Saturday, 8 June 2013

Should the Canadiens trade up in the first round?

Last season, the Canadiens were privileged, after a trying season, to land the #3 overall pick in the draft.  That fortune continued in that, by not having the #1 pick, they weren't tempted to take the acknowledged best player in the draft, Nail Yakupov, a player who is projected to be a game-breaker, but is one of the smaller, skilled guys of the type the Canadiens have a few of in the pipeline already.

They were further blessed by the fact that the Blue Jackets spent their #2 pick on Ryan Murray, a safe pick and a player who projects to be a solid, heady defenceman who is effective in all three zones.  Again, the Canadiens have quite a few defencemen who fit this bill to varying degrees in their system, so the temptation to draft a player who graded highly but wouldn't necessarily be a great fit down the road was removed.

By the process of elimination, and some would say divine intervention, the Canadiens were left to pick Alex Galchenyuk, a big fast centre with great hands and work ethic.  This is the kind of player who has been sorely missing from the roster since the departures of Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse, and of which there is no other presently in the system.  The only way that could have worked out better is if the Islanders had traded us their entire draft to swap first-rounders, and had still left us Alex to pick up at #4.  I know, an impossible dream, yet with Charles Wang and Garth Snow you never know.

This year, there is no great consolation prize to the ignominious bounce from the playoffs for the Canadiens, their lofty finish in the regular season confining them to the 25th slot in the first round.  This year's draft is thought to have three players at the very top, three or four more bunched together in a second tier, and then a large group of players of equivalent value that stretches deep into the second round.

The Canadiens land just a touch outside of where they would want to be if they wanted a realistic shot at one of two LHJMQ outsized prospects, 6'4" centre Frédérik Gauthier, and 6'4" right wing Anthony Mantha, who scored 50 goals this season.  They are ranked 7th and 10th respectively among North American skaters, so even factoring in some variability on some teams' draft boards, and plugging in the goalies and European skaters in the equation, it's doubtful they'll fall low enough that the Canadiens could snag themselves a big local forward to strengthen the organization's future.  Other fan favourites, like London Knight defenceman Nikita Zadorov and forwards Max Domi or Bo Horvat who all shined during the Memorial Cup tournament, or Finnish defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen are also likely out of range.

The silver lining is that the Canadiens currently hold the three second-round picks, a radical departure from past practice when second rounders were routinely spent to bulwark the roster for a playoff run.  Two of these picks can be considered de facto late first-rounders, falling at #34 and #36.  These picks were obtained in trades with Nashville and Calgary last season.

This brings us to question whether the Canadiens should spend some of these assets to move up in the draft and snag one of these out-of-range players, if the price was right.  This is not a yes-or-no proposition.  For example, if a player the Canadiens' scouting staff absolutely loved and thought would be long gone but was still hanging around at #20, and a swap could be obtained to move up to snag him for relatively little, then it would be an easy decision.  With so many qualifiers, ifs and buts however, we can argue either side of this proposition.

If we are to make a philosophical argument though, I would say that the team shouldn't trade quantity for perceived quality.  If this draft is as advertised, and the depth that is thought to be there holds up to scrutiny, the Canadiens have a good chance of picking up equivalent prospects at the #34 and #36 slot as would be available in the #20 slot or thereabouts.

Further, the Canadiens need to rebuild their farm teams, their system.  They need depth, and young players who can step in when unfortunate injuries strike.  The poster boys for depth on the farm this year are the Ottawa Senators, who weathered the loss of Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen, yet kept chugging along with youngsters brought up from Binghampton who were already familiar with the team's system and contributed right away.  The Canadiens didn't have the same luxury.  When Alexei Emelin went down, no one was able to pick up his slack, and the team's performance suffered markedly. Same when Lars Eller was lost, there was a noticeable drop in the team's ability to compete.  None of the Bulldogs was able to replace him in the roster, to any appreciable degree.

While I'm sensitive to the evidence that a player drafted in the early second round has a much lower chance to be an impact player than a mid-first rounder, there are other considerations right now.  We need to have many players in the AHL who are pro-tested and ready, even if they aren't going to be All-Stars.  They'll compete internally for icetime and promotion and drive each other to do better.  Having a diversity of players who can be called up will allow for greater roster flexibility.  Picking three players as we have the opportunity currently between #25 and #36 is a better fix for what ails us than a single player drafted higher with a higher ceiling.  

Another consideration is the good job the scouting staff has been doing recently under the leadership of Trevor Timmins.  With their expanded staffing and greater resources provided by Geoff Molson and Marc Bergevin this year, I'm more tempted to let them operate, to validate all their hard work.  Let's give them all the at-bats we can, and see how many times they connect, instead of going all in on one shot.

Finally, all Canadiens fans are aware of the reputation the team has, as small and relatively susceptible to physical play, especially in the playoffs as demonstrated this year, when the referees clearly have an institutional mindset to issue penalties only when there is no other recourse.  And even then, turn a blind eye more often than not.  Unfortunately, the days of the Flying Frenchmen, of the speed of Mark Napier and Pierre Mondou trumping the inane brutishness of Terry O'Reilly and Moose Dupont are over.  The ill-tempered pachyderms have taken over at the League office.  Lumbering, crashing and banging is in.  Stickhandling and tic-tac-toe passing is, uhm, passé.

In such a climate, the Canadiens need to transform their roster, their system, with a significant injection of size to match up against other teams when they play the intimidation card, and when the referees wear welder's goggles.  This transformation won't be accomplished with one player, there will need to be a brace of physical wingers and defencemen added to the Bulldogs' roster over the next couple of years.  Quantity is needed.  Interestingly, when scanning the list of prospects and how they grade, such physical wingers and defencemen are available throughout the draft, and especially in the second round.  Since the kind of player we're looking for will be probably available when we're slated to pick, let's hold on to those picks, and grab armloads of players.  

Then, we'll rely on all that other money Geoff Molson is spending, on coaching and development, and groom these guys and hopefully turn a few maybes into definite NHL'ers.


  1. Hello Normand.

    In previous drafts Timmons requested trading up in 2005 (Latendresse) and 2010 (Tinordi). I trust if his opinion if he feels the need to get a player we would otherwise miss out on.

    I have feeling the 2013 draft may well be like the 2007 draft where there was not a lot on consensus outside of the top 3 picks (Kane, JVR, Turris). Timmons ended taking McDonagh, Pacioretty, Subban and Weber. A pretty good haul.

    So if Timmons advises Bergevin to move up then he would only do so if there was someone available that would be special but I think the players the Habs want may be there regardless of draft position. Lets hope the scouts have done their homework.

    PS Have you considered doing a post on which rookies will make the team next year? Or a scenario where MB is able to trade Kaberle who should the Habs buyout?


    1. I have to do the same, and trust Mr. Timmins and his staff. If they feel trading up is worthwhile, it's based on all their work, whereas I'm just spouting opinions based on reading other scouts' takes.

      I think the Tomas Kaberle buyout is so certain it's not worthwhile discussing other options, there is no real crying need for one aside from Mr. Kaberle.

      As far as rookies, I haven't got there yet. I think I'll want to wait until August before I attack that, it's too early still. Let's wait until free agency, and see if there are any trades, before we make any predictions. As far as the Bulldogs go, no player was tearing up the league, no one was playing like they had nothing left to learn, so I don't think any of them is ready to graduate, Jarred Tinordi included. He can marinate for another season, if I have my druthers.