuel Morin was first. The huge defender from the shadow of the Bell Centre would have been too hard to pass up at #25.

The winners in this section of the round for me were Phoenix (Domi), Ottawa (Lazar), Buffalo (Zadorov) and frustratingly Detroit (Mantha). The grand prize must go to Vanvouver though who nabbed Hunter Shinkaruk at #24 -- the player they should probably have selected at #9.

In the world of big forwards, Frederick Gauthier, Kerby Rychel, Andre Burakovsky and Alexander Wennberg also fell.

Habs first round (#25)

Michael McCarron at #25. What to say. It is perhaps true that the best of the forwards were gone by this point of the draft and that the Habs were happy to gamble as the draft was into the gambling section. But this pick was a bit off the radar. This was a player I tagged as a possible pick up with a later pick.

Of the players that were lost in between this odd pick and the Habs next selection, I was most disappointed to see the name Adam Erne. He was not a giant, but big enough and a key contributor on a good team in a better league. I would also have been warmer on Morgan Klimchuk with this pick, as his stats merit a longer look and his reviews were more interesting.

As I said, I had highlighted McCarron on a list of all players, but I was getting the real feeling that his ranking from the scouting services was being heavily influenced by exceptional size, rather than exceptional combination of size and skill. Given how big he was, one would have expected some raters to place him much higher if the value of scoring 13 goals in the USHL was really that amazing. But they didn't. When a small player gets a #45-50 ranking in pre-draft lists, one thinks underrating sometimes. When a big player gets it? Let's just say, with all the eyes on big players, I don't fear the underrating too much.

If he stays on track and works hard at his conditioning, however, it's hard to see how this player doesn't make the NHL even just to stand in front of the net.

First/Second round (picks 26-33)

Like the Canadiens, other teams like to get fancy when the picks get into the late 20s and 30s. Where consensus rules the beginning of the draft, lack of consensus has fully crept in by the late first. Some of the players taken in this range will probably have decent NHL careers. Others were home run swings leaving their teams thinking about stealing first.

As I said, I was disappointed to hear Adam Erne's name called. The others were leftovers from the feeding frenzy of the first. Each could go either way. The last thing the Habs need is another defenceman whose primary focus is not defending, so I was somewhat happy to see names that others were touting for bleu, blanc, rouge like Chris Bigras and Ian McCoshen be taken off the table for Bergevin.

Habs second round (#34)

Jacob De la Rose. The Swedish Kyle Chipchura. Ugh. Rarely do you hear of a Swedish player who has so little offensive skill that scouts are at a loss to talk about his value in that zone. My philosophy on drafting revolves around avoiding picks like this. This is my eyes is how you can end up sweating out a series trying to score on Craig Anderson. If you want a future third liner, wait until he is a future third liner then trade the scoring prospect you drafted for value for him.

Still, let's be fair here. De la Rose was touted by many. Many who have seen far more of his play than I have. The draft is full of defensively responsible players who go on to play fruitful careers in the German league. But the NHL is also full of players who scouts couldn't see for a clutch scorer until he'd scored the 3 OT playoff winners in the Stanley Cup finals.

De la Rose is another gamble of the kind I don't like. It sounds like he'll make the NHL, but the good money is that it'll be a decision whether to play him or Michael McCarron beside Brady Vail, not Alex Galchenyuk.

JT Compher (#35)

Happy the Habs didn't take this player, and I'm hoping that after the first two picks they had, the Habs weren't disappointed in the interlude pick either.

Habs second round (#36)

Here it was, the first goaltender chosen in an NHL draft by the Canaidens since Petteri Simila since 2009 and the first one with any chance of making the NHL since Carey Price 8 years ago.

Some have viewed the selection of a goaltender as a warning for Price. Far from it, this is a full indictment of the Canadiens pathetic extra-draft recruiting methodology. Though they managed to turn Cedrick Desjardins over the years into Dustin Tokarski, the other goaltenders tagged for organizational depth have not been able to hold up their ends of the bargain. Delmas, Mayer and the numerous lucky buggers that got to go to Habs camp over the years without ever making enough impression to unsettle the very shaky depth chart in Montreal.

The Habs needed to draft a goalie in this draft, someone who did an adequate job in the junior leagues just to get the ball rolling on developing goalies again.

Zachary Fucale fit the bill on a couple of fronts then. A Montrealer from the Q and a goaltender. To top it off, he was the consensus top goalie in the draft.

At the end of the day, the habs get a very good goalie they can work with into the future. If the Habs were able to take the 6 players they wanted from the whole pile without any consideration for who will be picked before their next pick, then Fucale is definitely the pick of choice (given his hometown roots and recent successes). But, the run on players in the next section of the draft means that this pick may end up looking like a mis-step if say Eric Comrie or CHL goalie of the year Patrik Bartosak end up doing just as much as Fucale.

All that to say, very happy with the player. Not so happy with what happened next.

Second round (picks 37-54)

Shot through the heart. Valentin Zykov, big, skilled, skilled and here (in North America already) goes at #37. Personally, I would trade any one of the three Habs picks thus far for Zykov. Los Angeles, a team that does well with Russians picked what I think is a winner here. It's first line potential for Zykov, not making an impact on the fourth line giant stuff here. I'll note that LA, the team with the better goalie from the 2005 draft also selected Bartosak, but in the fifth round after the Habs 7th pick.

Otherwise, this gets into a lot of guys I didn't even bother looking up based on their stats before the drat.

The key players that were lost from the shopping list in this section were Laurent Dauphin (Phoenix), Nick Sorensen (Anaheim), and Justin Bailey (Buffalo (again Buffalo)).

Zykov left a sting though, but the Habs never expected him to be available at #55 did they?

Habs second round (#55)

Now my man on the inside gets his groove. I don't know who it is, but last year someone on scouting picked as I would have picked. I was hoping his voice would be most prominent again. It took this long.

With the 55th pick, the Montreal Canadiens took Arturri Lehkonen of Kuopio in Finland. The word on Lehkonen is that he is skilled. The reason he could slip this far down was size, nothing else.

The reason the Habs are small is that their small draftees outplay their bigger counterparts by a very significant margin when decision time comes. The Habs have bigger prospects, some draft higher than Gallagher and certainly higher than Desharnais, but none can be as effective at the NHL level as the small guys.

And while it is true that Ottawa's big defence could have used a push around, there wouldn't have been a playoff series without the contributions of the small Habs players who won their division for the team.

Lehkonen as a prospect fits right into this group. He will have to be tested at the NHL level one day to make sure, but he is already the fourth best thing in Finland under age 20 after #2 pick Barkov (Florida), and first rounders Joel Armia (Buffalo, shoot me) and Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago). I like the shackles being thrown off for a minute to stay away from the next biggest player. I think if I had money to place, I'd be looking here.

Second/Third round (picks 56-70)

We're deep in the draft now, but even within this selection I thought there was fruit for the Habs to size up.

William Carrier (St Louis) had 42 points in 34 QMJHL games. He's big and was rated higher than McCarron by TSN and the NHL.Did I mention he's from Lasalle.

Jonathan Diaby is a huge defender from the Montreal area in the QMJHL. I'd have thought he was on the Habs radar.

Adam Tambellini scored a lot of goals in the BCHL and is a big guy with NHL bloodlines.

Habs third round (#71)

Connor Crisp. An off the chart pick here. Best known for once stepping in to play goal for his Erie Otteres last season, and the third best Connor on his team (notably Connor McDavid), Crisp does have NHL bloodlines too (Terry). I think 225 lbs at the age of 18 tells the big story here. Let's keep an eye on Crisp's career.

Third round (picks 72-85)

Ryan Kujawinski (NJ). Smaller than Crisp now, but on the radar and with better stats.

John Hayden (Chicago). A bit smaller than Mike McCarron right now, but twice the stats in only 5 more games on the same team.

Pavel Buchnevich (NYR). The big long shot left.

Taylor Cammarata (NYI). Top ten pick if 7 inches taller.

Bogdan Yakimov (Edmonton). Giant Russian with "terrific set of hands".

Habs third round (#86)

My guy gets back to the table with Sven Andrighetto. Tell me where else you get an 11th overall WJC scorer in the late third round other than Switzerland. And don't think he took advantage of lesser lights. He scored 6 of his eight points against Sweden, Finland and Czech. His best game was the QF when he scored a goal to get within one with less than two minutes to go. Too bad Rask or Reimer weren't goaltending.

On top of that Andrighetto was 6th in QMJHL scoring with far fewer games played than most. He had a greater PPG ratio than Nathan MacKinnon this season. He scored 30 points in the most recent playoffs in 14 games. To watch his highlights is to see a player that can pounce with little notice. hands that can steal a puck and convert a scoring chance a blink of an eye later are a rare thing.

Outstanding pick here.

Habs later rounds (#116, #176)

The Habs went to the QMJHL for their last two selections.

Martin Reway is a Slovak playing in Gatineau. What drew the Habs to him must certainly be the combination of production in the Czech junior leagues and the QMJHL.Gatineau is a well-coached and well-oiled team in the Q. They didn't go as far in the playoffs as they sometimes do, but 10 playoff games indicates some success. Part of that success must surely be attributed to Reway who amassed 11 assists over the playoffs. I suspect this late blip brought attention to the forward who'd make Gionta look giant.

Jeremy Gregoire is another one whose playoff production drew gazes. 62 points in a 123 game QMJHL career is not always draftable stuff. But 22 points in 36 playoff games (including 9 goals and 16 points in 18 this season) is exciting. Hockey's future calls him a character player. Obviously Timmins agrees.

Other teams later rounds (notes)

Jordan Subban (Vancouver). One pick before Habs choose. Growing up with family competition like he had, I'd have drafted him.

Gustav Possler (Buffalo, ugh). A rising star from Sweden.

Patrik Bartosak (LA). CHL goalie of the year.

Myles Bell (NJ). Fell very far for a 38-goal WHLer who weighs in at 212 lbs. Hope we don't regret this one.

Peter Quenneville (Calgary). Not a small boy scoring big in the USHL. May have received some good coaching over the years from his Stanley Cup-winning uncle.

Peter Trainor (undrafted). 100 points in the Q. Overage and smallish. Maybe to sign for a try-out?

Lucas Wallmark (undrafted). Apparently the knock is he lacks speed and acceleration but still manages to put up points at elite tournaments and play Swedish hockey. Detroit didn't take him, so maybe just keep an eye?

Overall, I am pretty happy with how the Habs did. I think it started slow, but ended with some very strong picks. I understand that one has to account for what others will do and the giants of the draft must be considered earlier than later because some teams still look to the scales first.

I think the big gambles here are the big guys. Gambles because they'll fit into a mix one day that by no means guarantees their NHL future. Fourth lines are chosen for many reasons and while enormous size is brilliant for screening goalies, it may not actually be that conducive to an NHL career as a checker as things speed up over time. For me then the story of this draft is Lehkonen and Andrighetto. Two elite level talents at their current age and development who may one day move that production to a higher league. I look forward to seeing how things pan out.

Finally, knowing what I know now (including players teams will let slip), I'd have done a few things slightly differently:

#25 - Adam Erne
#34 - Valentin Zykov
#36 - William Carrier
#55 - Artturi Lehknonen
#71 - Jordan Subban
#86 - Sven Andrighetto
#116 - Patrik Bartosak
#176 - Jeremy Gregoire
#206 - Lucas Wallmark

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