The Montreal Canadiens have been the most successful franchise in NHL history, capturing twenty-four Stanley Cups since 1924, eleven more championships than their closest competitor the Toronto Maple Leafs who sit at thirteen.
Despite all of the Habs success, they haven't captured the title since 1993 indicating they haven't done the best job drafting over the last twenty years. First round picks are crucial for a franchise to get right as it's the only round where a player should be a shoe in to make the leap to the NHL. Looking through the past draft classes, you see how few players make it once drafted past the second round, sure we all know the Pavel Datsyuk’s (171st overall) or Henrik Zetterberg’s (210th overall) but those stories are few and far between. Clearly, the Detroit Red Wings knows something other teams don’t.
Analyzing the Montreal Canadiens' last twenty-first round picks, there were some great ones, but they were sporadic at best. Looking at the players they let slip through their fingers, you see a team that would easily contend year after year for the Stanley Cup.
Often it’s the General Manager that takes the fall for poor drafting, the result of the scouting staff not doing the proper homework, how often do we hear of the Head Scout getting fired?
Here’s the Canadiens last twenty-first round draft picks, the ones we think they got right and the one’s where they made a mistake.
20 Jarome Iginla (1995)
Original Pick: Terry Ryan, 8th Overall
General Manager Serge Savard was relieved of his duties early in the 1995-1996 season after a horrendous start by the Canadiens and while the team's performance suffered, Savard’s decision in the 1995 entry draft was much worse. Picking eighth overall, the Canadiens decided on Terry Ryan after he put up 110 points in 70 games for the Tri-City Americans that year. Ryan would only play a total of eight NHL games in his career, ending up as a minor league player until his retirement in 2002-03.
Three picks later, the Dallas Stars selected a kid named Jarome Iginla; Iggy should need no introduction to any hockey fan. Iginla is the franchise player every team hopes to draft, and he would have made a huge difference to Montreal. With 1295 points in 1546 NHL games, Iginla has won or contended for almost every award a forward can win. Savard and the Canadiens made a massive mistake when they let him get away.
19 Zdeno Chara (1996)
Original Pick: Matt Higgins, 18th Overall
Réjean Houle replaced Serge Savard early in the 1995-96 season but followed in his footsteps when he blew the eighteenth overall pick in the 1996 draft by selecting Matt Higgins. Higgins had solid numbers in junior, his best year being the 1996-97 season tallying 90 points. Sadly, his junior success didn't translate over to the NHL only dressing in fifty-seven games for the Canadiens before ending up in Europe where he retired from playing in 2010-11.
Houle shouldn’t be the only GM chastised for this year's draft because every other GM passed twice on Zeno Chara until Mike Milbury finally used the New York Islanders fifty-sixth overall pick to select this giant from Slovakia. At 6’9” it’s a wonder how anyone could miss Chara, he has gone on to a twenty-year career where his punishing defensive play makes sure every player on the ice knows when he is out there. Chara would have changed the dynamic of the Canadiens backend forever, it’s a shame they missed their chance to draft him.
18 Marian Hossa (1997)
Original Pick: Jason Ward, 11th Overall
The 1997 Entry Draft was filled with talent, names like Thornton, Marleau, Jokinen, Luongo and Brewer all selected in the top five picks. Montreal decided to use the eleventh pick on Jason Ward, the solid two-way winger had a decent NHL career, playing in a total of 336 games but never lived up to expectations.
One pick later, the Ottawa Senators choice was Marian Hossa, of course, they made the better decision. Hossa is a class act that any organization would cherish to have, rumoured to have on many occasions opted to play for less money for a chance to win the Cup, Hossa is every GM’s dream in the salary cap era. As a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, Hossa has proven, he has what it takes to win and will perform whatever role a team needs of him, Houle missed the mark again when he didn’t take him.
17 Brad Richards (1998)
Original Pick: Eric Chouinard, 16th Overall
The Canadiens scouting staff should have consulted with Tampa Bay; apparently, they knew more during the 1998 draft than anyone else. Tampa selected Vincent Lecavalier first overall, but without a second round pick, it was their third round pick which they used to take Brad Richards that was the steal of the draft. In Richards' three years in junior, he scored 115, 131, and 186 points per season, how any GM let him slip by is astonishing. Richards went on to an 1126 game career winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2003-04 after leading Tampa Bay to the championship.
Instead, the Canadiens and Houle were determined to use their first round pick on Eric Chouinard, while he got a sniff at the big league, he was never able to become a mainstay of an NHL roster. After playing in 90 NHL contests over six years, Chouinard would carve out a good career in Europe where he is still playing today.
16 Justin Williams (2000)
Original Pick: Ron Hainsey, 13th Overall
If the Canadiens had used the 1996 draft to select Chara, then they wouldn’t have been so desperate to get a solid two-way defenseman in 2000. Picking thirteenth overall, the Canadiens were confident in Ron Hainsey, they weren't altogether wrong, but he isn't even close to the calibre of Chara. Hainsey has had a very solid career; he still plays for the Penguins where they hope his top notch shot blocking will lead them back to this year’s finals.
Imagine if the Canadiens had instead spent their pick on Justin Williams who ended up being selected by Philadelphia twenty-eighth overall. Hoisting the Cup three times, Williams has established himself as one of the best playoff performers of all-time, having scored seven goals in Game 7's, a record he currently holds with Glenn Anderson. With another playoff appearance this year, it’s a record Williams can most definitely obtain for himself.
15 Jason Pominville (2001)
Original Pick: Mike Komisarek, 7th Overall
If a team selects a defenseman in the first round for his defending abilities, they better make sure he can live up to the task. With so much scoring available in the early rounds of drafts, these are crucial picks that must not be wasted. In 2001, the Canadiens decided on Mike Komisarek, a decent d-man, he never quite turned into the defender Montreal hoped finishing his career with a -19 rating.
Jason Pominville would have helped the Canadiens much more, and he has demonstrated his ability to be a consistent point producer with 657 points in 898 games. Scoring a series-winning overtime goal in his rookie season, Buffalo knew they had made the right choice when they took him fifty-fifth overall. Now with the Minnesota Wild, Pominville hopes this is the year he gets to hold the Cup above his head for the first time.
14 Duncan Keith (2002)
Original Pick: Chris Higgins, 14th Overall
Drafting Chris Higgins fourteenth overall is far from the worst decision the Canadiens have made is the last twenty years but it most certainly wasn't their best. Higgins had a very solid career posting 333 points over 711 NHL games, but primarily a third and fourth line player. Montreal had much better options available in 2002.
Late in the second round, the Chicago Blackhawks selected wiry defensemen named Duncan Keith from Michigan State University, and what a selection that would turn out to be. Keith has gone on to win almost everything possible, three Stanley Cups, two Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe, this year Keith got named as one of the 100 Greatest players of all-time. Montreal wasn't the only team to miss out on Keith, but like the rest, they are surely kicking themselves for doing so.
13 Jeff Carter (2003)
Original Pick: Andrei Kostitsyn, 10th Overall
Perhaps one of the best draft classes in recent memory, 2003 was loaded with available talent in the first and second rounds, and a GM could have thrown a dart at the board and most likely hit a future star. The Canadiens selected Andrei Kostitsyn tenth overall, but the players selected after him are baffling. Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Brent Burns and Corey Perry were all available to the Canadiens when it was their time to decide, and this might be one of the teams biggest misses on draft day ever.
Kostitsyn played a total of 398 games totalling 222 points, while not atrocious numbers they don't come close to some of the names the Canadiens missed. There are at least 15 superstars drafted after Kostitsyn. Carter was drafted immediately after him with the 11th overall pick by the Philadelphia Flyers, so he's our pick but you can't really go wrong with the other names that followed.
12 David Krejci (2004)
Original Pick: Kyle Chipchura, 18th Overall
Kyle Chipchura graduated junior with a lot of hype attached to his name, after missing the 2005 World Junior Championship due to injury, he was appointed Captain of the team the following year. Once ready for the pros, Chipchura started his professional career with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL, he wouldn't play a full year in the NHL until the 2009—10 season. Never fully developing into the player Montreal hoped, they traded him to Anaheim on Dec 1st, 2009.
A player that would have benefitted the Canadiens is David Krejci, selected late in the second round by Boston, the Bruins knew what they were getting. Leading the Bruins to their 2011 Stanley Cup championship, Krejci led all players with 23 points in 25 playoff games. If the Canadiens had the chance to redraft in 2004, Krejci would obviously be a player they would take.
11 Carey Price (2005)
Original Pick: Carey Price, 5th Overall
Other than Sydney Crosby who went first overall, Carey price is the best player to come out of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Selected fifth overall by the Canadiens, Price has become the best goalie of the modern era and will go down as one of the best of all time. At the 2015 NHL awards, Price was awarded the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Trophy, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by a goalie since Dominik Hasek in 1998.
Price has a World Junior Championship and an Olympic Gold to his name but has yet to capture the NHL’s greatest prize. With a career 2.41 GAA and a .920 SV%, it hasn't been Price’s performance holding the Canadiens back from hoisting the Cup during his tenure. Could this be the year the Habs get back to their winning ways adding another Cup to the twenty-four they already have?
10 Claude Giroux (2006)
Original Pick: David Fischer, 20th Overall
When it comes time to draft, teams must address what their needs are, but many GM’s also subscribe to the notion that you take the best player available in the first round. In 2006, the Canadiens were looking for help on the blue line and decided upon defensemen David Fischer. Fischer was playing high school hockey at the time in Minnesota, making him a risky pick for sure. After a couple of years in the ECHL Fischer now plays in Europe, making him another wasted first round pick by the Canadiens.
Right down the road from the Canadiens was a kid named Claude Giroux, who played his junior years in Gatineau for the Olympiques. Giroux put up 103 points in his draft year making it visible to Philadelphia he was worth their pick two spots after Montreal. Giroux is a reliable scorer for Philadelphia, leading the Flyers in scoring for five of his first seven seasons. Apparently, Montreal missed out on a great player in Giroux.
9 Max Pacioretty (2007)
Original Pick: Max Pacioretty, 22nd Overall
Another strong draft class in 2007 Montreal was lucky that their man was still available when it was their turn to go in the twenty-second spot. When Max Pacioretty scored on his first shot on goal in the NHL, it proved to be an excellent decision by GM Bob Gainey which was again reaffirmed when the Canadiens named him Captain in 2015.
Despite Pacioretty’s success, it wasn't immediate for the New Canaan, CT native, after being drafted it would take three years of splitting time between the AHL and NHL before in 2011-12 he would stick full-time with the big club. The same dedication and determination that got Pacioretty where he is today were recognized by the NHL in 2011-12, when he received the Bill Masterton Trophy, awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game.
8 Marcus Johansson (2009)
Original Pick: Louis LeBlanc, 18th Overall
With no first round pick in 2008, we jump ahead to 2009. The Canadiens were confident in Louis LeBlanc when they chose him in 2009, but he only stopped by for a quick cup of coffee with the franchise. Playing in fifty NHL games, he registered ten points before heading over to Europe where he retired after the 2015-16 season.
The Washington Capitals had it right when six picks later, they announced that Marcus Johansson would be their man. Johansson’s speed and versatility have seen him spend time at wing and centre, that adaptability has been invaluable. A mainstay on the Capitals power play, Johansson’s playmaking abilities has propelled that unit to one of the league’s best. The Canadiens have been in dire need of consistent offensive production the last few years, and if they had taken Marcus Johansson instead of Louis LeBlanc, they would have gained that.
7 Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010)
Original Pick: Jared Tinordi, 22nd Overall
NHL scouts love players who have NHL lineage, assuming it leads to a greater chance of a player making it by following in family footsteps. Jared Tinordi is the son of former Minnesota North Stars captain Mark Tinordi, Unfortunately for the Canadiens, those NHL genes didn't get passed on. Montreal traded Tinordi to Arizona January of 2016, then in March of the same year, Tinordi received a twenty game suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance. He was subsequently placed on waivers by the Coyotes and currently plays for their AHL affiliate in Tucson.
Washington nailed it two years in a row when they decided on Evgeny Kuznetsov just four picks after the Canadiens. Kuznetsov and Johansson could have both been Habs, and what a difference they would have made. With the goaltending and the back end the Canadiens have, those two players could have elevated Montreal to the upper echelon of the league, again demonstrating just how important a team’s first round picks are. The Capitals have been one of the stronger teams in the last few years, and these two players are a big reason for that. Montreal should have taken them!
6 Nikita Kucherov (2011)
Original Pick: Nathan Beaulieu, 17th Overall
Habs fans should sit and fantasize for a minute what could have been, imagine having Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nikita Kucherov among your forward group. That’s what could have exactly happened if the Canadiens had drafted these three players, all of whom were available when it came time to pick. Kucherov is turning heads nightly this year currently sixth in points (78) and second in goals (38), he has single-handedly kept Tampa Bay in the hunt for a wild card spot this year when they lost Stamkos for the season.
Instead, the Canadiens went with Nathan Beaulieu in the 2011 Entry Draft, not a poor choice at all but he does not add the same impact that Kucherov would have. A solid defender who can skate, Beaulieu has also contributed offensively this year adding twenty-five points so far. Steadily improving, the Canadiens look to have a steady blue liner in Beaulieu for years to come.
5 Alex Galchenyuk (2012)
Original Pick: Alex Galchenyuk, 3rd Overall
So far, the Canadiens have undeniably won the 2012 NHL draft, selecting third overall they went with Alex Galchenyuk, a decision that should make them jubilant. When the Oilers picked first and went with Nail Yakupov while Columbus took Ryan Murray second, Montreal was able to get their man. Nobody in the 2012 draft class has as many points as Galchenyuk and the first overall pick Yakupov looks like his time in NHL might be close to over already.
In his fifth season, Galchenyuk has proven he is an offensive threat continually increasing his point totals year after year. Galchenyuk is the third youngest player in Habs history to reach the twenty goal mark, Bernie Geoffrion and Stephane Richer being the only players to do it younger. Canadiens fans should be very excited for Galchenyuk to be in the same conversation as those Montreal greats.
4 Michael McCarron (2013)
Original Pick: Michael McCarron, 25th Overall
It may be too early to tell if Michael McCarron will develop into the power forward Montreal is hoping for, with just 48 NHL games of experience under his belt, McCarron has registered just two goals and five assists, not exactly earth-shattering numbers. Offensive production was not the sole intention when the Canadiens selected him, and the Canadiens needed size up front.
A massive frame, standing 6’6” 231 lbs, McCarron is a part of the Montreal roster that desperately needed to add some size and grit to a notoriously small forward group. Montreal’s forward group is well-known around the league for being small with players like Paul Byron and Brendan Gallagher being only 5'9”, and a handful of other guys under 6' makes McCarron a welcome addition this year. Montreal went a step further and added 6’4” Dwight King at this year's trade deadline, a two-time Cup champion with Los Angeles, King, will add much-needed playoff experience down the stretch.
3 Viktor Arvidsson (2014)
Original Pick: Nikita Scherbak, 26th Overall
Way down in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, Nashville elected to take Viktor Arvidsson, rarely does a mid round draft pick achieve immediate success like Arvidsson has. With thirty-six goals and thirty-five assist already, he’s proven he is a double threat with the puck. As a teenager, he finished ninth in scoring in the Swedish Hockey League, no wonder Nashville had their eye on him.
Arvidsson would have made an immediate impact with Montreal, but they decided to take Nikita Scherbak instead, not saying Scherbak won’t work out, he just seems to need more time. Currently playing with the St. John’s IceCaps, Montreal’s AHL farm team, Scherbak is having a solid season tallying thirty-seven points in fifty-eight games. Habs fans should expect the team to give him another shot to stick with the club next year, hopefully turning into the player they wished.
2 Noah Juulsen (2015)
Original Pick: Noah Juulsen, 26th Overall
With Andrei Markov possibly reaching the end of his career and the trade of P.K. Subban, the Canadiens are in need of a skilled puck-moving defenseman, and that’s what they have in Noah Juulsen. The Abbotsford, BC native has yet to lace the skates up for the Canadiens, but fans shouldn't worry. Juulsen was an integral part of this year's Canadian World Junior team that lost in a shootout to the United States for the Gold Medal.
Still able to put up decent points playing in Everette of the WHL, Juulsen plays under a very defensive system established by coach Kevin Constantine where point production must be a second thought if players want to see the ice. Juulsen may need a year or two in the AHL before he is ready for the NHL but expect to see him logging big minutes soon for the Canadiens.
1 Tyson Jost (2016)
Original Pick: Mikhail Sergachev, 9th Overall
Only six players from the 2016 draft have yet to see any action in the NHL, and of those only Auston Mathews, Patrik Laine and Mathew Tkachuk have made a significant contribution to their teams. Mikhail Sergachev is still playing junior for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, he is having a very solid season putting up forty-three points in fifty games, as defensemen, those are very respectable numbers. Time will tell if his game will translate to the NHL.
Taken one spot later tenth overall by the Colorado Avalanche was Tyson Jost, playing for the University of North Dakota. He registered thirty-five points in thirty-three games, a difficult task for an eighteen-year-old. The US college game is full of much older and stronger players than the CHL, a reason many NHL scouts like when a player chooses that route. Next year will be exciting for Jost, the Regina Pats have his CHL rights and with the team hosting the Memorial Cup, which way will Jost decide?
His options will be CHL, AHL or the NHL, should the Avalanche decide to emerge him in the mess they have going on there this year. Jost’s hockey IQ is at the top of his class, a dangerous scorer and playmaker he showed us a glimpse of this talent as a member of Canada’s World Junior team this year. The Canadiens would have been excited to have Jost in their stable of future talent.