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2014 NHL Draft - Portraits - Round 1

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Six-year review: Reassessing the Montreal Canadiens’ 2014 NHL Draft class

There was plenty to be excited about in 2014, but Nikita Scherbak’s inability to claim a roster spot set the trend for that year’s prospects.

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

As the trade deadline was approaching toward the end of the 2013-14 season, it was clear that the Montreal Canadiens needed a boost if they were to go into a second consecutive post-season with a bit of momentum. Their defensive game was holding up, ranking as one of the stingiest teams in the league, but the offence was limited to just 2.50 goals per contest.

In his second year as the team’s general manager, Marc Bergevin shocked many pundits by making a major splash at the 11th hour. He addressed the goal-scoring issue by landing one of the top offensive players available: Thomas Vanek.

The addition did what Bergevin had hoped down the final stretch. The Canadiens lost just seven more times the rest of the way, and only four times in the final 15 games to make the playoffs as the third seed in the Atlantic Division. Vanek was a major contributor, supplying 15 points in 18 games with his new team.

However, Vanek wasn’t able to keep that pace going, and he gradually fell out of favour with head coach Michel Therrien in the post-season, dropping from the first line to the fourth. He still managed 10 points in the Canadiens’ three-round run, helping to spread the offence throughout a lineup that had been extremely top-heavy without him. When the season was done, it was obvious the team needed an offensive star like him to be considered a true contender.

Organizational depth heading into the 2014 NHL Draft

Even a cursory glance at the depth chart heading into the 2014 NHL Draft revealed which forward position should be targeted: right wing. Vanek wasn’t going to be brought back after his rental period was over, and the Canadiens were also prepared to turn the page on captain Brian Gionta. Filling that spot from within or via free agency was unlikely to provide a long-term solution, leaving the draft as the best bet to patch the hole.

Fortunately, as the Canadiens were one pick away from being called upon to make their first-round selection in June, two very good right-wing prospects were still on the board.

At EOTP, we felt David Pastrnak was underrated with his projections in the late teens/early 20s of the first round, let alone his fall to the mid-20s where Montreal was waiting on draft day. The same thing had happened in SB Nation’s mock draft that year, and we happily snatched him up.

The Boston Bruins didn’t let that fantasy become reality. They called Pastrnak’s name at 25th, adding the Czech scorer to their own ranks. The Canadiens therefore turned to a similarly overlooked Russian when they made their way to the podium next.

Nikita Scherbak

Going into the draft with fairly low expectations, Trevor Timmins was surely surprised that he got to call Nikita Scherbak’s name at 26th overall. The winger had put up 78 points on a Saskatoon Blades team that won just 16 games in 2013-14, and the margin to the second-best scorer was 35 points.

It was quickly apparent that the Canadiens hadn’t just drafted a gifted offensive player, but a charismatic personality as well. That was something Bob McKenzie highlighted right away when Scherbak was picked, and an attribute the team was happy to showcase throughout the summer.

Scherbak wasn’t expected to be an immediate help for the team. His overall game needed more work for him to become an NHLer, especially on the defensive side. But seeing him in action at the Canadiens’ development camp a few days after he was drafted, we saw that he had some defensive instincts and understood that he first had to gain possession of the puck to create offence, and then his lauded transition game could take care of the rest.

With the start of his NHL career still a few years away, faith in him reaching the top level was quite high from the beginning. At worst it was felt he’d become a major contributor for the AHL club, and a spot in the Canadiens’ top six sometime in the near future was a good possibility.

A trade just ahead of the 2014-15 season moved Scherbak from Saskatoon to a much stronger program in Everett. Within the Silvertips’ defensive strategy his game rounded out further while his offensive game remained intact, contributing similar offence to what he’d produced in his draft year.

He graduated to the professional ranks the next season, displaying some obvious growing pains with the St. John’s IceCaps. He looked much more comfortable in his second season with the AHL team, and earned his first recall to the Canadiens for his efforts, during which he scored his first NHL goal.

After three years in the organization, the initial impressions were holding strong. He was producing at a good level in the minors, and he showed a bit of his potential during a three-game stint in Montreal. No one expected at that time time that his first goal at the top level would be one of just six he’d score in his NHL career.

He was better than a point-per-game player in the farm team’s new home of Laval the following year, but amassed a mere six points (4G, 2A) in 26 games with the Canadiens. Because he had started his pro career relatively early, playing in the AHL while he still had Junior eligibility in 2015-16, his three years of waivers exemption were up the following summer. Montreal would either need to keep him on the NHL roster the next season or let the other teams have a chance to claim him.

The answer was to leave him on the 23-man NHL roster where other teams couldn’t reach him, but he also wasn’t trusted with any playing time. A five-game conditioning stint in the AHL was the only action he saw in the first two months of the season. On December 1, 2018, Bergevin placed him on waivers hoping to get him to the AHL, but he was eagerly scooped up by an offensively starved Los Angeles Kings team hoping his offensive game could flourish in their disciplined system.

That experiment lasted just eight games before he was placed back on waivers, clearing this time to join the Ontario Reign. A disappointing 11 points in 23 games brought his season to an end, and his North American career along with it. He played his 2019-20 season in the KHL, having a contract terminated by Avangard Omsk before being signed by Traktor Chelyabinsk to finish up the year.

At this point it’s fair to call Scherbak a bust, and he’s just one case in what has been a difficult run for Montreal of converting first-round picks into NHL players. He’s now finding it difficult to maintain a foothold in pro hockey in general, not just in the top league in the world. Perhaps one day in the future he’ll begin to realize his potential, but confidence in him doing so is very low six years after all of the initial excitement.

Scherbak’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
20 CHI Nick Schmaltz F NHL 249 45-105—150
21 STL Robby Fabbri F NHL 216 46-58—104
22 PIT Kasperi Kapanen F NHL 202 41-49—90
23 COL* Conner Bleackley F ECHL 0 0-0—0
24 VAN Jared McCann F NHL 310 52-71—123
25 BOS David Pastrnak F NHL 390 180-199—379
26 MTL Nikita Scherbak F KHL 37 6-2—8
27 SJS Nikolay Goldobin F NHL 125 19-27—46
28 NYI Josh Ho-Sang F AHL 53 7-17—24
29 LAK Adrian Kempe F NHL 256 41-62—103
30 NJD John Quenneville F NHL Call-up 42 2-3—5
31 BUF Brendan Lemieux F NHL 131 19-17—36
32 FLA Jayce Hawryluk F NHL/AHL 68 10-12—22
* Unsigned by Colorado, Bleackley re-entered the draft in 2016, selected in the fifth round by the St. Louis Blues.

Pastrnak has proven to be the best player from this section of the draft, and has only been outproduced by Leon Draisaitl in the entire 2014 class. Many of the players selected around the Canadiens’ spot are carving out NHL careers — not as stars perhaps, but still effective members of their teams.

Scherbak is one of the few who was unable to claim a place in the league, and that’s a tough development for an NHL club that still isn’t satisfied with its right-wing depth in 2020. Had he panned out as the top-six scorer many projected him to become, the organizational outlook with a 50- to 60-point winger inserted in the depth chart would be significantly different from what it is today.

Second-round pick

The cost of adding Vanek for the 2014 playoff run was Sebastian Collberg (another right-wing prospect who wasn’t developing as expected) and the Canadiens’ second-round selection. There was a condition on the pick: Montreal needed to qualify for the post-season if it was to go to the New York Islanders. It was a strange stipulation for the Islanders to agree to, especially with the Canadiens’ downward trend ahead of the deadline that made missing the post-season a real possibility, but the market simply wasn’t there for the rental wingers, some of whom weren’t traded at all.

In the end, the Canadiens got their player (and a fifth-round pick as well), and the Islanders added a second-round pick and a prospect. With Vanek’s help, Montreal was able to get to the Eastern Conference Final. Looking at how shallow the prospect pool was at the time, the organization certainly could have used another high pick, but going for a Stanley Cup will always take precedent if the team is in contention.

Brett Lernout

Another shallow area of the prospect pool was on the right side of the defence. Outside of P.K. Subban, who was one year removed from a Norris Trophy and at the peak of his career, the bottom four needed help. The team hadn’t given up on some of the internal options, with Magnus Nygren the top candidate to make the jump, but more options are always welcome.

Missing out on the entirety of the second round, the Habs’ brass watched as a run on defencemen began around the middle of the third. Rather than hope the player on their list was still available when they were called upon at 87th, the decision was made to combine that pick with their fourth-rounder to move up to 73rd and select WHL defenceman Brett Lernout.

He was far from a polished player, but had plenty of talent to build his game on. His rare combination of a big frame and strong skating ability was something Montreal was obviously intrigued by. Good improvement over his draft year would have impressed the scout keeping an eye on him, so it was surely a glowing report he presented in pre-draft meetings. There wasn’t a whole lot of offence to get excited about, but a blue-liner who could develop into both a physical defender and a puck-mover was worth investing in.

Initial impressions of the third-rounder following the draft were relatively low. In our Top 25 Under 25 that summer, all of the right-handed defencemen who had played in the AHL that season ranked above him. Despite the fact that the Canadiens had specifically targeted him, everyone wanted to see more evidence of his game coming together.

Things started to connect in his draft-plus-one season in Swift Current. The alternate captain doubled his offensive production while also significantly reducing his penalty minutes. Both of those had been issues the previous year, so his development seemed to be coming along at a rapid pace.

The 2015-16 season was not only the start of his professional career, but also saw him make his NHL debut: six-and-a-half minutes in a one-game call-up. His stint lasted two games at the end of the next season, including a 24-minute outing in the final game of the NHL calendar.

He seemed to be well on track to becoming an NHL player, and at worst a key role in the AHL was in the cards. That steady progression was reflected in our Top 25 Under 25, as he rose four spots each year to rank 18th in 2017.

We got a much deeper look at his NHL readiness in 2017-18 as he spent nearly a quarter of the year with the Canadiens. Getting more regular playing time, some of the flaws in his game became more obvious versus top competition. The lack of offence (just one assist on the year) wasn’t surprising, but his hesitance in defensive situations wasn’t the expectation for a player whose size and physicality were his main attributes, nor was his puck-moving ability up to par.

With a significant dip in his minor-league offence that season and next, and more struggles on the defensive side in the AHL, the final season of his entry-level contract in 2018-19 was his last as a member of the organization as he was not extended a qualifying offer at the end of the year.

He was signed as a free agent by the Vegas Golden Knights that summer, and had just two points with their farm team in Chicago when the current season was called to a halt. The 18-game look he was given by Montreal as a 22-year-old could very well have been the only chance he’ll get to claim an NHL role.

Lernout’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
67 CAR Warren Foegele F NHL 147 25-23—48
68 TOR Rinat Valiev D AHL 12 0-0—0
69 WPG Jack Glover D ECHL 0 0-0—0
70 OTT Miles Gendron D ECHL 0 0-0—0
71 NJD Connor Chatham F ECHL 0 0-0—0
72 SJS Alex Schoenborn F EIHL 0 0-0—0
73 MTL Brett Lernout D AHL 21 0-1—1
74 BUF Brycen Martin D ECHL 0 0-0—0
75 DAL Alex Peters D U Sports 0 0-0—0
76 CBJ Elvis Merzlikins G NHL 33 -
77 CBJ Blake Siebenaler D ECHL 0 0-0—0
78 NYI Ilya Sorokin G KHL 0 -
79 TBL Brayden Point F NHL 294 115-145—260

Twenty-one games of NHL experience isn’t much from a draft pick, especially one a team moved up to select. However, if the Canadiens were intent on adding an NHL blue-liner to their ranks at that stage of the draft, there really weren’t many diamonds to be mined. They would have had to trade all the way up to 55th to prevent the Anaheim Ducks from selecting Brandon Montour to get a player who would go on to have a significant NHL impact. There were plenty of defencemen selected around where Lernout was that played no games at the top level at all.

The truth of the matter is that it was just a poor year for defencemen, with a very shallow pool to choose from. Only five defenders were deemed worthy of a first-round selection. Six years later, only eight blue-liners have taken the ice for at least 100 NHL games from the entire 2014 class.

Extending beyond defenceman, one name has been linked to the Lernout pick in recent years given his rise to stardom: Brayden Point. The Tampa Bay Lightning forward is one of three players from the 2014 draft flirting with point-per-game production in the NHL, joining Draisaitl and Pastrnak in that category. He was on the board when Montreal selected Lernout, eventually going 79th overall.

The Canadiens were far from the only team to miss on the centreman. Even the Lightning made their own ill-fated attempt at adding a big defenceman with a second-round selection — twice — before opting for Point in the third. Even though most of the scouting services had him no lower than a mid-second-round selection, you can see in Bob McKenzie’s poll of NHL scouts that the opinion of those actually making the NHL draft boards didn’t regard him as highly.

As Hockey Prospect pointed out in their glowing review of the player, “Point’s only real fault is his lack of size.” At 5’9” some teams weren’t willing to take the chance on him. The Canadiens, criticized for being one of the smallest teams in the league, were unlikely to be the team to take that chance, especially with Bergevin’s clear attempt to add big bodies early in his tenure (drafting Michael McCarron in 2013, trading for George Parros, signing Douglas Murray, etc.).

Bergevin tried to make amends in the summer of 2019 when he considered extending an offer sheet to Point, who was an unsigned restricted free agent at the time. The decision was made instead to reach out to Sebastian Aho, getting the up-and-coming Finnish centre to sign the contract before it was matched by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Nikolas Koberstein

We’ve already established how futile it was to draft defencemen in 2014. Even before seeing how the class fared over the next six years, the choice the Canadiens made with the fifth-round pick obtained in the Vanek trade left a lot of people perplexed.

It’s unlikely that you’re going to find a future NHLer so late in the draft, and the Canadiens’ scouting staff was probably left underwhelmed by the defence crop most teams were poring over. With their focus still on bolstering their stock of right-handed defencemen, Trevor Timmins and company opted to go well off the board.

Seeing Nikolas Koberstein in action at the Canadiens’ development camp soon after he was selected, there didn’t appear to be much dynamism in his game. He seemed like the kind of safe player who was competent enough in his own end but would have little impact in the other two zones.

Given that outlook, an NHL role seemed unlikely for his future. If his offensive game didn’t blossom, a high role at even the AHL level wasn’t in the cards. The perception was that the Canadiens had a player in need of major improvement. Being committed to an NCAA career would at least give him a steady environment to work on those lacking aspects.

One prep year in the USHL, and then two years with the University of Alaska, provided little evidence that those improvements were being made. Unimpressive offence wasn’t surprising based on his pre-draft performance, but finishing with one of the lowest goal differentials on his team wasn’t helping to paint a picture of a defensive stalwart, either.

Expectations that were initially low dropped further. Initial faith that any drafted prospect had a least a shot of turning into a key player faded by 2017, and it didn’t seem that he’d have a toolbox full enough to be a coach’s option as a top-four defender at a pro level.

At the end of his college tenure last season, he tried out with a team in the ECHL. In 2019-20 he played in the third tier of Swedish professional hockey, doing quite well with 12 points in 22 games. It seems he’s intent on making a go of a hockey career, and it’s good to see him having that opportunity. However, the chance of him doing that at the major or minor level in North America has probably passed.

Koberstein’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
119 TBL Ben Thomas D AHL 0 0-0—0
120 LAK Steven Johnson D AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
121 BUF Max Willman F AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
122 NYR Richard Nejezchleb F Czech 2.liga 0 0-0—0
123 ANA Matthew Berkovitz D NCAA 0 0-0—0
124 STL Jaedon Descheneau F SHL 0 0-0—0
125 MTL Nikolas Koberstein D Hockeyettan 0 0-0—0
126 VAN Gustav Forsling D AHL 122 8-19—27
127 CAR Clark Bishop F NHL Call-up 25 1-3—4
128 TOR Dakota Joshua F AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
129 WPG C.J. Suess F NHL Call-up 1 0-0—0
130 EDM Liam Coughlin F AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
131 NJD Ryan Rehill D U Sports 0 0-0—0

With the next pick, the Vancouver Canucks selected the final defenceman who developed into an NHL-calibre prospect, Gustav Forsling, though they traded him shortly after his strong performance at the 2015 World Junior Championship. He was a serviceable player across three partial seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks before being traded once again, spending his 2019-20 season in a major role with the Carolina Hurricanes’ farm team.

Forsling is a left-handed defenceman, and in 2014 that was regarded as the strongest position in the Canadiens organization. Andrei Markov had just re-signed days before the draft, and Bergevin was quite happy with the play of Alexei Emelin, having extended him for another four seasons months earlier. To fill out the ranks, the club had a 22-year-old Jarred Tinordi and 21-year-old Nathan Beaulieu. Bergevin was so confident in the depth of his left side that he attempted to trade Josh Gorges to the Toronto Maple Leafs for right-handed defenceman Cody Franson to balance the two sides of the blue line (eventually settling for a second-round pick from the Buffalo Sabres when Gorges blocked that deal).

Forsling was certainly a more known quantity than Koberstein at the 2014 Draft, and has turned into the far better player. The Canadiens weren’t looking for someone playing his position at that time, and may not have given him much thought. The team wanted to target a weak area of the NHL club, though a player with more potential would have been a better use of the pick.

Daniel Audette

No longer focused on one particular position, the Canadiens opted for a player with more upside with their second fifth-round pick. At 147th overall, they selected Daniel Audette, who had enjoyed a very good season on a very bad team.

It’s a tough thing to do in the QMJHL, but the Sherbrooke Phoenix missed the playoffs in 2014, one of two teams in the 18-club league to do so. Not only was the expansion team the worst defensively, but right near the bottom in offence as well. Despite that, Audette put up 76 points that season to nearly double his closest teammate.

Audette had speed and great playmaking ability, which enticed the Phoenix to make him their inaugural draft selection at first overall two years earlier, but wasn’t much of a puck-protector and needed to work on his defensive game, both linked to his smaller stature at 5’9”. Concerns with how well his offence would translate to the professional level and whether the rest of his game would come along saw him slip lower than many outlets had him projected.

For an NHL team that was beginning to compile some promising goal-scorers (Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk were already in the NHL, and Charles Hudon, Sven Andrighetto, and Artturi Lehkonen looked like snipers in the making), adding a creative prospect like Audette was a good complement. EOTP’s managing editor at the time, Andrew Berkshire, pondered whether Audette was the steal of the entire draft class.

His skill level placed a good deal of confidence in his projection, with an outside chance at a top-six role in the NHL. That outlook is better than you would expect for most fifth-rounders, and is why he debuted at #20 in our Top 25 Under 25 that summer, higher than any player selected in the fifth round before or since.

In the spring of 2017, Audette had wrapped up his first season of professional hockey. He posted a respectable 10 goals and 20 assists through essentially a full AHL campaign. The production was lower than hoped in his rookie year, which lowered his NHL projection somewhat, but it was still an encouraging start.

The two years that followed didn’t come with the expected increase is offence. Minor jumps in goal and assist totals weren’t opening the door to an NHL role, and the defensive miscues that were forgivable in his first year became unacceptable in his third. His entry-level contract at an end, he wasn’t offered a contract extension in the summer, and walked away from the organization.

This season he played with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, with 13 goals and 25 assists in 56 games, and one of the worst goal differentials on the club once again. At this stage it appears a top-six role in the AHL is the highest level at which he will establish himself, with perhaps the odd NHL recall as an injury replacement.

Audette’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
141 CHI Luc Snuggerud D EBEL 0 0-0—0
142 NYR Tyler Nanne F NCAA 0 0-0—0
143 FLA Miguel Fidler F NCAA 0 0-0—0
144 COL Anton Lindholm D NHL/AHL 66 0-5—5
145 PIT Anthony Angello F NHL Call-up 8 1-0—1
146 BOS Anders Bjork F NHL/AHL 108 14-20—34
147 MTL Daniel Audette F AHL 0 0-0—0
148 CHI Andreas Soderberg D HockeyAllsvenskan 0 0-0—0
149 SJS Rourke Chartier F Free Agent 13 1-0—1
150 LAK Alec Dillon G Retired 0 -
151 BUF Christopher Brown F AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
152 NJD J.D. Dudek F ECHL 0 0-0—0
153 EDM Tyler Vesel F HockeyAllsvenskan 0 0-0—0

A small handful of players selected after Audette have gone on to play in the NHL. Most of them saw the steady growth teams were hoping for when picking raw prospects at the tail end of the 2014 Draft, which the Canadiens anticipated for their teenage centreman at the time as well.

Audette is simply a case of a talented young player not developing his game to an NHL level, which can happen with even highly touted first-round picks. The Canadiens did have a pattern of such failures, with many exciting, skilled prospects fizzling out in their time in the AHL. Scherbak and Lernout are also on that list, along with many other prospects from earlier drafts.

Hayden Hawkey

Several teams opted to select a goaltender as the sixth round came to a close. With confidence then sky-high in Carey Price’s ability to hold down the top role in the NHL, the Canadiens opted to take one of the long-term projects still on the board at 177th, picking Hayden Hawkey.

Hawkey was committed to going the collegiate route, and his development was already slightly behind a typical draft prospect. When many of his 18-year-old peers were hoping to be drafted by an NHL team in 2013, he was just being selected to a USHL squad, a ninth-round pick of the Omaha Lancers.

The pick proved to be a good one for the Junior team. Hawkey posted the best save percentage in the league in his first year, making the USHL First All-Star Team, and was named the league’s goaltender of the year. That performance was enough for the Canadiens to spend a draft pick on an over-age player and see how he developed over his NCAA career.

After one more season to prep in Omaha, that development came along quite well. Just a few starts into 2015-16 he took over the starting role for Providence College, improving his goals-against average and save percentage each year he was in the program.

He played 39 games in 2016-17, with a respectable 2.19 GAA and .913 save percentage. That showing boosted his stock somewhat, making a professional hockey career seem more likely. By that point the Habs had added Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven to the organization, so while Hawkey’s projection had increased, he was still well down the depth chart.

A save percentage of .919 in 2017-18 earned him a spot on the Hockey East Association’s Second All-Star Team. It was a significant feat, but it wasn’t even the best by a Habs goaltending prospect in the conference. In his freshman season that same year, Cayden Primeau posted a .931 efficiency after taking the starting role for Northeastern University, securing the title of Hockey East’s top netminder.

Seeing that type of performance from a player several years younger than Hawkey , the Canadiens decided they only needed to stay invested in the most promising of the two. Just after the conclusion of the 2018 NHL Draft, the Canadiens traded Hawkey’s rights to the Edmonton Oilers, getting a fifth-round pick in 2019 for a prospect they’d taken a flyer on in the sixth round four years earlier.

Hawkey improved his numbers in his final season of NCAA play, getting up to a save percentage of .921. But again he was outshone by Primeau, who claimed the award for the best goaltender in the NCAA, validating the decision Montreal had made a year earlier.

Hawkey had a rough introduction to the professional game this season, playing in just three ECHL contests and surrendering an average of nearly five goals. He had just been granted a change of scenery when the season was put on pause, claimed off ECHL waivers by the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, but wasn’t dressed for the only game his new team played.

It was a surprising year for the netminder — likely for no one more than himself — and that can mostly be traced back to two difficult starts to open the season. He only got into one game after that all year, making it impossible for him to find a footing. The situation was similar for McNiven this year as well, receiving very spotty ice time (on three different teams) in the third-tier league. McNiven’s numbers were significantly better when he made the jump to the AHL, rivaling Primeau’s as the Laval Rocket went on a late charge up the standings.

The lesson is that you can’t write off a player based on a small sample of starts in the ECHL, especially when no margin for error is offered to a rookie to get used to the professional game. It’s possible that a better situation sees a major rebound for Hawkey in 2020-21.

Hawkey’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
171 SJS Kevin Labanc F NHL 284 50-99—149
172 STL Chandler Yakimowicz F U Sports 0 0-0—0
173 PIT Jaden Lindo F U Sports 0 0-0—0
174 COL Maximilian Pajpach G FFHG Division 1 0 -
175 CGY Adam Ollas-Mattsson D SHL 0 0-0—0
176 STL Sammy Blais F NHL 83 9-11—20
177 MTL Hayden Hawkey G ECHL 0 -
178 CHI Dylan Sikura F NHL Call-up 47 1-13—14
179 CHI Ivan Nalimov G KHL 0 -
180 LAK Matthew Mistele F U Sports 0 0-0—0
181 BUF Victor Olofsson F NHL 60 22-24—46
182 FLA Hugo Fagerblom G Hockeyettan 0 -
183 EDM Keven Bouchard G Retired 0 -

No goaltender selected in the fifth round or later in 2014 has played an NHL game. Despite the fact that five netminders were selected in the second round, rounds three and four heard the most promising names called, with Elvis Merzlikins (76th overall), Ilya Sorokin (78th), Kaapo Kahkonen (109th), and Igor Shesterkin (118th) all selected in that block. It’s difficult to project the future of netminders, and even this batch of potential NHL starters has very limited experience in the world’s top league. Sometimes a hunch pays off, other times even a highly touted netminder, like 34th overall pick Mason McDonald, doesn’t pan out.

Hawkey’s career to date is a case of “what if?” Had the Canadiens not selected Primeau in 2017, Hawkey might have been signed and currently establishing himself in the AHL as one of the team’s hopes for the future. At this point, an NHL career seems like a long shot, but it can’t be ruled out for a player who consistently performed at a competitive level for several seasons in the NCAA.

Jake Evans

With the excitement from adding Scherbak and Audette, who seemed to have been underrated by other franchises, the third forward selected and another long-term project destined for the college route wasn’t given much thought. Jake Evans was the 207th of 210 prospects picked in 2014, and while he did slip farther down the list than many outlets predicted, not many observers expected him to make any significant impact.

He had decent production in his time in Junior A, showing competent playmaking ability. His main issue seemed to be consistency, perhaps not fully committed to the game, and that didn’t bode well for a future in professional hockey.

The next season, Evans recorded 17 points in his 41 games with the University of Notre Dame; once again, nothing to force anyone to take notice of him. He only began to attract some eyeballs in his sophomore year, when a big improvement resulted in 33 points in 37 games, threatening to accomplish the rare feat of point-per-game production in the NCAA.

The next season he eclipsed that mark, jumping to 13 goals and 29 assists on the season. A player largely dismissed on his draft day now seemed to be on a track for an NHL position, and given the centre depth in the organization at the time, perhaps even an outside shot at a top-six role.

He didn’t take the one final leap in his senior year to solidify that projection, with just four more assists than he had in the previous year, but in the spring of 2018 he graduated with a degree in management consulting and a promising hockey future ahead of him.

It was an impressive period of growth and development for a player whose work ethic had been questioned before heading to the NCAA. Much of the credit goes to his head coach, Jeff Jackson (who was named the league’s Coach of the Year in Evans’s final season), and the support staff, while Evans himself committed to getting better and making his new outlook a reality.

That development took another step forward last season in his first year of professional hockey. The new head coach of the Canadiens’ farm team, Joël Bouchard, took Evans under his wing to help push him along his NHL path. Evans quickly became one of the most trusted players on the team, and matched the production of his final year at Notre Dame.

Six years after he was one of the last players selected in the draft, Evans is a versatile forward knocking on the door of an NHL spot. While his initial projection was essentially “top six or bust,” he’s showing he can play a range of roles from top-line centre in the AHL to bottom-six forward in the NHL, and such a deployment with the Canadiens could be on the table for him next season.

Evans’s draft peers

Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
Selection Team Player Pos 2019-20 Status NHL GP NHL Points
201 DET Alexander Kadeykin F KHL 0 0-0—0
202 STL Dwyer Tschantz F SPHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
203 PIT Jeff Taylor D AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
204 COL Julien Nantel F AHL 0 0-0—0
205 ANA Ondrej Kase F NHL 204 43-54—97
206 BOS Emil Johansson D SHL 0 0-0—0
207 MTL Jake Evans F NHL Call-up 13 2-1—3
208 CHI Jack Ramsey D ECHL 0 0-0—0
209 LAK Spencer Watson F AHL/ECHL 0 0-0—0
210 LAK Jacob Middleton D NHL Call-up 13 0-3—3

A peer comparison isn’t necessary to know that a seventh-round pick developing into a potential NHL player is an unexpected feat, but it wasn’t a rare one for the 2014 class. Five of the 30 players chosen saw NHL action this season, and all contributed points. Evans may not have top-six upside like Ondrej Kase, or the shot of 181st overall pick Victor Olofsson, but he’s looking at a good career in professional hockey, and that’s something that many NHL draft picks never get to enjoy.

Discussion

It’s great news that Evans has emerged as an option for the NHL team going forward. The Canadiens took a chance on a prospect who had good offensive numbers as a teenager, watched him head off on a long journey for his amateur career, and welcomed him back as a complete hockey player.

It’s bad news for the Canadiens that the seventh-rounder is the only one in that position from the 2014 NHL Draft.

In this case, it wasn’t a matter of making poor decisions at the draft. The majority of players had high ceilings and optimistic projections, and the outlook for the class was generally good at the time.

Scherbak looked like a steal, debuting at sixth in our 2014 Top 25 Under 25 and maintaining a top-10 place in that series all through his time in the organization. He showed good performance, even scoring above a point-per-game pace in the AHL toward the end of his tenure, to maintain the belief that he could become a top-six NHLer. Teams had passed on him because of the “Russian Factor” — players having a league of comparable quality to the NHL in their home country, and no transfer agreement to govern the movement between the two — but that never became an issue for Scherbak, who spent six years in North America attempting to realize an NHL dream.

Relative orders for the 2014 draft class in our Top 25 Under 25 series

Without a second-round pick to work with, Scherbak was really the only prospect who should have been expected to secure an NHL role. That was especially true for what was perceived ahead of time as a weak draft class, and indeed that has so far proven to be the case. Only 90 of the 210 players selected in 2014 have played an NHL game, compared to 102 in 2013, and even 96 already from the 2015 class.

Detecting that, the scouting staff did a decent job of trying to find rough talents in the pool and hoping they could be polished into NHL players. With the Koberstein selection being the exception, every pick fit that strategy. The weaknesses of the NHL roster had also been addressed, with a right-winger taken in the first round, two right-handed defencemen chosen with the next two picks, and some forwards with encouraging offensive upside added in later rounds.

The failure of the 2014 class is that players left the development system largely unchanged from when they entered it. Scherbak and Audette — fairly similar players apart from their size — had plenty of offensive talent, but didn’t develop their play without the puck to be able to take full advantage of it. Lernout arrived at AHL training camp as a full box of parts needing to be assembled, and departed for another organization years later with the construction only partially complete.

Not all of the failures are on the development staff; the players need to be motivated and committed to turning themselves into NHL players as well, and that was possibly as much a factor as the coaching they received. The truth is that the 2014 class wasn’t the only one to suffer this fate, and there are very few players in the NHL who graduated from the Canadiens’ system in this time period.

With the players selected in 2014 now 24 years of age (or 25 in Hawkey’s case) there isn’t much time left for significant development. Unless something clicks into place, Scherbak, Audette, and Lernout probably aren’t going to enjoy NHL careers, and Hawkey has his own hurdles to overcome to reach that goal. All eyes now shift to Evans to see if he can establish himself as an NHL player, and which role he settles into.

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