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Canadiens among the top teams for drafting QMJHL players

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Despite accusations to the contrary, the Habs do in fact draft plenty of players from their own backyard

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Long gone are the days when the Montreal Canadiens dominated the acquisition of junior-age players in the Province of Quebec through the minor league NHL Sponsorship Program. Legendary players such as Maurice Richard, Jacques Plante, and Emile Bouchard were plucked from their junior squads in Québec and promoted up to a Canadiens farm team, and then to the illustrious team itself.

That all changed in 1963 when the NHL introduced the Amateur Draft, phasing out the Sponsorship Program, and opening up the availability of unsponsored junior aged players to all the teams in the NHL. With the first selection in the 1963 Amateur Draft, Montreal picked Garry Monahan out of St. Michael's Juveniles.

It wasn't until 1969 that all remaining sponsored players were phased out and all players were completely free to be drafted by any team. That year, the Rangers drafted Andre Dupont from the Montreal Junior Canadiens. He played 14 seasons in the NHL, of which none with the Montreal Canadiens. Then in 1970, the Buffalo Sabres famously drafted Gilbert Perreault first overall, forcing the Canadiens to begin to adapt to a new reality.

In 1971, Canadiens General Manager Sam Pollock pulled a rather infamous maneuver to ensure the Habs had the first overall pick so that he could draft Guy Lafleur. That same year, the Canadiens began to see the benefits of the new draft system opening up the borders, when they selected Larry Robinson of the Kitchener Rangers in the second round.

In 1973 the Canadiens picked Bob Gainey in the first round out of the Peterborough Petes, ahead of any other available Quebec-born player which seemed to work fine for them. In 1977, after losing Lucien Deblois to the Rangers, they picked Mark Napier, a decent player out of the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA, ahead of the Islander's pick out of the QMJHL, Mike Bossy. That one did not work out so well for the Canadiens.

With this new drafting system arose the need for expanded scouting, as the teams who invested the most in their scouting would reap the benefits of picking the best players in the draft. First, drafting was expanded across Canada, then into the States, eventually landing across the ocean as players began being drafted out of Europe as well.

Nowadays, the Canadiens have an expansive amateur scout network that spans all major hockey development markets, as do most of the other teams. Every year the Canadiens select the best available players who they think will help them towards a championship, while filling various organizational roles. Sometimes the draft pick is projected to be successful, other times will be a risk, with potential that might not develop in the end.

And so we leap ahead to modern days, where fans of old lament the loss of the French Canadian identity for Les Glorieux, and accuse them of being in fact biased towards them because they don't pick players out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact if you look at every drafted player since 2005, only the Philadelphia Flyers have drafted more out the QMJHL than the Montreal Canadiens. As a percentage of total draft picks, the Montreal Canadiens are only second by a miniscule margin.

So then, if the Canadiens pick so many players from the QMJHL, why is there a perception that the Canadiens don't like picking from Quebec? By the very data that perception is incorrect.

It has always been a long-standing organizational philosophy to draft the best player available in the draft. At no point was that more evident than in 2005 when the Canadiens had the fifth-overall pick, which they used to draft Carey Price, when they already had Jose Theodore, Jaroslav Halak, and Yann Danis in the organization as part of an excellent goaltending depth. It's easy to look back in hindsight and say "shoulda, coulda, woulda".

A lot of voices say that in 2003 the Canadiens should have picked Patrice Bergeron instead of Andrei Kostitsyn, but the Canadiens weren't the only ones to pass on Bergeron. Every team in the first round skipped over him. Even the Central Scouting Bureau had Bergeron ranked really low (28th) for North American skaters, below one Maxim Lapierre even, ranked at 23. Andrei Kostitsyn was ranked 3rd for European skaters, right after Milan Michalek. So based on predictions at the time, the Canadiens got a much better player.

Out of the 15 players drafted out of the QMJHL since 2005, only three have earned a regular spot in the NHL: Guillaume Latendresse, Nathan Beaulieu, and Sven Andrighetto. Two of those players are not even Francophone. Two players were outright busts in Olivier Fortier and Olivier Archambault, and the Habs just parted ways with another two, Gabriel Dumont and Morgan Ellis.

But there is plenty of hope for those people that lament the lack of Quebec born players on the Canadiens. The IceCaps are currently filled with prospects drafted from the QMJHL, including Charles Hudon, Zachary Fucale, Jeremy Gregoire, and Daniel Audette, with Simon Bourque in the wings, ready to join the pros in 2018-19.

In an age of parity in the League, it would be ridiculous for the Canadiens to skip on drafting a better player in order to pick a local kid. They would be doing themselves a massive disservice.