On the eve of the 2018 National Hockey League Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens are poised to be one of the more interesting teams to follow given that they possess ten draft picks. The last time the Canadiens had over ten picks in a single draft year was in 2003, fifteen years ago, when they picked 11 times.
Before the draft the Canadiens were very active, shuffling some picks and gaining others:
- The Canadiens traded Eric Chouinard to the Philadelphia Flyers for a second round pick (61st overall).
- The Canadiens traded Oleg Petrov to the Nashville Predators for their fourth round pick (109th overall), which they then traded to the Washington Capitals for their fourth round pick (123rd overall) and their seventh round pick (217th overall).
- The Canadiens’ fifth round pick (147th overall) was given to the Edmonton Oilers as compensation for Claude Julien, who was previously under contract with the Oilers to coach their farm team.
- The Canadiens acquired a sixth round draft pick (188th overall) from the Toronto Maple Leafs for Doug Gilmour.
- The Canadiens traded their seventh round pick (207th overall) to the Minnesota Wild for Sylvain Blouin.
But the bigger story was about the trade that was not made. On the eve of the draft, the Canadiens were working hard to trade for the first overall pick, talking about it publicly in a way that would be almost unthinkable in today’s secretive NHL. “I just got off the phone with (Florida Panthers GM) Rick Dudley in the last hour. Dudley’s asking price remains high, but you never know...” said Andre Savard, the assistant general manager.
“We are aiming to improve our draft position, but there seems to be a lot of good players left at tenth overall. We recognize our needs—we want to get our hands on a speedy forward” added general manager Bob Gainey.
“We don’t know who we will pick yet. We have three or four names on our list, but will they still be available when our turn comes?” added head of scouting Trevor Timmins who would be taking part in his first draft with the Canadiens organization. With the first overall pick Timmins hinted at Eric Staal or Nathan Horton, but ultimately the Canadiens kept their 10th overall pick.
1st round, 10th overall, Andrei Kostitsyn, Right Winger
Kostitsyn was on many teams’ radars, but there was a concern about a history of epilepsy that scared many teams off. On the even of the draft Timmins offered his opinion on the skilled tough forward. “Our doctor David Mulder examined him in Toronto, we even made him take several additional neurological tests yesterday. Everything appears to be good. In my opinion he has all the tools to play in the NHL as soon as next season. But he probably won’t be available when our turn comes.”
A day later when it was the Canadiens turn to draft, Kostitsyn was still available, and Timmins was “jubilant”. “He’s one of the most talented players in the draft. I’m really surprised that he wasn’t selected earlier.” According to La Presse, Kostitsyn was fifth on the Habs’ list.
La Presse reached out at the time to the independent scouting service Red Line Report, and they offered total praise for the pick: “If I was an NHL general manager that was able to look past the health concern he would be my very first pick. It’s one thing to have talent, and Kostitsyn has plenty of it, but if you add his intensity, his desire, and his level of engagement, he’s the most explosive player in the entire draft in my view.”
Nikolai Vakourov, the Russian scout for the Canadiens, compared Kostitsyn to another Habs player Alexander Perezhogin. “They are two very similar players. They both have excellent offensive potential and speed. Kostitsyn is maybe more talented, while Perezhogin is more tenacious. Kostitsyn is probably one of the two most talented players in this draft.”
Kostitsyn came from the reputed Russian team CSKA Moscow, headed by legendary national hockey figure Viktor Tikhonov. He joined the team as a 17 year-old, and was under contract for the next two seasons. Pending financial compensation, he could part with the Russian squad to join the Canadiens. “Generally 18 year-olds continue their development in the junior ranks, but there are exceptions. Our scouts seemed very surprised that he was still available at tenth overall,” said Gainey.
Kostitsyn would play one more season in Belarus before signing a three year contract and coming over to North American for the 2004-05 season.
2nd round, 40th overall, Cory Urquhart, Centreman, 61st overall, Maxim Lapierre, Centreman
In the second round the Canadiens picked two local players from the QMJHL Montreal Rocket coached by Alain Vigneault, Starting with Cory Urquhart (6’2”, 195 lbs) who showed interesting offensive potential (35 goals, 78 points, in 73 games in his draft year), but lacked toughness. They also selected Maxim Lapierre later in the round who was less offensively capable (22 goals, 43 points, in 72 games), but had a known edge to his game.
“I saw them play during the recent Rocket playoffs and I liked what I saw”, said Andre Savard. “Urquhart was productive. He has really good hands. Lapierre is a character guy.”
“I can’t find the words to describe what I am feeling right now”, said Urquhart. “I’m a good passer, and I like to feed my wingers. I’ve heard comparisons to Eric Chouinard because of our similar sizes, but I don’t really know him, and don’t know why things didn’t work out for him here. I just know that I will word really hard to make it in the pro ranks.”
“I didn’t have a great season offensively,” said Lapierre, “but Alain Vigneault used me in various defensive situations, and I think I developed well in that role. I need to bulk up a bit though. I have the tendency of being chatty on the ice, so I need to be hard to hit.”
Urquhart played in the Canadiens organization for four seasons, but struggled to develop past the ECHL level. However, he was part of the Hamilton Bulldogs’ 2007 Calder Cup run.
Maxim Lapierre ended up being the third best player for the Canadiens out of this draft class, spending five seasons with the Canadiens, and getting traded in his sixth. He was quite the agitator for the Canadiens, and was part of the 2007 Calder Cup champion Hamilton Bulldogs, as well as an integral part of the 2010 Canadiens cup run.
3rd round, 79th overall, Ryan O’Byrne, Defenceman
The Canadiens went for size in O’Byrne’s case drafting the 6’5” 210lbs defenceman.
“He shows good speed and interesting skills for a big defenceman. He has lots of character. He’s not the most robust guy, but he’s also not soft. He’s going to play for a good college team next year. We are thrilled because all our picks (thus far) were ranked favourably on our lists.” said Timmins.
O’Byrne would have fit right in if he played in the NHL in the 80’s and early 90’s, but his lumbering skating skills and limited offensive potential slowly phased him out of relevance with the Canadiens. In his fifth season in the organization he was traded to Colorado.
4th round, 113th overall, Corey Locke, Centreman
“We couldn’t ignore such a talented player in the fourth round,” said Timmins. “His small size (5’9” 178lbs) don’t work in his favour, but look at Pierre-Marc Bouchard. He managed to reach the NHL in his first pro year. He has to improve his skating, but he’s not slow. He is alert and intelligent which allow him to find openings.”
Locke was among the top scorers in the AHL for many years afterwards, but failed to make the jump to the NHL, showing that there is a large step change between the two leagues that requires more than just offensive talent. In what would have been his NHL debut, a late call-up caused him to miss the game because his bags did not make the flight.
Locke continues to dominate leagues in Europe to this day.
4th round, 123rd overall, Danny Stewart, Centreman
“There weren’t many talented players in Rimouski to support Marc-Antoine Pouliot this season, but Stewart has some interesting qualities about him and he shows a good work ethic. He has to improve his muscle mass (6’, 173 lbs), but he has already put on weight since the NHL combine. He might make a good player for us four to five years from now.” said Timmins.
Stewart’s development should have benefited from playing a season with Sidney Crosby, perhaps one of the reasons the Canadiens took a chance on him in the first place. But interestingly Stewart was not offered a contract despite a 52 point season. Turns out that the Canadiens were correct in their assessment, and the highest professional level that Stewart attained was the ECHL.
6th round, 177th overall, Christopher Heino Lindberg, Goaltender
“We really liked Heino-Lindberg’s performance for Sweden at this year’s U18 World Championships. He is agile and a competitor. A well-known goalie trainer in Sweden said that he did not see such a talent since Pelle Lindberg.”
Heino Lindberg was emerging as an excellent goaltending prospect in Sweden, but two successive groin tears ended his hockey career just as he would be getting ready to come to North America. Nowadays, switching careers entirely, he is a country music singer. Brace yourself.
6th round, 188th overall, Mark Flood, Defenceman
“Flood is very agile with the puck. He’s really improved of late.”
Flood would go on to captain the Peterborough Petes, and put up 38 assists in his final junior year in 2004-05. As his rights were about to expire the Canadiens extended Flood an NHL offer, but Flood refused the deal, which was still allowed under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. The Canadiens would lose his rights. Flood eventually made his NHL debut six years after getting drafted for the New York Islanders.
7th round, 217th overall, Oskari Korpikari, Defenceman
“Korpikari was recommended by our Finnish scout Hannu Laine. He’s a dependable defenceman in his own zone who will play in the Finnish Elite League next season, and also for the Finnish nation team at the World Junior Championships.”
When interviewed seven years later, former General Manager Andre Savard admitted “I don’t even remember that guy”.
8th round, 241st overall, Jimmy Bonneau, Left Winger
Possibly the last pure fighter to be drafted by the Canadiens, Bonneau was the third player to be drafted from the Montreal Rocket team. “I am really happy to be drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, especially since they picked two of my Rocket teammates ahead of me. I had to protect both of them this past season and it won’t be any different at the next Canadiens training camp. If a player makes the wrong decision to rough them up, he will have to deal with me. If I was drafted in the tenth round by the Rocket it’s maybe because they thought I was afraid despite my big size (6’2” 216 lbs). I decided to fight right from training camp to show them what I was capable of. I dropped my gloves in front of some real big guys and I made a name for myself. I fought against some bigger guys of 19 and 20 years old, while I was only 17. They were bigger, but I hit really fast. I hope to keep that speed up while improving my power.”
9th round, 271st overall, Jaroslav Halak, Goaltender
“Halak was the best goaltender at the U18 World Championships and beat the Russians all by himself in the semi-finals, before losing to Canada. We are thrilled to have been able to pick him in the ninth round because he was 90th on our list,” said Timmins.
Saving the best for last? The selection of Halak in the ninth round goes to show that drafting in basically a giant crapshoot, and you never know who is actually going to step up. Halak made a name for himself during the 2010 playoffs for the Canadiens, and competed hard with Carey Price over the starter job with the team — a battle that he would eventually lose, before being traded to the St. Louis Blues.
History would not be particularily kind to this draft, with Kostitsyn having to be considered a disappointment despite being a top line scoring winger for multiple seasons. The 2003 first round draft class ended up being so incredibly strong, that with 222 points and almost 400 games played in the NHL, he sits at 31st in points and 55th for games played. At 0.56 points per game he ranks 20th overall in his draft class.
Kostitsyn, Locke, Lapierre, Urquhart, O’Byrne, Halak, and Bonneau all played in the Calder Cup champion team in 2006-07, although Halak was sent to play for Slovakia at the World Championships, and the Bulldogs net was given to Carey Price.
Bonneau retired at the end of the 2015-16 season as is currently a scout for the San Jose Sharks. He can be frequently seen on the list of scouts at every Montreal home game.