The NHL Entry Draft is one of the most important annual events for every team as it’s an opportunity to ensure a successful transition from a current roster to a future, hopefully more successful, version of their franchise. It’s for that reason that being prepared, scouting high and low and taking risks are a necessity.
Over the years, as competition grew more fierce, the scouting radius became bigger, scouting staffs grew and eventually coordinating the whole operation and making final decisions became too much for a general manager to handle.
This series will take a look at the people behind the scenes who were directly responsible for drafting for the Canadiens, and what their luck like was at the draft table.
Pierre Mondou (Draft years: 1996-1998)
On October 17, 1995, unsatisfied with the performance of the team on every level, President Ronald Corey fired the entire Canadiens front office, including General Manager Serge Savard, Assistant General Manager Carol Vadnais and Head Coach Jacques Demers. Also sent to the gallows was André Boudrias, the man who drafted for the Canadiens for 11 years.
Soon thereafter, it was up to rookie General Manager Réjean Houle, freshly hired by Corey, to select his staff. On December 11, 1995, he looked internally and picked long-time professional scout Pierre Mondou to replace Boudrias as Director of Recruitment. His sole responsibility was to focus on drafting, whereas Boudrias’ time as Assistant General Manager was fragmented between numerous responsibilities.
Aside from Mondou, Houle made several other hires that impacted the development of prospects in the Canadiens organization. Phil Scheuer became Governor of the Fredericton Canadiens, while Paulin Bordeleau would be their general manager and head coach. Surviving the layoffs, Claude Ruel remained at his post as Director of Player Development, with the added responsibility of helping younger prospects.
“Pierre has all the qualities required for the job. He has been a scout with the Canadiens for eight years. He has demonstrated sound judgement and he is dedicated. I’m really happy that “Moose” is with us” - Réjean Houle
Mondou was a product of the Canadiens system as he was a first-round pick in 1975, 15th overall, playing two seasons with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs and eight with the Canadiens. When he retired in 1985, he became assistant coach for the Verdun Blackhawks for three seasons before joining the Canadiens scouting staff in 1988. Mondou laid out his philosophy:
“We will ask our scouts to focus on their region instead of travelling. We have divided Canada into four regions. We will also start paying attention to a player’s character rather than just their raw talent. We want to make sure that we know the guys before we draft them.” - Pierre Mondou
This was an important development for the science of drafting, as the Canadiens would now plan on interviewing players prior to drafting them. Heading into the 1996 draft, with the help of a psychologist, the Canadiens scouting staff interviewed about 125 players.
Whereas, in 1995, when the Canadiens scouting staff were charged with drafting a large winger, Mondou was given free reign to draft the best player available, leading to the surprise pick of Terry Ryan.
“In the past we had some pretty specific organizational needs, but this year we have a pretty good balance among all positions. This year we will pick the best player available, regardless of position, league, or country of origin.”
With his very first pick, Mondou drafted Matt Higgins 18th overall. “I was surprised that he slid as far as he did in the draft. [He was ranked sixth overall by the Central Scouting Bureau (CSB)]. He has excellent offensive skills and good hands. He doesn’t have the character of a Terry Ryan, but he’s not afraid to go into traffic. Without being too aggressive, he can sacrifice himself to make a good play.”
Mondou also spoke highly of his fourth-round pick, Kim Staal. “Stall played for Mats Naslund last season in Sweden. Mats would call us often to talk about him. He excels at deking out defencemen one-on-one. We were afraid we would lose him [if we didn’t pick him when we did].” An injury would unfortunately cost Staal the 1996-97 season and possibly even a chance to prove himself in North America.
Another European player selected in the 1996 draft by the Canadiens was Swiss Mattia Baldi, the third player of Swiss origins to be drafted by a NHL team. Mondou led the negotiations directly with Baldi’s agent in order to bring the forward over to North America, but ultimately Baldi remained in Switzerland for the duration of his career.
The 1997 draft class was viewed as an exceptional one by Mondou. “Normally the first seven or eight players have superior talent, then there isn’t much difference between the 10th and 26th players. This year I would say that the first 15 are in a class of their own.”
Heading into the draft, many analysts and experts predicted that the Canadiens would select defenceman Jean-Francois Fortin, Memorial Cup MVP for the Hull Olympiques. Fortin was a 6’2” 200 pound 17 year old, ranked 13th overall by the CSB. Mondou even confirmed the rumour. “Fortin is one of six or seven we hope will still be available when it’s our turn to pick”.
Other players that were interviewed by the Canadiens prior to the draft included Daniel Cleary, Brad Ference and Nick Boynton. Instead, Mondou picked centreman Jason Ward, who drafted 11th overall, from the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. He was ranked much higher by the CSB, describing him as “difficult to move, strong all-situation player, plays his best in physical games. He has to improve his speed and agility.” As for Fortin, he was selected two spots prior to Montreal speaking at the podium for a second time.
Ward became an immediate sensation at the following camp, surprising many with his strong play in the preseason, including Mondou. “We knew he would be good, but we never expected him to adapt so well and so quickly to the pro game. We have to be careful in his case. We have to avoid embracing him too quickly. He has to be evaluated on a daily basis.” Although he was eventually sent back down to the Otters, Ward was considered the most promising first-round pick in a very long time. With the exception of Saku Koivu.
Elsewhere, the 1997 draft class had a distinctive European flair as the Canadiens chose Austrian Gregor Baumgartner, Finn Iikka Mikkola, Russians Konstantin Sidulov and Andrei Sidyakin, Czech Petr Kubos, Ukrainian Gennady Razin, and Norwegian Jarl Ygranes. Only Sidulov and Razin ended up playing within the Canadiens system but were limited to the AHL farm team, the Fredericton Canadiens before the Québec Citadelles.
On May 9, 1998, Mondou announced that after the 1998 draft, he would step away from scouting juniors to focus on pro scouting once again and that scout Pierre Dorion will take over as Director of Recruitment. Mondou was set on leaving his mark on the team and spent a lot of time with his team of 15 scouts interviewing potential draft candidates. Between 20-25 prospects were brought to Montreal for in-person interviews and physical evaluations. “We brought over those who we still believe will still be available when we will pick [16th overall], but interviews only count for 5% in our decision process. The rest comes from on-ice performances.”
The Canadiens ended up drafting Eric Chouinard, the first player from Québec to be drafted in the first round by the Habs in ten years. But even if Chouinard ended up being a bust for the Canadiens, Mondou still manged to leave a long-term mark on the Canadiens in his final draft by also picking Mike Ribeiro, Michael Ryder, Francois Beauchemin, Gordie Dwyer, and a little known Russian forward that came recommended by scout Pierre Gauthier, Andrei Markov.
PIERRE MONDOU’S DRAFT TRACK RECORD
- Total players drafted: 31
- Total players who attained the NHL: 13
- Success rate: 42%
- Best draft: 1998, 7 out 10 players made the NHL
- Top 5 best players: Mike Ribeiro, Andrei Markov, Michael Ryder, Francois Beauchemin, Aaron Asham.
- Fun fact: Gordie Dwyer, selected in the sixth round of the 1998 draft, is a highly regarded NHL head coach in the making, having coached in the QMJHL, KHL and the NLA. In addition, he was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships and Spengler Cup, and was rumoured to be in line for the head coaching job in Laval before Joel Bouchard was hired.