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Is the Canadiens’ lack of success really on the youngest players?

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Comparing Montreal’s development history to the rest of the teams in the league since Marc Bergevin became general manager.

New York Rangers v Montreal Canadiens - Game One Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

On Monday, the Montreal Canadiens held their season-ending press conference and a big topic of discussion surrounded comments from General Manager Marc Bergevin regarding the Habs’ young players.

This statement caused many debates between Habs fans about whether the statement was right or wrong, and both sides of the argument have some merit. At some point, players do have to take ownership of their own development. But how much?

How much of the issue is Canadiens players not being able to learn what is being taught versus the organization’s staff not being able to get prospects to their full potential?

Since Bergevin took over the Canadiens in 2012, no team has struggled more to develop young players. Below is a chart that includes every NHL team and shows the amount of prospects drafted in 2008 or later who have played 70 or more regular-season games in the NHL.

All stats via hockeydb.com

2008 was the chosen starting point because prospects drafted in that year would be playing in the AHL when Bergevin took over, while those who needed the least development would have already become NHL players.

The Canadiens have graduated a league-low five players since 2008; seven fewer than the league average.

Of those five players, Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu were called out on Monday despite rarely averaging more than role-player minutes in their career to date. The others are former Habs yo-yo Sven Andrighetto, coach’s dream Brendan Gallagher, and Artturi Lehkonen, who underwent his development entirely outside of the Canadiens organization.

Of the nine teams that are below the median of 11.8, the Habs are one of only three teams (the others being Minnesota and Toronto) that have not made a Stanley Cup Final.

Once again, Bergevin’s claim could be seen as correct. It would be much easier to keep a steady flow of youth to the team year after year if the Canadiens had picked more players in the top five. And the Habs have made the playoffs more often than not with Bergevin in charge.

Unfortunately for Bergevin, the stats don’t back up that claim.

Removing top-five selections from the data, the Canadiens do inch slightly closer to the median, but still finish dead last.

The excuse of deep playoff runs negatively impacting the prospect system also does not hold water because teams like the Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings have had at least as many playoff appearances and as much success since ‘08, but have all developed nine or more players than the Habs.

To be fair, the Canadiens only had four top-60 picks from ’08-’11, but is that just another excuse for their inability to develop players?

The organizational mindset

There are many factors when trying to explain why the Canadiens struggle to develop prospects, including AHL coaches, a tough market, expectations of players, roster spots, etc., but there is no concrete answer.

One idea that seems to be a recurring theme is that the organization seemingly feels that players who look like they are working hard are better players, and offering the most of themselves to the team. Look no further than Steve Ott and Dwight King playing all five playoff games despite neither doing anything significant. They listen and play hard, and that’s enough to maintain a lineup spot.

The Canadiens seem to believe that a player isn’t ready until said player can “play the right way” and adapt to the current system rather than developing a game plan around the skills of the players provide, and letting them develop into their roles.

Bergevin is right. Sometimes it does fall on the players to learn what is being taught. In this case, with the issue affecting just about every prospect drafted in the last decade, it seems that Bergevin should be criticizing his own management team for player development at least as much.

We will have more analysis on this topic coming in the future.