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Hockey Lesson 3.2.6 - The importance of stockpiling seemingly useless draft picks

Patrick Roy looks on from the stands during the second day of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Patrick Roy looks on from the stands during the second day of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft at the Bell Centre on June 27, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

November 4, 1983. On this date, a history-altering transaction took place in Montreal Canadiens lore.

Seven games into the 1983-84 campaign, the Habs shipped defenseman Robert Picard to the Winnipeg Jets for a third round pick in the 1984 entry draft. The swing netted newly-minted Habs GM Serge Savard a general backhand slap from the always-poised-with-a-brick Montreal media.

Picard was a 6'2", 212-pound defenseman aquired some two years prior in a deal that sent Michel "Bunny" Larocque to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Larocque had been Ken Dryden's backup for the better part of eight seasons and was mired in a three-way crease jam. It was seen as a decent deal for both sides at the time; the Leafs had earlier surrendered goalie Mike Palmateer in order to get Picard, who played all of 59 games in Toronto before the deal.

In parts of four seasons with the Canadiens, Picard did reasonably well. Prior to being dealt, he had accumulated 38 points in 64 games in 1982-83. Still, his performance was somehow seen as disappointing. The Habs' defense at the time consisted of Larry Robinson, Rick Green, and Craig Ludwig, with Chris Chelios on the horizon at season's end. Many in the media felt Picard was given away, and they weren't entirely wrong. Picard was a former third overall pick of Washington, who had trouble achieving his best game in Montreal. It was thought that Savard could have waited and gotten more, had the defenseman had a better attitude and shown more professionalism while being sat out in certain games.

The early 1980s Canadiens were somewhat of an enigma, not unlike the present day Ottawa Senators. In the four years following their four consecutive Cup conquests, the Canadiens regularly achieved the 100-point mark, all the while falling in the first round to Edmonton, Quebec, and Buffalo, who all possesed young surging teams. Two GMs and three coaches later, the Canadiens slipped to an embarrassing 75-point campaign, and clung to a playoff spot all year. It was in the midst of this glitch in their history that the Picard trade was made.

The 1984 draft was highly regarded as a bumper crop year. Leading the pack by miles was a junior phenom of few peers named Mario Lemieux. On December 21, 1981, Lemieux, at the time a 15-year-old QMJHL rookie, was in the Habs sight when they dealt unhappy and moody winger Pierre Larouche to Hartford for a flip-flop of first round picks in the far off 1984 entry draft. The calculated gamble came close to the target: Montreal landed the fifth choice overall. They chose Petr Svoboda and sent the Forum faithfull gathered for draft day into a quizzical stun. The choice of Svoboda, who was not even on the European draft lists, surprised everyone. He went on to play the following season as an 18-year-old. However, the skinny and testy Czech defenseman was a far cry from the usual homegrown pick. He did go on to play in the city for almost a decade, most often quite reliably. He was definitely not the hoped-for Mario Lemieux, however.

The second pick overall that season was a fellow named Kirk Muller. In the ninth slot, from the trade of Doug Wickenheiser to St. Louis, the Habs grabed the rugged Shayne Corson. Other first round names of note were Ed Olczyk in third, Al Iafrate to the Leafs fourth, Gary Roberts to the Flames 12th (don't that make you feel old!), and Kevin Hatcher to Washington 17th.

The draft became best known for who went in the later rounds. Possibly, with all the focus on Lemieux, scouts blinked at Michal Pivonka (59th WAS), Ray Sheppard (60th BUF), Brett Hull (117th CAL), Luc Robitaille (171st LA), and Gary Suter (180th CAL).

The Canadiens chose a goaltender with their 240th pick (incidental in hindsight) named Troy Crosby, whose offspring would do just a little better!

When Savard inherited the Canadiens GM post, one promise he did make was to pay closer attention to the home-grown talent in the much maligned, but wildly offensive, QMJHL. Repeated trips into backwoods Quebec gave Habs scouts a priveleged look at a young Granby Bisons sniper named Stephane Richer. The Ripon, Quebec native was in the midst of a 39-goal rookie season while playing on a miserable Granby squad that won all of eight games in the previous season. The Habs eventualy chose Richer 29th overall, and the two-time 50 goal scorer remains the last Canadiens player to reach that milestone. In a hazard of circumstance, a later trade involving Richer netted the Habs none other than second overall pick Muller.

While scouting Richer, the Habs brass became familiar with the dismal Granby squad, who were allowing between 50 and 60 shots on goal. Oddly, that was an improvement from a season ago. The Bisons were close to playing .500 hockey, due to the production of Richer and the combativeness of a shell-shocked and proud goalie coming off an eight win season, with a goals against average of 6.26.

The scout in attendance during one particular game made note of the goaltender in question while his team fumbled in defeat. Already trailing by a substantial margin in another 60-shot shellacking, the Bisons were killing off a 5-on-3 penalty when fate stood upright. For whatever reasons, all three Bison penalty killers were marooned up ice, giving the opposition that rare 3-on-0 breakaway. The first shooter had his blast kicked out directly to a linemate who one-timed a wrister that was gloved by the cool-as-a-cucumber netminder.

Undeterred, the goalie tossed the gloved shot to a third trailing threat, and motioned with his glove hand as if to say "Come on, you try me!" That shot was also snared!

The Habs scout took notice.

The cocky goaltender? None other than the future legend named Patrick Roy.

The Habs used the Picard pick, 51st overall to select Roy. His third year in the Granby Zoo (yes, they really are famous for their animal zoo - look it up) wasn't quite as good, and they sunk even worse in the standings. Roy's final season stats in Granby were a miserable 16-25-1, with a 5.55 GAA.

Roy was hardly in the Habs future plans when the QMJHL regular season ended. Roy was invited to join the Habs farm team in Sherbrooke where he appeared in their final regular season game, allowing four goals. As faith turned to destiny, both of Sherbrooke's goalies went down to injury a game apart (today, I would be inclined to believe both were poisoned by Roy). Roy was thrust into the starting role, a world away from Granby. He appeared in 13 games, guiding the AHL squad to a 10-3 record and a Calder Cup win in 1985. Few even knew where he'd come from!

The following season, the previous season's performance earned him a shot in the bigs. He did so well that the Canadiens were forced to go with the dreaded three-goalie rotation no coach or GM wishes to juggle. Roy left them little choice. While somewhat shaky at times, during the season's course, he did manage to wrestle the starter's job away from then #1 Steve Penney, and backup Doug Soethart.

Come the Canadiens 1986 playoffs, an unlikely legend was underway.