Friday, February 11, 2011

The reason I write Habs Future

I've been asked before why I write Habs Future. I've explained before it's because of the initial interest I had from following the early exploits of Habs rookie sensation P.K. Subban and it kind of took off from there. These days, it's better to say that I write Habs Future because I have to, I need to keep an eye on the future of this team to be able to predict and believe that the team is on the right path. If the Habs are not building up through the youth, they are doomed. A Cup can not be bought in free agency, you must use the draft in the modern NHL.

We know the Canadiens are behind the Flyers on the road to the Cup. We're also behind the Penguins. Boston is another opponent that is arguably ahead of us, but if the Canadiens had Markov and Gorges on board it would be pretty much an even tilt. Other teams are either behind Montreal or trying to pace with them as we all build towards hopefully greater success in future seasons. At present, the Canadiens are not just not Championship-calibre and it will take several years to approach that very steep plateau.

It's far too easy and it has been done far too often to the point where those who know the story can recite it by heart what the drafting in the 1st round from 2000-2004 and 2006 brought to Montreal. Not much at all. However that was the past and I write Habs Future, not Habs Should Should Have Done This in 2003.

Let us discuss where the Canadiens are going.

In 2005, the Canadiens selected G Carey Price 5th overall. Price is now in his fourth professional season grasping the reigns of being the team's franchise goaltender. At 23, Carey Price is keeping pace with or outperforming goaltenders making far more money than him while they are in their prime, Price is yet to reach his. Last season, the Canadiens also traded Guillaume Latendresse for the services of former 4th overall pick Benoit Pouliot from the same draft year.

In 2007, the Canadiens made three very astute selections when using the pick acquired in the trade of Craig Rivet they acquired LW Max Pacioretty 22nd overall, then used their 2nd-round pick to acquire D P.K. Subban and then their 3rd-round pick to acquire D Yannick Weber. The Canadiens also saw additional assets gained from this draft when Lars Eller, 13th overall in the 2007 draft was acquired in the Jaroslav Halak trade. The team's reward may not end there if 5th-round selection, 142nd overall LW Andrew Conboy emerges from Hamilton as an effective grit forward.

In 2008, the Canadiens selected RW Danny Kristo 56th overall and LW Steve Quailer 86th overall, both favourable college prospects. While Kristo has had some setbacks, his outstanding season as a rookie in NCAA Hockey should not be forgotten, nor his starring role with the 2010 US team that won World Junior Championship Gold. Quailer will likely face a much hard road while he works both this season and likely next to recover from his ACL injury, he was at a time considered a draft steal after a surprising rookie season in college hockey. Further benefit may be seen from 5th-round selection, 138th overall RW Maxim Trunev if he elects to leave Russia for more ice time and a potential NHL future after this season is over.

In 2009 the Canadiens looked to the future once more, addressing issues across the board, especially at centre. 18th overall C Louis Leblanc, while having a difficult stretch of late in the QMJHL had a strong showing at the World Junior Championships and shows promise of a very capable two-way forward. 63rd overall C Joonas Nattinen is probably not the most promising offensive prospect, but he is a faceoff expert already at age 19 and brings a two-way game to the ice. D Mac Bennett went 79th overall and while he has a ways to go, some observers are confident that Bennett has that special factor that will allow him to reach the NHL. RW Alexander Avtsin at 109th overall was from the time of his selection considered a potential steal, he's already playing in the AHL at age 19 and posting points on pace with those his age, while he adapts to the smaller North American ice surface.

In 2010 if there is a word to describe what the Canadiens were interested in, it was character. the Canadiens moved up in the draft to secure a potential future Hal Gill, albeit one with far superior skating and a physical edge by taking D Jarred Tinordi 22nd overall in the draft. Tinordi was named an alternate captain of the London Knights upon joining the team and was previously the captain of the US Under-18 National Team when they won a Gold Medal. D Morgan Ellis at 18 captains his team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The Canadiens also chose a potential future Brian Gionta in RW Brendan Gallagher, a somewhat diminutive player but his scoring talent at present seems undeniable as is his work ethic and heart.

The Canadiens also made some selections from previously undrafted players to bolster their ranks, in 2009 signing 23-year old C Andreas Engqvist, formerly of the Swedish Elite League to a contract. At present, Engqvist is the leading defensive forward with the Hamilton Bulldogs. Another potential future Canadien was chosen by signing D Brendon Nash, a former NCAA hockey player who's taken on a heavy workload and shone through as one of the better defencemen in Hamilton this season in his first year of playing professional hockey. 24-year old C David Desharnais is another undrafted forward the Canadiens found and developed into a professional player for the team and is showing definite flashes of NHL talent this season. Further back in the draft, from 2004 one name still remains elusive but attractive to the Canadiens as well, 24-year old D Alexei Yemelin.

The Canadiens drafted and signed other players but to this writer, these are names that have futures or potential futures to this writer as they pertain to where the Canadiens are going.

By the 2013-14 season, the Canadiens will have a potential youth core that can carry them forward, obviously not all of these names are likely to be around but this is a potential core built out of the draft, trades and undrafted player signings.

27 Years old:

D Alexei Yemelin
C David Desharnais
26 years old:
G Carey Price
LW Benoit Pouliot
C Andreas Engqvist
D Brendon Nash
25 years old:
C Lars Eller
LW Max Pacioretty
D PK Subban
D Yannick Weber
LW Andrew Conboy
24 years old:
RW Danny Kristo
LW Steve Quailer
RW Maxim Trunev
23 Years Old:
C Louis Leblanc
C Joonas Nattinen
D Mac Bennett
RW Alexander Avtsin
22 Years Old:
D Jarred Tinordi
D Morgan Ellis
RW Brendan Gallagher

Also at this time we should consider Tomas Plekanec will be 31 and still within his prime. Mike Cammalleri will be of the same age and should have plenty of miles left in him and Josh Gorges will be turning 30 and Andrei Markov the eldest statesmen on defence at 35 if both defencemen recover well from their knee injuries. Brian Gionta and if he's still here, Scott Gomez will be the eldest forward members at age 35 but they will be one of a few as the Canadiens will become a team of youth if the organization properly develops what they have in their system.

It's not going to be easy but the Canadiens can't simply aim to play immediate catch-up with the teams that are ahead of them, they had higher draft picks or were just drafting better than Montreal for the first half of the decade. Patience is required, dynasties simply do not exist anymore so teams must carefully build up their strength, determine their best window to challenge for a Cup Title and than judiciously spend draft picks or prospects to add final pieces for the run when they are there. It's not this year, or next, or perhaps even the year after. Montreal must develop what they have, make careful trades for the future while remaining competitive so as to attract free agents and ensure their own core players wish to stay.

Nothing most hardcore fans want to hear but no team can realistically take a swing at the Cup each year anymore, there's a salary cap and 29 other teams to compete against for that lofty goal. It's a long hard road to the Stanley Cup but the Canadiens have little choice but to proceed as they exist no, barring absolute steals in trades by Pierre Gauthier with opposing teams this year and next there is simply no way to accelerate the timetable.

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