The 2006 NHL Draft will be remembered for the same reasons most drafts are, the superstars at the top, the first round busts and the diamonds in the rough such as 6th rounder Andrew Macdonald who was picked by the New York Islanders. Taking place in Vancouver, most Canucks fans will recall it as the day they finally got their franchise goaltender. New ‘Nucks GM Mike Gillis grabbed Luongo from Florida in a swap that surrounded Todd Bertuzzi. Blackhawks fans will be forever grateful that Toews was still around when they picked 3rd, Pens fans aren’t complaining about grabbing Jordan Staal 2nd and Caps fans love that they got Ovie a center in Backstrom 4th overall. Minnesota did not get much out of 9th overall pick James Sheppard and the Tampa Bay Lightning are still looking for a goalie after using a first rounder on Riku Helenius. Habs fans fit in with the latter, looking back and seeing that then Canadiens GM Bob Gainey made six selections, took a big swing and a miss each time and ended up with a pair of strikeouts.
In the upcoming June draft in Pittsburgh Montreal currently holds the same number of picks as they did in 06, with a first rounder, two second rounders and three picks in the later rounds. Of course this year they hold the third overall pick, the earliest they will select since picking Doug Wickenhesier first in 1980. What has to be different this time around is the Habs must avoid taking any duds only to have superstars picked immediately after.
See, drafts are nearly impossible to predict, almost every year there is a Datsyuk or Zetterberg whom is passed over 200 times. For example, it is easy to say Montreal should have used a second rounder on Zetterberg in 99 but clearly he was on no ones radar at that time of the draft. Classic late bloomer, it happens all the time. What can’t happen is to pick a career ECHL’er 20th overall when a skilled French guy who had already lit up the QMJHL and by the age of 23 is one of the best players in the league, gets selected two picks later. However, this was a regular occurrence in 06. Again, it is easy to look back at any draft and say the Habs should have taken that 7th rounder that someone took a flyer on and got lucky. This isn’t what I am looking at, I want to see who went 3 or 4 picks later and should have been on the radar.
Entering the 2006 draft the Montreal Canadiens held the 16th overall pick. This pick was traded to the San Jose Sharks for the 20th and the 53rd overall picks. The comedy of errors began immediately when Gainey selected Mr. Minnesota David Fischer in the first round. “Fish” flopped immediately as he went to university and never approached his potential. Having a first round pick not deliver can crush a franchise. However having French speaking Claude Giroux be selected two picks later by the Philadelphia Flyers makes a bad pick much worse. Claude had 103 points for the Gatineau Olypiques before being selected. Giroux finished third overall in total league points in the NHL this season while “Fish” will flop his way to zero career points.
Even the team that drafted Giroux apparently didn’t know who he was at the time he was selected so I guess we should cut Gainey some slack for not grabbing him.
Habs next selection came at number 49. They decided to grab from the Kootenay Ice, with 60 points in 69 games Ben Maxwell. With average size and a bit of a scoring pedigree he looked as if he could play a scoring role with these Habs sooner rather than later. However, he was ultimately traded for Nigel Dawes. Strike two Gainey. Making matters worse was that the Boston Bruins did their homework and were willing to take a shot on a high scoring, enormous, do-whatever-he-can-to-win winger. His name was Milan Lucic. Lucic played a depth role on a stacked Vancouver Giants team during his draft season but showed his willingness to battle and fight anyone in the rough and tumble “W”. Yes, Milan Lucic was selected one pick after Maxwell. Of course he has gone on the be a fan favorite, win at all costs type winger for the Bruins who is counted on as a scorer for a team that won the cup last season.
The next Habs selection was only four slots later. Proving that their non existent knowledge at 49 was no fluke, Habs management decided to grab Mathieu Carle at 53. Carle was a high scoring defenceman in the QMJHL. Were they suddenly interested in Quebec born players, after whiffing on Giroux? Hard to understand the logic when Carle has yet to play a handful of games in the league, while the very next selection Artem Anisimov averaged 17 goals and 40 points over the last two seasons on cup contending New York Rangers.
Montreal’s next pick happened to be their finest. The Habs selected career fourth liner Ryan White. I love Ryan White, so don’t get me wrong here when I say that him being a teams best selection, makes for a terrible draft year. Again, I am glad the Habs have White and hope he stays with the organization, but to put salt in the wound of an already horrible draft day, I will point out that Brad Marchand was plucked by the Bruins only five choices later.
I know most teams can look back at any draft and say, what if? The difference here is that Montreal made six mostly brutal selections while rivals grabbed key pieces immediately afterwards. Call it what you want to call it this is the worst case of what could have been in one day of Habs history. Take away Fischer, Maxwell, Carle, White and turn them into Giroux, Lucic, Anisimov and Marchand and Montreal is a powerhouse today and not a bottom feeder.
It just goes to show you what one great showing at the NHL draft can do to a franchise’s future. Let’s hope Bergevin can avoid a repeat of 2006 and make 2012 a draft to remember for the Canadiens.