Lazy Draft Analysis at the Globe & Mail

I don't know where the obsession has come from in recent years in comparing the Canadian hockey teams against each other, rather than against the whole league they belong to. There is no Canadian Championship, no award that goes with having the best hockey team in Canada. The Stanley Cup and the less revered Presidents Trophy (and even lesser revered Prince of Wales/Clarence Campbell Trophies) are what the teams have to play for, and they are league and conference based, not nationality based. I mean, we in Canada like our teams, and like to talk pucks, but there is no benefit to winning some fictitious competition amongst the now 7 Canadian teams.

I bring this up because because The Globe & Mail's hockey blog, the Globe on Hockey, seems to think that a comparison of the Canadian teams' total NHL games amongst draft picks from the arbitratry date of 2008 was relevant enough for a piece regarding the call-up of Louis Leblanc. The general idea behind it is that since the Canadiens exceptional draft year of 2007 (which they don't praise as such, but nevermind), the Canadiens haven't had a player make the NHL until Leblanc's call-up (and he may not even play, BTW). So, according to them, the Canadiens are obviously falling behind in terms of young talent to the other Canadian teams. Well, let's look at why this might be, shall we?

1. The Canadiens haven't sucked in this time frame.

In 2008, the year this story begins, the Canadiens finished 1st in the Eastern Conference. That year, only Calgary made the playoffs of the other Canadian teams, in 7th in the West. In 2009, the Canadiens squeaked into the playoffs in the 8th seed, while Vancouver and Calgary both made the post-season dance. In 2010, the Canadiens again squeaked into the 8th seed, while Ottawa finished in the #5 seed in the East, and Vancouver won the Northwest Division as the lone Western Canadian team. In 2011, the Canadiens made the playoffs again as the 6th seed, while Vancouver again was the only Western Canadian team.

In this four year time frame, Montreal was the only Canadian team to make the playoffs every season, and therefore had no picks in the top 14 of any Entry Draft. Three current Canadian franchises never made the playoffs at all (Toronto, Winnipeg/Atlanta, and Edmonton), while Ottawa made it only once. I don't think the Canadiens should apologize for trying to win the Stanley Cup, even if they didn't achieve that goal in that time frame. Only Vancouver has had more success than the Canadiens in this time frame: the Canucks are 5-3 in playoff series and won the Presidents Trophy and Clarence Campbell Trophy, while the Canadiens went 3-4 in playoff series without winning any hardware.

BTW, here's what this unauthored blog post (EDIT: Sean Gordon has since put his name up as the author) had to say about this fact:

True, the Habs have a veteran group and are usually a playoff team

No. Not usually. The Habs have always been a playoff team in this period of time you're referring to.

2. Most Players with NHL Experience Weren't Available when Habs Picked

While players who have made the NHL have been picked after the Canadiens have picked, since we're limiting our comparison to Canadian teams, let's have a look at these players they've selected that we've missed out on. Here's how the G&M puts it:

Over the same period, teams like Ottawa (with six), Toronto (two), Winnipeg (four), Vancouver (two), Calgary (four) and Edmonton (seven), have graduated draftees into the big club's lineup for at least a short look.

In 2008, the Canadiens first draft selection was down at 56th overall, where they picked Danny Kristo, currently in his junior season at the University of North Dakota (who this site voted our 7th best player under 25 this summer). Here are the players those other teams picked in 2008 that have played in the NHL:

Canadian Picks w/NHL Experience (2008)
Player Team Drafted Position GP Pts
Zach Bogosian Thrashers 3 D 222 67
Luke Schenn Maple Leafs 5 D 254 59
Cody Hodgson Canucks 10 C 31 13
Erik Karlsson Senators 15 D 158 92
Jordan Eberle Oilers 22 RW 93 67
Greg Nemisz Flames 25 RW 6 1
Yann Sauve Canucks 41 D 5 0
Patrick Wiercioch Senators 42 D 8 2
Lance Bouma Flames 78 C 16 1
Zack Smith Senators 79 C 94 24
Johan Motin Oilers 103 D 1 0
T.J. Brodie Flames 114 D 11 3
Teemu Hartikainen
Oilers 163 LW
12 5

The Canadiens pick in 2008's first round was supposed to be 25th, a nice cutoff point considering only one player since that point is currently a NHL regular and more than on a short-term call-up due to injuries: Zack Smith. The Canadiens picked Danny Kristo 56th overall, Steve Quailer 86th overall, Jason Missiaen 116th overall, Maxim Trunev 138th overall and Patrick Johnson 206th overall. It wasn't a great haul by any means, in fact, it was quite a weak one for Timmons. But Kristo is still a legitimate NHL prospect and at 56th overall, looks about as good as any of the guys picked around or after him. Though good on Ottawa for this draft, they did quite well, and the Oilers finding Eberle and a decent prospect in Hartikainen where they did was pretty darn good, too.

You should also note that 13 of the 25 players the Globe refers to were picked in 2008, when the Canadiens didn't have a first rounder or a sixth rounder. That's because its still rare to have players that are aged 21 to be in the NHL at all, and even rare for players aged less than that. So let's look at those players:

Canadian Picks w/NHL Experience (09-11)
Player Team Drafted Position GP Pts
Evander Kane Thrashers 4 ('09) LW 161 85
Nazem Kadri Maple Leafs 7 ('09) LW 33 13
Jared Cowen Senators 9 ('09) D 24 2
Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson Oilers 10 ('09) LW 100 35
Tim Erixon Flames 23 ('09) D 9 0
Carl Klingberg Thrashers 34 ('09) LW 1 0
Anton Lander Oilers 40 ('09) C 23 2
Jeremy Morin Thrashers 45 ('09) LW 9 3
Robin Lehner Senators 46 ('09) G 9 0
Taylor Hall Oilers 1 ('10) LW 87 60
Alexander Burmistrov Thrashers 8 ('10) C 97 32
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Oilers 1 ('11) C 24 25
Mika Zibanejad
Senators 6 ('11) C 9 1
Mark Scheifele
Jets 7 ('11) C 7 1

First off, thanks to doing this, I realize the Globe & Mail can't even count properly. It is 27 total draft picks by other Canadian teams, not 25. They missed two Thrashers/Jets picks in their count. Great research job. Anyways, Louis Leblanc at 18th overall in 2009 was the only player Montreal picked before any of the players on this list. And only Anton Lander seems to be sticking in the NHL, with Petteri Nokelainen-esque production. All of these players are still prospects, except the lottery guys that the other Canadian teams seem to love.

3. The Canadiens Do Have Young Talent

The cutoff for this article is arbitrary, and convenient. The Canadiens have four 2007 draft selections currently playing in the NHL, three of them on their NHL team. They also have two 2007 draft picks of the St. Louis Blues in Lars Eller and Aaron Palushaj. Hamilton is definitely depleted, but the prospects the Canadiens have acquired since 2009 have been pretty decent. The first six draft selections of 2009 all have NHL potential of varying degrees: Leblanc, Joonas Nattinen, Mac Bennett, Alexander Avtsin, Gabriel Dumont and Dustin Walsh are all either in the AHL already or will be soon. In 2010, the Canadiens selected a trio of players who are having strong junior seasons: Jarred Tinordi, Morgan Ellis, and Brendan Gallagher. And already from the 2011 draft the Canadiens have a pair of good to great juniors in Nathan Beaulieu and Darren Dietz, plus a solid Swedish pro in Magnus Nygren. Others have yet to distinguish themselves, but as teenagers, there is plenty of time and opportunity ahead.

This article is just another example of lazy analysis that is unfortunately commonplace in the hockey media. It took me about 90 minutes to put this together... it's not hard to find this info.

So kudos to Leblanc on his callup, and being the first of several players from the Canadiens 2008-11 drafts that will make the NHL (provided he actually plays). I look forward to a solid future from this group of players, but there's no need to rush.

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