Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Alexander Dergachev and the Canadiens' quest for a big #1 centre.

Alexander Dergachev (or, as it seems he'll be called in North America from now on, Dergachyov), was a player that there didn't exist solid consensus on leading up to the NHL Draft last month.

On the one hand, he's got the combination of skills and attributes that so many teams look for, that screams Top 6 centre.  He measured in at 6'4" and 200 lbs at the Combine, and apparently has the hands and the vision that scouts look for.

I saw some discussion on social media that he might be slow, that his skating was the big knock on him, but Ben Kerr had his skating as "very good, especially for his size", and had him ranked as the 51st-best prospect this year.

About the only real negative might have been that the Russian Factor would affect him, he wasn't one of those Russian players who 'proved' he wanted to be an NHL'er by coming to play in the CHL, like Ivan Provorov or Evgeni Svechnikov, but rather signed a three-year deal to play in the KHL with St. Petersburg, two of which still remained on his contract.

As a consequence, he 'fell' to the third round, while some thought he might sneak into the first round, or be snapped up in the second as a gamble on a player with high upside.  The Kings got him at 73rd overall, to pad their Kopitar Index I guess.  And then, you'd think they'd hunker down and wait for that KHL deal to expire, and see what comes next.

Except that he got drafted by the Cataractes de Shawinigan, and it seems that it's a done deal that he's coming to play for them this fall.  In this article from La Presse, it's described how Mr. Dergachyov latched on to Russian-speaker Dennis Yan, another Cataracte, at the NHL Draft Combine and the Draft itself.

So the kid lands in a great situation, with one of the strongest organizations in the Q, and with a veteran to show him the way and translate a little bit for him, smooth over the initial bumps.  Paul Maurice, who spoke eloquently on his newfound respect for the challenges a Russian player faces when coming over to North America, having spent a year coaching in the KHL himself, would approve.

The Cataractes' GM Martin Mondou says the Kings are fully behind the idea of having their prospect play in the LHJMQ with them.  No kidding.  The rich get richer.

And the Cataractes will have him to feature in their offence among their forwards, along with Dennis Yan and Anthony Beauvillier.  Last season, TVA Sports showed a lot of Cataractes games, possibly because their geographic proximity to Montréal simplified logistics, and also because they were the featured team in the Classique Hivernale in Saint-Tite.  Expect a lot more of these this season, the Cataractes should be a high-powered, exciting team to watch.

And this kind of fits in with the discussion about draft picks that we're having, about whether you need to draft in the Top 3 to amass a team of players who can win a Stanley Cup.  That's obviously the shortcut, the quickest way to the prize, having a high-pick Jonathan Toews or a Vincent Lecavalier, that big stud #1 centre to go with a few other elite pieces.

There are a few ways to get around the need to crash and burn at the bottom of the standings, maybe you luck into a Tyler Séguin like the Bruins did, although nowadays you usually hear that a first-round pick obtained in trade will be lottery-protected.  GM's have learned the lesson provided by Brian Burke's bluster.  So to fall bass-ackwards into a Tyler Séguin or Guy Lafleur by way of trade is a remote possibility.

Another way might be to take a chance on a high-risk player, a Daniel Sprong or Josh Ho-Sang or an ungettable Russian, a player with lots of talent and high ceiling who is blemished in other ways that diminish his draft stock.

The Blackhawks used that same method when they picked up Brandon Saad, a player who fell to them in the second round for various reasons.  They looked past the warts and staked their claim to a highly talented big forward and it paid off in short order.  The story doesn't quite have the happy ending Chicago fans might like, but Stan Bowman managed to transmute his value into Artem Anisimov plus, which isn't bad at all.

And this is where the Canadiens, despite Marc Bergevin's best intentions, might be falling short a little bit.  After a couple of drafts in 2012 and 2013 with extra picks in the second round, we've been lacking those picks since then, due to deadline trades, on top of picking low in the order, due to our good regular season finishes.

This year, there were a lot of talented prospects left over late in the first or early in the second.  With multiple picks, we could have had a shot at some of these risky picks who can pay off huge, but after picking Noah Juulsen, we had to wait until the 87th pick to choose again.  Bye bye Anthony Beauvillier and Daniel Sprong and Dennis Yan and Oliver Kylington and Julius Naatinen and Jansen Harkins and Gabriel Gagné.

This is not a knock on Marc Bergevin, it's more of a constatation that his situation, helming a team poised to make a run in the playoffs at the trade deadline kind of ties his hands, he can't unload a Michael Ryder or a Brian Gionta for picks onto a needy team.  He has to keep them on his own roster, and let them walk as UFA's the subsequent summer.

It's not his disposition that's a problem, his inclination.  He wants draft picks, more of them.  He wheedles out fifth-rounders from trade partners when acquiring the likes of Zack Kassian and P.A. Parenteau.  He understands the value of giving Trevor Timmins more shots at the dart board.

And this brings me back to the Tomas Plekanec situation.  He's entering the final year of his contract, can go UFA next summer.  He commands a significant chunk of our cap, but doesn't do anything that's truly irreplaceable.  We could cobble together a committee, with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller and David Desharnais that would pretty much provide what he does.  The penalty killing and the checking against other #1 centres, Lars can do more of that, and Alex and David can tend to the offence and the powerplay, hash it out between themselves.

I'm not saying that Tomas is disposable, that he's not valuable, but he is replaceable.  And we can't be accused of not 'giving him a chance', he's had a decade to show that he's a playoff performer who can lead the team.  It just hasn't transpired in this environment.  Maybe playing behind a Joe Thornton or a John Tavares might be the right circumstance, but we don't have the mix for him, evidently.

So when it comes to Tomas specifically, and to players whose deals are coming due generally, I want to cash these guys in.  Especially when we have a plethora of young forwards in the system now knocking at the door, and when so many cheap UFA's are begging for a job.  Especially when you consider the cap situation of the Canadiens, with many big-ticket items like Carey and P.K. and Andrei and Jeff Petry and Max, and more to come.  Tomas can't hog $5M or more of our cap space in the next few seasons.

If we aren't going to tank a season or three like the Sabres did, or take advantage of a cocksure Brian Burke, we have to amass second and third-rounders, knowing full well that most of those won't pan out, they'll collberg on us, but that one or two will subban.

The path couldn't be more clear.  We need to convert Tom Gilbert and Tomas into picks and prospects, and we have to convert some of the right-handed defencemen in our system, the longshots, into scoring forward longshots.  If we're not going to go scorched-earth like the Leafs are doing now.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to say I was sent a link to your blog and find it to be very well written and extremely well thought out. I share the same feelings on players such as Plecks and Gilbert (although I'd like to move Emelin too). I don't think we need to cash it all in and go for a Cup in the next few seasons as so many suggest (the prime of Price, Subban and Patches). I'd rather see a team that is a perennial contender as there are no guarantees of winning a Stanley Cup in any given year, regardless of how good your team is, so why not always be good? Anyway, I plan to bookmark the site and certainly will be reading more often.