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Why are the Canadiens seeing so few prospects coming through their own system?

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Looking for reasons for the Canadiens developmental stagnation.

St. John's IceCaps/Colin Peddle

I can't get Marc Bergevin's answer out of my head. When asked if he had any players in the pipeline who could play center. he said “no.”

It still echoes. Why, after five years, is the team in the same spot as when he took over? When Bergevin got the job his message was clear: draft and develop like the Chicago Blackhawks team that trained him to manage a hockey club.

I started to consider every possibility from AHL head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, to director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins, to Youppi's bad aura. Eventually I found the culprit. It's Brian Flynn's fault.

The list

It's nothing personal against that particular player, but he was not a big factor last season. He played 51 games that weren't given to Michael McCarron, Sven Andrighetto, Charles Hudon, Daniel Carr, Jacob de la Rose or any other young member of the organization.

It was not only Flynn. Over Bergevin’s Canadiens tenure trades have been made for Steve Ott, Dwight King, Andreas Martinsen, Jordie Benn, Nikita Nesterov, Brandon Davidson, Shea Weber, Andrew Shaw, Torrey Mitchell, Dale Weise, Tom Gilbert, Mike Weaver, Jeff Petry, Thomas Vanek, Davis Drewiske, Victor Bartley, Sergei Gonchar, Devante Smith-Pelly, George Parros, Christian Thomas, Devan Dubnyk, Michael Ryder, P-A Parenteau, Bryan Allen, John Scott, Ben Scrivens, Lucas Lessio, Zack Kassian, Dustin Tokarski, Phillip Danault.

He claimed Paul Byron and Mike Brown. The team signed free agents Douglas Murray, Colby Armstrong, Jiri Sekac, Brandon Prust, Daniel Brière, Manny Malhotra, Drayson Bowman, Bud Holloway, Tomas Fleischmann, Mark Barberio, Alexander Semin, Al Montoya, Zack Redmond, Chris Terry, Joel Hanley and Alexander Radulov. Bergevin also signed some university graduates like Daniel Carr, Mike Condon, Ryan Johnston, Tom Parisi, and Charlie Lindgren.

You can't say Bergevin hasn’t been active. I'm sure I forgot some and didn't even list all the minor signings like Nick Tarnasky and Markus Eisenschmid.

That’s a total of 57 players, including six goaltenders, in five years. That's an average of 11 a year for 2343 total games played and 726 points. It works out to less than 15 points per season, and 46 games per player when excluding the goalies, and most of those players didn't stay long.

There are assuredly a few great moves in that list, along with some fair ones, and many misses.

From Weise and Fleischmann he added Danault, who is now an important asset for the team and its centre depth. It’s important to note he was developed by Chicago and never played for Lefèbvre in the Canadiens’ own minor-league system. Petry for picks was an inexpensive way to get a top-four defenceman, Radulov was a great, unexpected addition to the top six, and Byron claimed off waivers proved to be a fantastic move.

The draft

The next step was to look at the draft picks.

Bergevin started his reign with seven picks, including one in the top three and two second-round selections. One of them (Sebastian Collberg) was eventually traded for Thomas Vanek who helped the Habs get to the conference final before he was let go.

From 2012 to 2016 he had a total of 32 picks with two in the top nine. There have been no second-round pick in the last three years, he’s traded them away himself for more immediate help.

May I remind you what a second-round pick can get you: P.K. Subban, Artturi Lehkonen, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Brandon Saad, or Nikita Kucherov, just to name a few. In return he got Jeff Petry and Andrew Shaw, who aren’t such bad players in their own right, but neither is a top-six centre.

Bergevin inherited 20 players from the previous era who were drafted from 2009 to 2011. Among them were Brendan Gallagher, Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Louis Leblanc. There was most of the defensive brigade that Lefebvre started with: Mac Bennett, Darren Dietz, Magnus Nygren, Morgan Ellis, and Josiah Didier. None of them made it to the NHL. During that period, only Greg Pateryn, who was added via trade, had a short stint before being moved.

Mikhail Sergachev, Noah Juulsen, Nikita Scherbak were all coming from great season before being drafted. All saw a drop in their numbers the next year. Various circumstances may explain that, but conversations with them and their coaching staffs with the mantra "they have to learn to play better defensively" may have played a part in it.

Is that the proper way to handle development? Galchenyuk and Subban dealt with a similar development strategy. “Defensive liabilities” like Erik Karlsson and Phil Kessel are useful in today's hockey. May I remind you why the team had an early exit: they couldn’t score any goals.

I appreciate that the GM is trying to improve his team and explore every possibility, but lately the draft contribution has been negligible. Because the team hasn't graduated enough from within, they try to low-ball those who do succeed so they can seek other free agents in hopes of fixing the problem.

Too many of those additions had just minor roles that should have been given to the team’s own draft choices to see how they fared. You can't just blame the players for not developing. The system is not producing enough NHL-calibre players that have an impact on the team.

What to do?

The Canadiens have a few options that can finally help them open the pipeline from the minor leagues to the NHL:

  • Hire more big brothers that will help their prospects reach the potential the scouting staff saw when they were picked
  • Trust the kids that are begging for an opportunity to shine (e.g. Charles Hudon).
  • Don't offer the option to the coach between a veteran and a rookie, but rather a rookie and a rookie.
  • Allow them to shine even if it means having to trade them for other assets in the future because they scored 25 goals and are asking for too much money now. It’s better than shipping them away for nothing.
  • Fix the disparity between what the amateur scouting staff and professional staff believes makes an NHL player.