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Behind the Draft: Pierre Dorion’s rapid rise and fall

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The darkest period for the organization on the ice coincided with its worst at the draft table

2017 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Pierre Dorion (Draft years: 1999-2000)

Pierre Dorion jr. joined the Montreal Canadiens’ organization on September 13th, 1994 as an amateur scout at the age of 22. He was the son of the former head of scouting of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so scouting ran in his veins. He was hired by Director of Scouting Andre Boudrias to scout the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League.

By 1998, Director of Amateur Scouting Pierre Mondou, Boudrias’ replacement, was planning to step aside from the role and return to focusing on professional scouting, and Dorion was selected to become his replacement. The 1998 draft, although technically still under Mondou’s watch, would be Dorion’s first steps into being an influence in the draft, and it was not without controversy. The Canadiens picked Eric Chouinard ahead of Simon Gagne with the 16th pick.

But beyond the first round misfire, Dorion and Mondou chose Mike Ribeiro in the second round, Andrei Markov in the sixth round, and Michael Ryder in the eighth round. All three would become core pieces for the Canadiens in the early 2000’s.

“Since the arrival of Pierre Mondou at the head of scouting, the Canadiens decided to select real hockey players, and we will continue down this path. If they are big, it’s a plus, but we want to get our hands on players who know what a puck is. That’s why we chose Chouinard and Ribeiro.” said Dorion after the draft, when he officially took over the role.

“We also considered drafting Ramzi Abid, but in the end we chose Chouinard. We didn’t hesitate when it came our time to pick. We think that his family lineage will help him. His father played in the NHL,” said general manager Rejean Houle.

Dorion spent the early part of his tenure defending his scouting team’s past poor performance at the draft, bringing up examples of players who flourished only once they left the Canadiens organization. Players such as Valeri Bure, Darcy Tucker, and Sebastien Bordeleau were all having success on other teams despite starting their professional careers in Montreal.

“The scouts have not always done poor work,” defended Dorion in late April 1999. He blamed Alain Vigneault’s unwillingness to play young players, contrasting the team with the Ottawa Senators, who were loaded with young draft picks. The glaring difference was that the Senators were loaded with talented players out of Europe, while the Canadiens primarily drafted out of Western Canada, and did not develop as hoped. Dorion promised more Europeans would be drafted, a strategy that ultimately came back to haunt him in 1999.

Dorion’s first real test would, over time, be qualified as a total disaster. Despite having 11 picks in the 1999 draft, not a single player would play a game for the Canadiens out of that draft class. Although the Canadiens did not have a first round pick that year, having just traded it for veteran Trevor Linden, with their first pick at 39th overall they selected small and speedy Russian forward Alexander Buturlin. “We are thrilled to have been able to pick him. Based on our evaluation he was ranked in the first round. Maybe the other teams snubbed him because of his size. If he was six feet tall, he would have never fallen into our lap,” said Dorion after the draft.

“I never saw him play, but our scouts were very impressed with him,” added general manager Rejean Houle.

Buturlin would never play an NHL game.

The summer of 2000 saw a bit of a shake-up in Hockey Operations for the Canadiens as Andre Savard was named Director of Hockey Personnel, replacing Jacques Lemaire, and became Houle’s right hand man. In addition Martin Madden was hired as pro and amateur scout.

Savard did not really have time to get installed in his new seat as Houle was fired as General Manager mere months later, and Savard was tasked with picking up the pieces and chose Madden as his assistant general manager.

Savard wasn’t exactly glowing in his evaluations of certain players drafted by Dorion, notably speaking to the 2000 draft class, Dorion’s second: “Ryan Glenn, seventh round pick, is a character guy, while Scott Selig, eighth round pick, will need time to attain his potential.” Neither one would play in the NHL. In fact only three out of 11 players would make it to the NHL: Ron Hainsey, Marcel Hossa, and Jozef Balej.

2000 would become Dorion’s final draft as the Director of Amateur Scouting.


PIERRE DORION’S DRAFT TRACK RECORD

  • Total players drafted: 22
  • Total players who attained the NHL: 4
  • Success rate: 18%
  • Best draft: None
  • Top 5 3 best picks: Ron Hainsey, Marcel Hossa, Matt Carkner.
  • Fun fact: Jozef Balej, a third round pick in 2000, was traded to the New York Rangers along with a second round pick in 2004 for forward Alex Kovalev, in one of the most lopsided trades in Canadiens history.

Martin Madden (Draft years: 2001-2002)

Leading up to the 2001 draft, it became evident that Dorion’s influence and power were severely tempered. Madden assumed responsibility of choosing players, while Dorion would simply coordinate scouting activities. “I’ll have the final say”, said Madden to La Presse, “My new responsibilities will require me to watch even more games. In fact every member of the organization will have to do a little bit more”. With the seventh overall pick Madden chose American defenceman Mike Komisarek. The 2001 draft was the first draft in Canadiens history where no Quebec-born player was selected.

Madden opted for two Czechs, a Russian, a Finn, an American, a WHLer, and two OHLers. For the most part an unimpressive crop, save for one of the Czechs, Tomas Plekanec.

Madden would draft twice for the Canadiens. The 2002 draft was exceptionally lean for the Canadiens as they only picked six times in a nine round format. The target that the media believed the Canadiens were going for was small forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard. Madden’s glowing praise certainly did not do much to deter them. “Bouchard has exceptional vision for the game. He causes a lot of things to happen on offence with his seeing-eye passes with no hesitation. He also has a scorer’s instinct. We don’t know if he will still be available.” In the end, the Canadiens chose another American, Chris Higgins.

They did choose two Quebecers that year, Michael Lambert and Jonathan Ferland, but the European and American diversity remained a priority.

In June 2003, before the next draft, Bob Gainey took over as general manager of the Canadiens and Savard was demoted to assistant general manager. Madden was also facing a demotion, and was offered a professional scouting role which he turned down. “I am upset, but these are things that happen in professional hockey,” said Madden. “As Savard became Gainey’s assistant, my role seemed to be precarious. And since I had no intention going back to being a scout, this brings an end to my association with the Canadiens.”

He finished off by saying he was proud of the selections of Alexander Perezhogin and Mike Komisarek. “I can say that as long as they succeed, it would make it worthwhile for me to have been here.”


MARTIN MADDEN’S DRAFT TRACK RECORD

  • Total players drafted: 14
  • Total players who attained the NHL: 4
  • Success rate: 28.5%
  • Top 5 3 best picks: Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek
  • Fun fact: Madden’s son, Martin Madden Jr., is currently the Anaheim Ducks’ Director of Scouting. He counts his father among his scouting staff.