The 2009 NHL Entry Draft took place at the Bell Centre in Montreal, and was just one of the many events hosted by the most successful franchise in National Hockey League history as part of its Centennial Year festivities. The events were meant to celebrate the glorious past of the organization, and applaud the immense restoration job that General Manager Bob Gainey, President Pierre Boivin, and owner George Gillett performed on a franchise on life support by the late 90s.
However the 2008-09 season was tumultuous for the team, leading to the firing of head coach Guy Carbonneau during the season, and the purging of the core of the roster, including the unthinkable departure of long-standing captain Saku Koivu and the loss of the ever-popular Alex Kovalev to free agency. Gainey would not be denied a successful centennial campaign in 2009-10, and assembled a team of playoff veterans to help lead the Habs on the ice.
But prior to that, the 2009 Draft was a chance to resolve another long-standing issue for the Canadiens: the lack of a star French-Canadian forward. And so, with the 18th pick, the Canadiens selected Louis Leblanc.
A local kid, drafted in Montreal by Montreal on the occasion of the franchise's 100th season. The crowd, of course, roared with approval, but the weight of the world just dropped on Leblanc's shoulders, and he would have a steep slope to climb to meet expectations.
This pick certainly wasn't completely pandering to the crowd. Leblanc was ranked 13th-best North American player by Central Scouting, so he was expected to do well.
It didn't help that Leblanc's development suffered from a severe lack of stability. He spent the 2009-10 season playing for Harvard in the NCAA, but then switched to the QMJHL for the 2010-11 season. By 2011-12, Leblanc was in the AHL where he produced moderately on offence, but struggled on defence.
It didn't really matter, however, because in 2011-12 the NHL team was in a freefall, and new General Manager Pierre Gauthier was looking to shed some negative PR by fast-tracking Leblanc to the NHL. He played in 42 games, scoring five goals and five assists.
The crowd went nuts when Leblanc scored his first goal, however things did not go as planned at all for the rookie. Gauthier was fired prior to the end of the season, and new incoming General Manager Marc Bergevin and Head Coach Michel Therrien sent Leblanc packing to the AHL to work on his defensive game, favouring youngster Michael Bournival in his place.
Leblanc would only play eight more games for the Canadiens over the next two seasons before finally being dealt to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional pick. Those conditions weren't met, so in essence the Canadiens simply gave away the former first-round selection for absolutely nothing. An ignominious end to a promised hero.
The Canadiens traded a second-round pick in 2009, along with their third round pick in 2010, for reinforcements on defence in the form of Mathieu Schneider. It was a steep price to pay for the Canadiens, as Schneider only played in 23 regular-season games and two playoff games before becoming an unrestricted free agent, and eventually retiring.
The Canadiens had two third-round picks in the 2009 draft, and used them to pick Joonas Nättinen from Finland and Mac Bennett from the USHL.
Nättinen signed his entry-level deal in 2011 and joined the Hamilton Bulldogs, where he was slow to adapt to the North American game. A season-ending injury after 24 games in 2012-13 stunted his development at a critical time, and when he was called up to the Canadiens a year later, he suffered the indignity of being used for a mere two shifts, and immediately sent back down to the AHL afterward.
This negative experience clearly left an impression on him, as he failed to return to form after being demoted. After the season was done, despite receiving a qualifying offer from Montreal, he decided to sign with MODO in the Swedish Elite League, a league in which he remains to this day. The Canadiens retain his rights until 2018, but it is unlikely that he will return to the team.
As for Mac Bennett, the player ranked 40th among North America skaters by Central Scouting seemed like a steal at the time when he was selected with the 79th pick. Bennett signed a two-year entry-level contract in 2014 as an NCAA graduate, and played in 68 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2014-15. One season later he found himself being passed on the depth chart by other prospects, and was relegated to duty with the ECHL's Brampton Beast. The Canadiens just released his rights by not qualifying him as a restricted free agent.
In the fourth round the Canadiens turned again to Europe once again, this time drafting six-foot-three Alexander Avtsin out of Russia who was just coming off a monstrous 56-goal and 110-point season with Moscow Dynamo's youth team in the Russian third league. He signed his entry-level deal in 2010 and came over to play for the Bulldogs, where he was unable to remotely come close to the sort of offensive production he once had, nor was he willing to change his game to the more grinding two-way style of North American hockey. Frequently scratched and increasingly vocalizing his frustration, his contract was terminated in 2012, and he returned to Russia to play pro hockey in the KHL.
The Canadiens picked Gabriel Dumont in the fifth round, 139th overall, from the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL. This was a bit of a surprise pick as Dumont was ranked 153rd among North American skater by Central Scouting, but the risk seemed to pay off for the Canadiens as Dumont went on to have an incredible final season in junior, putting up 51 goals and 93 points, and showed tremendous promise.
He never translated this high-end offensive potential to the pro level, but still remained an offensive threat in the AHL, becoming more of a complete two-way centreman, often deployed in tough situations. He made his NHL debut in 2012, playing only three games before being sent down. He scored his first NHL goal a year later, becoming only the second player out of the entire 2009 draft class to score a goal in the NHL.
The Canadiens parted ways with Dumont this past off-season after six seasons in the AHL, and only 18 games in the NHL. The last two seasons were spent as captain of the farm team, where his experience and leadership qualities were utilized by the organization that simply didn't see in him an NHL player.
The last three picks in the 2009 draft were all long shots to make it the top level, and none of them were even offered a professional contract by the Canadiens before having their rights released by the team.
Dustin Walsh, ranked (146th among North American skaters) was drafted 169th in the sixth round, and never played professional hockey after his NCAA stint.
Mike Cichy (166th) was selected 199th in the seventh round, but was not offered a contract by the Canadiens. Upon completing his overage year in the NCAA, he moved to Poland where he plays for the international team.
The Canadiens also traded their seventh-round pick in 2010 to draft Petteri Simila 211st — the last selection in the draft. Simila was the second giant goaltender the Canadiens drafted in two years, having selected Jason Missiaen in the fourth round the year before. These two goalies formed a fearsome tag-team at Canadiens development camp, dwarfing all other players, but neither one was able to earn a professional contract with the team. Simila ended up staying in Finland, and continues to play there.
In 2009, the Montreal Canadiens drafted eight players, and got only 69 games of NHL action out of those assets, and a total of six goals and seven assists. This is an extremely poor turnout for the Centennial Year draft class, and among the worst in the entire league, besting only the Philadelphia Flyers, whose draft class played only a combined 47 games in the NHL, and the San Jose Sharks whose selections played just 43 games.
Hindsight and missed opportunities
Leblanc was obviously a high profile disappointment for the Canadiens, never living up to the potential the organization had hoped for. Selected right after Leblanc was a player who he was neck-and-neck with in the Central Scouting rankings: Chris Kreider.
Urban legend has it that Trevor Timmins recommended Kreider over Leblanc, but Gainey and Gauthier wanted to pick the local kid to help improve the team's image with the Francophone community. An intriguing alternate reality to say the least.