Last season we looked at the drafted players the Canadiens had to sign by the June 1 deadline or relinquish their draft rights. We advocated that they sign Daniel Prybil but cut Dustin Walsh and Olivier Archambault loose.
This season, pre-occupied with the Canadiens' playoff run, we didn't get a chance to predict what would happen until we were right up to the deadline. There are four players who still needed to be signed this year else we lose their rights. They are Dalton Thrower, Brady Vail, Erik Nystrom, and Mike Cichy.
The deadline has now come and gone, and we know how it turned out. The Canadiens chose to sign Dalton Thrower, but not Brady Vail and Erik Nystrom.
Mike Cichy, being a NCAA player, has an August 15 2014 deadline attached to him, but it is a technicality. He is not a viable prospect, having not developed in his time in college. He had issues at North Dakota and transferred to Western Michigan, where he fared no better.
Dalton Thrower was signed to a contract before the deadline, and will try to earn a spot on the Hamilton Bulldogs next season. Failing that, he could see some time in the ECHL with the Wheeling Nailers. While it could be a long road for him, he does have the benefit of a strong final season with the Vancouver Giants under Don Hay, we can hope that he progresses and eventually makes the Grand Club.
Erik Nystrom was a player Trevor Timmins described himself as a longshot, picked in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. He did come over last fall and played for the Bulldogs under a Professional Try-Out contract, but evidently things did not work out for him. The try out ended early in the season and Mr. Nystrom returned to Europe and finished the year in the KHL. It's apparent the team no longer had any designs on him.
This brings us to the main discussion topic here, which is the decision by the team to not sign Brady Vail, and allow him to re-enter the draft. This decision will puzzle most fans who follow the Canadiens' prospects closely. He was a player who in his time with the Windsor Spitfires earned praise from his coaches for his dedication and hard work. He was used in all situations, even as a defenceman when injuries struck, and seemed destined for a career as a checking forward in the NHL. He reportedly did well when playing for the Bulldogs as an end of season reinforcement, both this year and the last.
But it hasn't been a wholly positive picture. Last summer, he was the first player sent home from the U.S. World Junior Championship Team training camp. Similarly, he was among the first players cut from the Canadiens training camp in September, before even getting a chance to play a pre-season game. The blogosphere keeps mentioning issues with his conditioning, but I haven't found a direct quote or even a statement in the mainstream press.
So it's a little puzzling that he wasn't given a contract and a chance to improve. With players who don't produce and are attitude cases like Olivier Archambault, you can easily understand the team's decision to walk away, but there was enough promise in Mr. Vail to tantalize.
Again, we have to look at the 50-contract limit rule for our answer to this mystery. If the Canadiens had no such limit to worry about, they could have taken a flyer despite their misgivings, and hope that the kid quells the doubts and develops into a player. But since the limit is in place, you have to be judicious with who you give contracts to, how many you keep in reserve.
The Canadiens brain trust had to weight their facts and project what the chances were that he would progress, go from prospect to player, and that these odds were high enough that it wouldn't mean closing off an opportunity for another player who's more likely to make it. The managers of the team know this player best, much better than I do. So we have to concede that they're not making a decision inexplicably, but rather rationally, sensibly.
And it brings up again the topic of how much the draft process is an inexact science. During the 2012 draft, Serge Boisvert was advocating the team choose Charles Hudon starting in the second round. By the fourth round he was ever more strident, but the team went with Brady Vail instead.
At this point, Mr. Boisvert looked at RDS' Stéphane Leroux and shrugged, indicating that he had failed in convincing the team to pick the young Saguenéens forward. Somehow, the Canadiens' turn came around again in the fifth, and Mr. Hudon was still available, and Serge Boisvert got the opportunity to announce the selection. Now Mr. Hudon has made two Team Canada WJC rosters, and has a contract with the team.
So, too bad that the pick didn't work out, that Mr. Vail didn't develop as we might have hoped, but we have to defer to the judgment of the team. Unless he comes back to haunt us, then we'll be merciless.