It's nice to get back to some blogging I have to admit before I dive into the draft itself, work has kept me busy and since the season ended there has not been a lot to be excited about so with that in mind, let us examine the 2011 NHL Entry Draft and how the Montreal Canadiens used the 17th, 97th, 108th, 113th, 138th, 168th and 198th picks.
17th Overall: Defencemen Nathan Beaulieu of the Saint John Sea Dogs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
This 6'3", 191 pound left handed shot defencemen was considered to be Top-10 material by some scouts in the draft and the Canadiens staff seemed very pleased that this two-way skater from the Quebec Major Junior and Memorial Cup Champion Saint John team was available to them.
Beaulieu was ranked 5th overall amongst North American Skaters by Central Scouting, 9th overall by Future Considerations, 8th overall by Puck Prospectus, 18th overall by Red Line Report, 14th overall by International Scouting Services and 11th overall by The Sports Network. So essentially, Beaulieu can be considered a fortunate fall to the Canadiens, or where he should have gone according to the minds of others. It's always nice to believe your team has made a steal, but Beaulieu's ranking in the Top-10 was not unanimous.
The smooth-skating defencemen is considered one of the more NHL-ready prospects in the draft and has drawn good experience from playing on long post-season runs with the Saint John Sea Dogs over the past two seasons, scoring 33 points in the QMJHL playoffs in the last two years with four goals and twelve assists in his first major playoff run in 2009-10, than four goals, thirteen assists in the 2010-11 season. He totalled identical twelve goal, thirty-three assists seasons in his last two years in the QMJHL regular season.
Beaulieu is considered a defencemen who brings a very complete package to the ice, he does not do anything in particular that raises him head and shoulders above his fellow top defensive prospects, but he does everything very well. His vision, skating, physical game, offensive ability and defensive zone prowess combined make him a very well-rounded prospect and he has even shown a willingness to drop the gloves when necessary and battle heavily for the puck in his own zone. One concern would be his overall strength but at the age of 18 it's far more important he shows himself willing to battle than just being able to win a battle, strength training can always put him where he has to be later on for an NHL spot.
One would hope Beaulieu makes improvements to his point shot as twelve goals per season in his last two years on a powerhouse Saint John's team is not something that screams first-line power play talent for the NHL but he still has plenty of time to improve that aspect. His point shot is also critiqued for having a long windup and as Montreal fans know with PK Subban's shooting in the early part of the 2010-11 season, that is not a very good thing for the NHL level. There have been some concerns about his positioning and allowing his emotions to cloud his judgement in-game. However no prospect is perfect and these are aspects that can be corrected or adjusted, especially in the development system the Canadiens have stuck to over the last two seasons for developing their players.
It is also an advantageous pick for Montreal due to Beaulieu having played three seasons already in the QMJHL, he will be eligible to play in the AHL following the conclusion of the 2011-12 NHL season where he'll likely join 2010 1st-round selection by Montreal Jarred Tinordi, potentially 4th-round pick Morgan Ellis and Greg Pateryn, a 2008 drafted prospect acquired by Montreal in the Mikhail Grabovski trade. The Hamilton Bulldogs will potentially feature four defencemen that season under the age of 23, perhaps even five if 2009 3rd-round pick Mac Bennett has a surge in his second season at the University of Michigan. Beaulieu is favoured to join Team Canada for the 2012 World Junior Championships as well, giving him a chance to compete and hopefully help Canada reclaim top spot after two heartbreaking losses in the Gold Medal Game in the past two Tournaments.
Thoughts: I was not a big fan of this choice when I saw the decision made, I had Montreal's first-round pick earmarked for an offensive talent with a risk-reward ceiling such as Matt Puempel, Nicklas Jensen or Mark McNeill, or trading down for a 2nd and taking a later-round choice like Vladimir Namestnikov or Tomas Jurco. I'm aware of the Best Player Available philosophy and Beaulieu falling to Montreal may have been an opportunity Trevor Timmins believed that the team could not possibly pass up and feel good about after. This is an acceptable view and Timmins is the man who has built the youth movement on this team, his 2007 drafting of Pacioretty, Subban and Weber was a major boost for the organization especially and the 2009 draft class has already placed four bodies on the Hamilton Bulldogs heading into the 2011-12 season. I just believe that at a certain point, a team must take a risk in the 1st round for someone who can develop into the game-breaking forward because the talent exists in that player and the reward from taking that chance would be worth it. However Beaulieu's upside is strong enough for me to say this is a pick I am comfortable with viewing in his development, but I hold some reservations due to Montreal's need to eventually, roll the dice on forward talent in the first round.
Montreal trades the 78th overall pick for picks #97 and #108
Thoughts: This move did not overly bother me, until I saw Jean-Gabriel Pageau taken just before Montreal selected, I had favoured him as a sleeper pick. Still, two more picks in the 4th round of a draft with very few guaranteed names is not a terrible concept if you favour other names.
97th overall: Defencemen Josiah Didier of the Cedar Rapids Roughriders of the United States Hockey League, committed to the University of Denver for the 2011-12 NCAA season.
The 6'2", 200-pound right-handed shot defencemen was the first time, and not the last I went "Who" during this draft as I tried to find him in my Future Considerations draft guide, only to find his name unlisted in their Top 200 prospects. He was ranked 108th overall by Central Scouting for North American Skaters. The Scouting Report had done a profile on the Cedar Rapids Roughriders for their draft-eligible players which included Didier.
The Scouting Report felt he has an excellent physical frame, ideal for a defencemen with long arms and legs, allowing him to cover a lot of ice at once. Noted as being a strong skater with good lateral movement, while being strong on the puck and a very good penalty killer. TSR was not very much in love with his offensive upside and for good reason, eight goals and thirteen assists in 58 games does not fill one with hope about his offensive ceiling. Concern about offensive talent when playing against Junior A level competition is not a great thing to read if one is hoping he'll break out as a two-way defender. However with a commitment to Denver and the four-year window he'll have to play there before Montreal must take a decision on keeping him he may have time to grow that part of his game. At present, it would appear he's much more in the form of a Josh Gorges, a defensive defencemen who will use all he has to keep the puck away from the net.
Corey Pronman of Puck Prospectus says he heard from one scout who watches the USHL Didier could be a potential sleeper and felt his mobility was an excellent asset as was his defensive ability.
Thoughts: I can't say I liked this selection, the second choice by Montreal in the draft (in the fourth round) and it was for a defencemen who may be a good defensive defencemen but for me, I think that position was full enough for Montreal especially with Joseph Labate, Gregory Hoffman and Yannick Veilleux on the board for forward talent, all at least 6' tall. If he is another Josh Gorges, then it works out as strong shutdown defencemen do have value, but Didier is years from even the AHL at the moment.
108th overall: Left Wing Olivier Archambault of the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The 5'11", 170-pound left-handed shot winger was second in overall scoring on his former team, the Val-D'Or Foruers with twenty goals and thirty-three assists on a team that finished 14th in the 18-team QMJHL, which likely did not do much for his ability to stack points. Archambault was listed by Future Considerations at 96th overall, so one could say MTL came into agreement with Future Considerations here, Archambault was ranked 65th overall amongst North American Skaters by Central Scouting as well.
Archambault is credited by Future Considerations as being a quick skater with shifty moves that lets him change direction with ease. Good hands and a fast stick but does not appear to have high-end vision. Very creative with the puck, including a good shot and passing ability, but lacks strength at present leaving him on the losing end of many puck battles, he tries to win them but until he physically matures this is a concern. Speaking with @rick1042, a scout for McKeen's Hockey, he mentioned Archambault has a potentially good natural scoring ability if he learns to improve his teamwork.
Conversely, I was also told by @rick1042 that Archambault was apparently unhappy on Val D'Or which led to his being traded to his current team the Drummondville Voltigeurs, home of Philadelphia Flyers top prospect Sean Couturier and former home of Habs prospects Gabriel Dumont and Phillippe Lefebvre. Now this does happen from time to time in the junior ranks, but it can be a bit of a concern when a junior player can be seen to be having trouble being a good teammate. The same issue was voiced by another fellow prospect fiend @Jayhockey85, who didn't like the player or the potential personality issue.
Thoughts: I hate to sound like a broken record but Archambault was not someone I coveted when I looked at who was still available. Kale Kessey in the WHL was a player I liked for his aggressive play, perhaps no more than another Ryan White with maybe better hands, but someone who looked better than a less than PPG scorer in the Quebec Major Junior league who lacks size and has potential personality issues. If his skating is what the scouting report suggests and he can grow his offence that will be something, but he's not that far from Gabriel Dumont in my eyes and Montreal used a 5th on Dumont in a deeper draft year and could be like Dumont in the concept that potentially playing next to Couturier will artificially inflate his scoring numbers.
113th Overall: Defencemen Magnus Nygren of Farjestads BK in the Swedish Elite League.
The 6'1", 191 pound, right-handed shot overager Swedish player had me once again thinking my Future Considerations Draft Guide was not that good of an investment compared to the Canadiens scouting philosophy. Nygren has been passed over twice already in the NHL Entry Draft, leaving him essentially unranked, not even in the top 140 of European skaters by Central Scouting.
Not much is known yet about Nygren, one note picked up is he's a strong power play defencemen with a booming shot, but needs work on his defensive game so unfortunately and considering his draft position, one's mind goes to a taller Marc-Andre Bergeron because of well, paranoia about where he's being taken and the age it's taken him to get drafted. Noted to play with big heart by one amateur report I read, albeit heart doesn't make you better defensively either. He did lead all defencemen in scoring in the Swedish Elite League Playoffs and had 15 points in 21 games for regular season play in the SEL this season. Red Line Report liked him a few years ago, but as he went undrafted he fell out of attention due to that.
Thoughts: I personally do not like the idea of using a draft pick on a player passed over twice in the draft. Yes this is how Montreal picked up Mark Streit back in 2004, but Mark Streit is a pretty rare story as far as late picks becoming Top-20 NHL defencemen go. If Nygren was of interest to Montreal, one would think they could have signed him earlier to a contract without having to use a pick and save it for an 18-year old with potentially more room to grow. For a 21-year old Swede to have issues about his defensive game is not something I like to read, for a country that prides itself on producing defensively aware players it seems strange Nygren has a big question mark on that side of his game. Albeit if he does become a strong power play force, he is always a tradable asset as each year, a few NHL teams are looking for that cannon on their back end.
138th Overall: Defencemen Darren Dietz of the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL.
The 6'1", 198-pound right-handed shot defencemen was left unranked by Future Considerations while Central Scouting held him at 138th overall amongst North American Skaters. Some thoughts I picked up from Hockey's Future Boards discussed that he had 3 more goals than 11th overall selection Duncan Siemens in four fewer games and he was playing in a lesser role compared to the much higher-profile Siemens. Dietz had eight goals, nineteen assists in his first full season in the WHL, third in defensive scoring behind 2009 selection Stefan Elliott and 2011 1st-round choice Duncan Siemens. Dietz also collected one goal, four assists in ten playoff games, second amongst all defencemen for Saskatoon in the post-season.
Dietz will likely have an opportunity to expand his role with Saskatoon Blades defencemen Stefan Elliott moving to the AHL for the 11-12 season. Dietz is also noted to be a capable fighter in the WHL, which means good news for a Habs pipeline of defencemen that aside from Jarred Tinordi and now Nathan Beaulieu did not have an abundance of willing fighters on the depth chart. The WHL is a good proving ground for tough, hard-nosed defenders to ply their trade as they develop into NHL players with the league being considered the roughest of the three Major Junior leagues in Canada, so this is a bonus for anyone wishing the Canadiens increased the aggressiveness and tone of their defensive depth chart. With a top-4 role, Dietz would have two seasons with Saskatoon to potentially increase his offensive abilities if they can be grown while rounding out key aspects for any defencemen such as positioning and vision.
Thoughts: I personally like Dietz's profile over Didier's or Nygren's, a hard-nosed defencemen who had more goals than 11th overall pick Duncan Siemens and will collect a lot of good experience playing two more years in the WHL where he'll build up strength and potentially develop a further offensive upside. At this point I was hoping Montreal would take a flyer on Justin Thomas of the Sault St Marie Greyhounds but examining Dietz's profile I am growing much more comfortable with this particular selection.
168th Overall: Centre Daniel Pribyl of HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga
The 6'3", 190 pound, right-handed shot centre was ranked 46th overall by Central Scouting amongst European Skaters and was favoured by Red Line Report as a potential sleeper in the 2011 draft, he was also talked up by Dobber's Hockey as well as a late-round steal. Discussion from Hockey's Future Boards mentioned while large, he does not have a very visible physical game or strength at the moment so while on paper a big centre, he is probably not the big centre most people dream about especially if he can't push himself up the very long, hard road to an NHL top-6 position. Pribyl had twenty seven goals and thirty one assists in 41 games for the Under-20 junior squad of HC Sparta Praha in the previous season, good enough for 2nd on his team in scoring and 12th overall in the Under-20 Czech League and half of the players ahead of him were a year older as well. Current expectations hold that with a single year left on his contract, he will play it out with the top club of Sparta Praha. There is also talk of Pribyl being approached by the Shawinigan Cataractes to consider coming over to play for them in the future if he is taken in the Import Draft of the CHL.
Reports of Pribyl say he has a good skating stride, but he could do with improving his speed to increase his chances of becoming a player, however at his age that's certainly something he can build on. Complimented for high-end creativity and smooth hands, allowing him to both create a goal for a teammate or finish a chance himself with his accurate shot. Primary concerns hold around the defensive aspect of his game and that he does not use his size as much as one would hope a bigger player would or finish his checks. Strength training seems to be a definite must as while he will engage in puck battles, he is often on the losing end of them right now however as many bigger players at a young age are still growing into their size this is not a serious warning bell. In an interview, Pribyl mentions being a fan of the style of Edmonton Oilers playmaking winger Ales Hemsky and a very large fan of the incomparable talents of Mario Lemieux.
Thoughts: Pribyl was upon initial reaction, the player I most liked on Day 2. The Canadiens had not tapped the Czech Republic for talent since Tomas Linhart in 2002 so nine years later, Montreal goes back to the well in the country that gave them their best centre in Tomas Plekanec a decade ago in the 2001 Entry Draft. While the Czech Republic has not produced an overly large amount of talent in the last decade, it can never hurt for a team to go for a reach candidate in the late rounds, especially since fewer results from the nation means lesser attention by scouts and potentially the classic example of a steal. Pribyl has a long road to go as he will be playing another year in the Czech league before the possibility of him coming to North America arrives and then he will likely need at least a year or two to acclimate to the North American ice surface and style before he can start being considered a higher-end prospect but at present, Pribyl represents what I was hoping to see more of in the 2011 draft by Montreal in taking a risk-reward selection.
198th Overall: Defencemen Colin Sullivan of Avon Old Farms in the Connecticut High-School league, committed to Yale University for the 2012-13 season.
The 6', 200 pound, right-handed shot defencemen was ranked 75th overall Central Scouting and Future Considerations listed him at 122nd on their list. A scout talking to Corey Pronman discussed him as being an excellent skater but a conservative player, not very impressive offensive instincts and fair defensively. He totalled three goals and twelve assists in twenty five games in high school competition in his draft year so at present, it is very difficult to know how he really rates in tools aside from his skating talent, not having played against Junior A or Major Junior talent.
Sullivan mentioned following his draft selection he may be exploring other options to where to play in the 2011-12 season, but with a commitment to Yale University, his draft position and the serious odds against him making the NHL, trying for Major Junior would be a serious reach for the young man and it would nullify him from being eligible to play in NCAA hockey if he were to attend Yale if he made Major Junior and subsequently failed to earn a contract with Montreal. Sullivan was also undrafted in the USHL Draft, meaning he would need to attend a tryout and successfully make one of the USHL squads the hard way. Sullivan is not a prospect one would expect to hear much out of over the next three or even five years as his road to even the AHL is likely a very long one but being a very talented skater, it is very possible he could use that aspect of his game to make himself a viable prospect as the modern NHL is a league where skating has become a giant factor for many player evaluations. Sullivan was also well-received at the NHL Draft Combine for the 2011 draft with high marks from amateur scouts on his performance.
Thoughts: At this point, it's almost impossible to be angry about a pick as maybe two players a year come from the 7th round of the draft and in the last twenty years, only Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Lundqvist emerged as true star players from the 7th round. If Sullivan's skating is what is reported to be, that is certainly of good interest to Montreal as a smooth-skating defencemen is at the very least, a tradable asset to a team looking to bolster their blue line. However at this point, one would think throwing caution to the wind would not be a bad idea and take a shot on a Russian prospect, with Montreal able to get both Alexander Avtsin and now Alexei Yemelin over from the KHL in successive years, it would not have been a ridiculous consideration to spend the pick once more on a low-risk, high-reward player such as Nikolai Prokhorkin or Sergei Shmelev. But again, crying about who your team took in the 7th round is not something you should spend more than 5 minutes on even if you're a dedicated prospect fan.
Overall Impression: I've said this for a couple days now, the drafting choices by the Montreal Canadiens seemed a little odd to me. In their eyes, five times out of seven their best possible choice was a defencemen, which seems a bit statistically odd to me with 69 defencemen taken among 211 total players. It's very possible the draft in fact spun this way, but after selecting five centres in the 2009 draft, one would almost suspect at times in the later rounds, the team starts thinking about what they believe their organization needs to be rather than the best talent available. This is could be just idle speculation but I found it strange nonetheless. If the Canadiens are focused on building from the net out, one could hardly fault them for selecting Beaulieu. Didier, Nygren, Didier and Dietz all offer different aspects in a shutdown defencemen, a power play specialist and a physical defencemen with potential offensive upside. Colin Sullivan I can not say much of aside from perhaps his skating is good, but in this writer's opinion the 7th-rounder is still best used on a larger gamble. Olivier Archambault's next season in the QMJHL will be critical as to date, he has scored thirty-two goals in a hundred and twenty three games in the QMJHL, which makes one wonder just how talented a forward he is if his third season, playing on the well-ranked Drummondville Voltigeurs he does not raise his scoring profile. Daniel Pribyl could be the wildcard of the whole draft, the fear of losing him to the KHL can always be a concern with a European prospect, but at the same time he may be interested to follow the route that raised fellow countrymen Tomas Plekanec to his position in the NHL.
I wrote a number of disparaging remarks about the Canadiens drafting choices during the second day of the draft and while I've come down from my initial opinions, I still am not in particular favour of the selections by the club. It seems Dietz and Beaulieu were at least enough that another pick could have been spared for a forward prospect with any kind of offensive upside, even if it was pretty much a gamble the pick would develop into a forward talent. I say this as someone who very much approved of the 2009 and 2010 drafts by the Canadiens when I first began to start tracking the progress of the team's various prospects. I personally don't believe the Canadiens selected at the same quality they did in the previous two years. Now I could be proven very wrong in as little as a year but at present I'm not a fan of this draft outside of Beaulieu, Dietz and Pribyl.
Looking to the Future: This draft also reinforces for me a disturbing trend in my eyes by the organization which is that for the third straight season, the Canadiens have not drafted a player who has a potential power forward upside in their profile. Now power forwards are a notoriously difficult player to draft, sign or trade for, it's concerning. I find it discouraging that Montreal has not gone for a reach in any stage of the last three drafts to try for a player who will power to the net for his goals or sit in the crease and battle for rebounds. The only potential power forward that exists from the 2008 draft is one Steve Quailer, a 3rd-round pick who by no fault of his own, suffered a torn ACL and missed the entire 2009-10 season and his comeback year in the 2010-11 season was rather disappointing stats-wise, with only three goals in thirty eight games. I consider this being what I am now terming for Montreal "The Markov scenario" in which they have only player of a type that they need more than one of, but are having difficulty addressing the need of acquiring more of that talent form. Montreal seemingly has no promising power forwards in their system and even one is selected in the first round of the 2012 Entry Draft, he will likely be only ready to play for Montreal by the time Max Pacioretty is approaching Unrestricted Free Agent status. Now it is arguable with the talent base on defence being built, one can always trade for a power forward talent later, much as Erik Johnson was moved for Chris Stewart, or Brent Burns was dealt for Devin Setoguchi in the last year. However it seems Montreal has put itself currently in a position where the answer for the next power forward must come from without, rather than from within. This also reminds me the Canadiens lack very little in natural goal scoring talent in their farm system with only three players having scored more than forty goals at any notable junior level in Alexander Avtsin, Gabriel Dumont and Brendan Gallagher, Gallagher being the only player to have more than one forty-goal season under his belt as well. The well-known mantra and essentially a fact is that one can not teach goal scoring, it seems Montreal at present had better prepare and scout for goal scoring talent in the 2012 and 2013 drafts because as at present, they are rather short of natural scoring forwards in their system. There are few goal scorers who can reach 30 or more in the NHL on a consistent basis and a team's best hope is to draft and develop one, rather than attempt to land via an expensive trade or free agent deal, acquiring the services of Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta alone cost the Canadiens about 17% of their current cap space.
One should never get caught drafting on need, that's how you get David Fischer over Claude Giroux but Montreal should probably see about scouting a little more heavily towards the prospects who can score a goal in the next couple of drafts.
Again, I say this as someone who liked the 2009 and 2010 drafts, but as someone who became a little disillusioned by the 2011 results, especially when I continue to read that 2012 is going to feature a very fine crop of defencemen so Montreal, going by the Best Player Available consideration may start completely overstocking their back end by next June. With defencemen taking a longer track than forwards to develop, Montreal also may need to wait before their defensive prospects can become useful tradeable assets for power forward or goal scoring prospects or as always, that elusive big centre so many people in Montreal are after.