Quick, how many players can you name who have graduated from the AHL to earn full-time roster spots on the Montreal Canadiens in the last four seasons?
Nathan Beaulieu, Mike Condon, and Dustin Tokarski.That's it.
Brendan Gallagher spent the start of the lockout-shortened season with the Bulldogs, but was quickly moved up to the NHL when play resumed. So I won't count him.
Alex Galchenyuk jumped directly from Junior to the NHL.
Sven Andrighetto and Jacob de la Rose, both in their third professional seasons, still struggle to be part of the regular roster.
The less is said about Jarred Tinordi and Louis Leblanc, the better.
The Habs are failing to develop their youth. There are three reasons why.
1) The AHL Hamilton Bulldogs/St. John's IceCaps franchise does not present a winning environment
The AHL farm team has not qualified for the playoffs in the past four seasons, and they are clinging on by the skin of their teeth this year. It's hard to foster a winners' mentality when the team is continually losing. One may attempt to explain it away with the fact that the farm team's purpose is to develop players for the NHL parent club, and not to win hockey games, but certainly a limit of common sense must have been exceeded by this point.
In addition to a losing record, there are several documented questionable lineup decisions made by Head Coach Sylvain Lefebvre, like pairing offensive forward Louis Leblanc with AHL fighters Maxime Macenauer and Nick Tarnasky, and then with another pair of punchers, Kyle Hagel and Zack Stortini. These seemed to be more moves to punish than to develop.
Another example is as recent as this season, moving first-round draft selection Nikita Scherbak to centre, despite him never playing at that position before.
A lot of criticism has been levied at Lefebvre, and rightfully he must assume his share of the responsibility in failing to prepare the next generation for the NHL.
2) Michel Therrien does not trust young players
Did you know that the Habs have the second-lowest amount of games played by drafted players since 2008?
The story of Joonas Nättinen career is an unfortunate one. A third-round pick for the in 2009, he was a promising shut-down centreman for the Hamilton Bulldogs from 2011 to 2014. It was during the 2013-14 season that Nättinen earned himself a call-up to an injury-plagued Canadiens club, and on January 17, 2014, made his NHL debut. Michel Therrien used him for all of two shifts, amounting to 1:45 of ice time.
He wasn't injured, he wasn't ejected, he just wasn't used. He was sent back to the AHL right after the game. So humiliating and embarrassing this experience was that Nättinen opted to return to his home country of Finland for the following season, where he now gets selections for the Finnish National Team. The Canadiens still own his rights, but it is unlikely that he will return to North America.
This is an extreme example of Therrien's unwillingness to use young players, but how many endless cases are there of his double standard when it comes to prospects making mistakes and being unreasonably punished for it? Why was Alexei Emelin's for the same mistakes? Why did Michaël Bournival spend the majority of last season in the press box?penance so much more severe than
Therrien does not tolerate mistakes, but of course a young player will more than likely make them. So a vicious cycle is created where Therrien won't play them until they have more experience, but they won't get more experience until Therrien plays them.
3) Marc Bergevin signs too many stopgap players
Colby Armstrong, Francis Bouillon, Jeff Halpern, Daniel Briere, Douglas Murray, George Parros, Brian Flynn, Manny Malhotra.
Although players who bring plenty of experience short-term, none of them really gave anything to the team long-term. And of course it is easy to look at things in hindsight, but wouldn't the roster spots they took up be better filled by prospects to develop as NHL players? Yes, there would be more mistakes made, but the experience gained by the prospects would be invaluable and benefit the team in the long run, bringing up the next generation of NHL-calibre players.
Is poor drafting also to blame?
It is three levels within the organization that should share the blame for the lack of prospects developing into regular players on the Canadiens. I purposely left out drafting, because it is impossible to measure their success given what we have discussed.
Although the theory of Occam's Razor stresses that the most likely path is the correct one, I think I have presented enough cause to divert blame away from the amateur scouting department. One just has to look at Habs draft picks who left the organization to measure the success of the draft team.
Jarred Tinordi played less than seven minutes in his last Habs game, but he is flirting with 20 minutes of ice time with the Arizona Coyotes. Does a player improve so quickly over the course of just a couple of months to suddenly gain more ice time? Or are there more internal factors that held him back from developing and meeting his full potential with the Canadiens?
The Canadiens are on the verge of a major decision soon. Players like Andrighetto, de la Rose, Charles Hudon, and Daniel Carr will no longer develop any further playing in the AHL. Scherbak and Michael McCarron are probably one season away from being ready as well. The Habs need to now find room for them on the NHL roster, otherwise risk having them languish away in the minors, and that would just be poor asset management if that is allowed to occur.
At the end of the day, Stanley Cup champions are built through the draft. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand were all key parts of their championship teams, and they were all drafted and developed within their organization. The Habs still have a lot of work to do to achieve this level of developmental success.