Habs Draft Recap: DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE
Great image taken by TCL's own Hockeybroad, who was in Minnesota for the draft
The NHL Entry Draft has come and one. Another year of teams selecting new prospects that will fill their line-ups, and their arenas for many seasons to come. Another year of GMs jockeying for position with trades of picks, prospects, and roster players in order to solidify their line-up before everything gets crazy again on July 1st. And for the Montreal Canadiens, another year of sitting back and watching patiently.
Many, myself included, were expecting fairly big things from general manager Pierre Gauthier and his gang of friends this past weekend. Nothing astonishing, but a recent rise in the salary cap and the reality of a reduced payroll for the team meant that Gauthier had some money to play around with, and a few spots on the team that could use improving.
Immediately, the need of this team was size and depth up front. The Canadiens currently have four players as the offensive "core", locked in for another three seasons, for better or for worse. Beyond Plekanec, Cammalleri, Gionta, and, unfortunately, Gomez, the Canadiens also have two genuine offensive wingers to back them up in Pacioretty and Kostitsyn. But aside from these six, and a couple of prospects and developing young players, there's little to get excited about when it comes to the Canadiens' offense, especially when you further stifle said offense with Jacques Martin's defensive "system".
So the need was there. But on a night that saw Devon Setoguchi switch from a blue Sharks jersey to a green and red Wild jersey, among others, Gauthier didn't take any risks to fill that void.
And truth be told, I'm kind of fine with it. Solely for the reason that while the Canadiens may be obviously and presently thin up front, they're deceptively thin on the back end.
We now have Andrei Markov locked up for three years, but it's a risky move that could backfire if he hasn't completely recovered from tremendous trauma to his right knee. While he hasn't signed a contract yet, Josh Gorges is in a similar boat, as he too is recovering from knee surgery. Hal Gill is returning for another season, as is Roman Hamrlik, in all likelihood, but along with Jaroslav Spacek these three careers are likely nearing their end.
So with that said, the Canadiens have two things to look forward to on the back end: Young superstar PK Subban, and the entering Alexsei Yemelin, who is essentially on a one year "tryout" with the club.
Beyond that, it isn't looking so good.
Yannick Weber waits patiently in either the Hamilton ranks or in the pressbox for a promotion that may never come. Jarred Tinordi had a tough season in his first year in the OHL, and seems to still be a few years away from being NHL ready, as is Mac Bennett. Brendon Nash and Matt Carle are good AHL players, but little more than that.
Clearly, organizational depth on defense is something we may have missed.
WITH THE SEVENTEENTH PICK
So, with all of this in mind, the Canadiens found themselves at the podium on Friday evening, opting to disregard opportunities to move up in the draft and pick up a Sean Couturier or a Jonathan Huberdeau for the forward ranks. Instead, they went with the best player still available, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
I won't bother going into too much detail about his career thus far, I'm sure that those that care the most have done their homework and read the numerous opinions already posted. But just in case, here's a link to his Hockey's Future profile. Moreover, many of us have seen him thanks to his recent Memorial Cup victory and subsequent placement on the All-Star team of that tournament. But there are still a few things that everyone needs to know about the young defenseman.
- The guy's skating abilities have been compared to PK Subban's. Having witnessed what Subban is capable of for over a year now, that's pretty exciting to hear.
- While he may be able to eventually skate like PK Subban, he doesn't seem to have his decision making skills or aptitudes. That said, his first pass is said to be dynamite, and a few years of development will certainly see him develop into a solid two-way defender.
- Many people were a little worried that a player ranked 5th among North American skaters by central scouting was available 17th, shortly after winning a Memorial cup, no less. But you have to remember that he's a North American defenseman, and if you're one of those and you haven't been drafted in the top five, you're likely to drop a little bit. See: Cam Fowler.
- Take everything I just said, and consider that he's a 6'3" 200lbs 18 year old.
Call me crazy, but I think the Canadiens drafted a special player in the first round last Friday night. He likely isn't the next Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey, but I like what I've seen of Beaulieu so far, and I think we're all likely to enjoy what we see of him in the next few years. Moreover, it was a player that Pierre Gauthier and Trevor Timmins simply couldn't pass up.
When the Canadiens' first round pick was in the books, they wouldn't get to pick again until the fourth round, or 97th overall, thanks to a trade with Winnipeg. In that round they would select three players, including:
- Josiah Didier (D, Cedar Rapids Roughriders - USHL, 97th overall), the typical American defenseman that we likely won't have to deal with for a few years;
- Olivier Archembault (LW, Val D'Or Foreurs - QMJHL, 108th overall), a former top Q pick with supposed attitude problems (where have we heard that before)
- Magnus Nygren (D, Färjestads BK - Swedish Elite League, 113th overall), a 21-year-old already playing pro - could be a sleeper.
The rest of the Habs' picks would be:
- Darren Dietz (D, Saskatoon Blades - WHL, 138th overall - 5th round);
- Daniel Pribyl (C, Sparta Jr. - Czech Junior League, 168th overall - 6th round);
- Colin Sullivan (D, Avon Old Farms - USHS-MA, 198th overall - 7th round)
Take all of this for what its worth. Obviously the deeper you go into the draft, the less likely you are to find a star. But every level of the Canadiens' organization requires depth, and you never know what diamond in the rough you might discover. The Canadiens' best defenseman over the last few years is a 6th round pick. Tomas Plekanec was a 3rd rounder, James Wisniewski a 5th rounder. Hal Gill was drafted in a round that doesn't even exist anymore. You never know which one of these players will eventually don a Canadiens' jersey.
NEW & NOTES
Habs news continues to roll in as we approach free agency, so here are the latest developments since we last touched base prior to the draft:
- It's official. Roman Hamrlik has been offered a contract. RDS reports that the Czech defenseman and his agent, Petr Svoboda, are mulling a one year deal offered to the 37 year old by Pierre Gauthier, but would prefer a two or three year deal. Hamrlik made $5.5 million per year for the last four seasons with the Canadiens.
- Speaking of Mulling, it's official. Kirk Muller is gone, accepting a head coaching job with the Milwaukee Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators. Don't expect to wait to long to see him behind the bench of an NHL team. Randy Cunneyworth is his likely successor along side Jacques Martin and Perry Pearn.
- Benoit Pouliot, Alexandre Picard, and Tom Pyatt have been cut. The three players did not receive qualifying offered from the Canadiens and will become unrestricted free agents on friday.No surprises with the vastly overrated former 4th overall pick Pouliot, who should have been shipped off a long time ago, as well as Picard, a spare part, but I have to say that I didn't see this coming with Pyatt, who earned the role of Jacques Martin's "teacher's pet" last season, despite having inexistant offensive upside.
- Expect Jeff Halpern, Alex Auld, Paul Mara, Brent Sopel, and James Wisniewski to follow them into free agency, with the Wiz being the only player I shed a tear for.
- Josh Gorges, Ryan White and Yannick Weber, on the other hand, have been tended qualifying offers, so they can either sign one year deals or wait for a better, longer contract from the Canadiens.
- Etienne Brodeur, last year's QMJHL leading scorer with the now defunct Lewiston MAINEiacs, has been tendered a tryout for the Canadiens' training camp later this summer.
- Finally, let's end on a positive note. Pat Hickey speculates that Scott Gomez may indeed be tradeable!
Expect a UFA day preview before Friday, and don't forget our annual Free Agent Frenzy liveblog taking place all day on July 1st (details to come). Until then, please feel free to leave your thoughts in our new and improved comment section below.