By Bob Trask – The NHL entry draft is the foundation on which franchises are built. Amateur players are analyzed, graded and chosen by each NHL team in the hope that they can become contributors to the future success of their franchise. But optimism over how much and how immediate that contribution may be needs to be tempered with a dose of reality.
The Generational Player
Players with the abilities of Connor McDavid aren’t available in every draft and if a star emerges it can often come from a pick like Patrice Bergeron who was chosen 45th overall or Brayden Point who was chosen 79th overall in their respective drafts. The draft is not a perfect science.
Many believe that this draft does not include a generational player but that it is a solid and deep pool of talent. There are no clear cut choices who stand head and shoulders above the crowd.Montreal Canadiens fans need to accept this reality. They have an opportunity to add a very good player but probably not the superstar that they crave.
Another reality surrounding the generational player is that immediate (or any) success is not guaranteed. Edmonton has continued to flounder since McDavid was added and six years into his career, Auston Matthews has yet to lead his team to a winning a single playoff round.Don’t expect a #1 or #2 overall pick to be the panacea that cures all the problems currently facing the Canadiens.
While the draft is the foundation on which successful teams are built it takes a lot more time to build that foundation. It’s another unpleasant reality facing a struggling team looking to turn things around quickly.
A player drafted out of junior is more likely than not to finish his junior career (typically two more years), then continue his development in the AHL (another one or two years) before cracking the lineup. And when these young hopefuls do crack the lineup it is usually as a bottom six forward or a bottom pairing d-man before they graduate to roles higher in the lineup.
In a lot of cases these players won’t be significant contributors until five years after they have been drafted. And yes, that includes first round picks.
Hits and Misses
It is easy to complain about missed opportunities like the aforementioned Bergeron and Point. The reality is that drafting amateur players is an imperfect science. If the Bruins and Tampa were as astute as some claim, then they would have chosen Bergeron and Point in the first round.
In Tampa’s case they chose Dominik Masin and Jonathan MacLeod before selecting Point in the third round. “Who?” you may ask. And the answer is, “Exactly”. Masin reached the AHL while MacLeod’s career culminated in an stint in the ECHL.
The point is (pun intended), that when building their foundation even the most successful teams are going to have some big misses along with the occasional pleasant surprise. In that regard, the Montreal Canadiens are no different from any other team.
Reasons for Optimism
The best a team can hope for is that poor picks are minimized and pleasant surprises will occur more frequently. An example for Montreal in a recent draft is the case of Jack Smith and Sean Farrell. Smith was chosen twenty spots ahead of Farrell. He is still struggling to make his mark in the USHL while Farrell has been considered for the US Olympic team.
With eleven picks in the upcoming draft, the Canadiens have an opportunity to have one of those picks become a pleasant surprise. But that optimism has to be taken with a dose of reality. As mentioned, it is highly likely that these picks are not short term solutions.
The Path Forward
Purging the roster in favour of a multitude of draft picks is advocated by many fans. But, as discussed, this approach requires a lot of patience combined with more than a fair share of pleasant surprises and even then success is far from guaranteed.
As Montreal moves forward adding draft picks can only be part of the strategy. Another part of the strategy surely needs to include players who are NHL ready or knocking on the door. This means players who already have a year or two of junior under their belts, perhaps a season the AHL or currently playing in a high European league.
The draft is important but narrowly focusing on it as the only way to improve the team in both the short and long term is shortsighted.
Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton will have to explore all opportunities as they look to develop the Canadiens into consistent contender – the draft is an important part of it but only one part.