The Montreal Canadiens are the NHL’s most storied franchise, but for decades now, they’ve built their brand based on the accomplishments of generations past. The current Habs fanbase is an incredibly frustrated bunch, because many have grown up without having ever witnessed a Stanley Cup. Put this in perspective; the franchise won 22 Stanley Cups in their first 70 years of existence. They’ve won two in their last 36 years. That’s an incredible dropoff in average.
That’s somewhat expected in an NHL that’s expanded to 30 teams and the team no longer has the same advantages they had in earlier decades where they essentially had a monopoly on top prospects from Quebec.
Perhaps the worst decade for the Habs’ drafts was the 1990s. It’s no coincidence those constant misses soon led to a mediocre franchise that had to scratch and claw through 82 games just to make the playoffs. It was a franchise where making the playoffs was once a given and it was Stanley Cup or bust, but now fans of this generation have become accustomed to their management saying their goal is to make the playoffs.
It’s an age where reaching 100 points and making the second round is seen as a successful season for the Canadiens. That’s a huge fall in the standards that should come with this franchise.
It’s hard to pinpoint where their downfall was. While they’re in better shape today than they were a few years ago, they’re not where a franchise like this should be. While some may point to the Patrick Roy trade as the franchise’s downfall in the mid 90s, constant blunders on draft picks may be the bigger culprit. Sure, we’re talking entirely of hindsight here, but the missed picks can’t be ignored.
Here are the biggest draft mistakes in the franchise’s history.
15. Tom Chorske – 1985
Tom Chorske is far from the worst player the Canadiens ever selected. In fact, he did go on to win a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 1995, but his selection by the Habs in 1985 didn’t do anything for the franchise. You have to consider who was selected shortly after him. Chorske went 16th overall, while Joe Nieuwendyk went 11 picks later. Sure, it’s unfair in playing hindsight, but that’s what pointing out mistakes is all about.
14. Louis Leblanc – 2009
Consider this Habs fans; if the Habs select Chris Kreider instead of Louis Leblanc back in 2009 at the Bell Centre, Carey Price doesn’t go down to injury in the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals in that same arena. Kreider went a few picks after Leblanc, who went 16th overall.
As for Leblanc, he never became the center the Canadiens were looking for, as he played just 50 games for the Canadiens before being traded to Anaheim.
13. Cory Urquhart – 2003
The 2003 draft class was perhaps the best in NHL history, as there were impact players by the boatload in this draft. NHL GMs would have had a great shot at getting a great player simply by selecting a name out of a hat. We’ll get to the Habs’ first round selection later on, but they could have even had a great player in the second round. When they selected Cory Urquhart, they could have still had names like Patrice Bergeron and Shea Weber. Urquhart never played in the NHL.
12. Ben Maxwell – 2006
Ben Maxwell was a second round pick and was the type of player who the Canadiens had plenty of; an undersized center with some speed and skill. Maxwell went 49th overall and never amounted to much with the Habs, only playing 20 games and failing to register a point in the bleu, blanc, rouge. What makes this pick worse is the Habs’ worst rival acquired an impact player who would grow to be a hated, yet worthy enemy of the team. Who was that player who went next to Boston? Milan Lucic.
11. Turner Stevenson – 1990
Turner Stevenson proved to be a useful NHL player, as he was a decent bottom six winger at times. That being said, a decent bottom six winger is not what you expect out of a guy who is picked 12th overall. Some better picks the Habs could have gotten include Keith Tkachuk, Bryan Smolinski and Doug Weight. Stevenson’s career high in goals was 14, and that didn’t come until 2003-04 when he was playing for the New Jersey Devils.
10. Shayne Corson – 1984
While Shayne Corson had some productive seasons in the NHL, it seemed he was hated wherever he went due to his inability to stay out of trouble off the ice and being seen as a selfish player who cared more about his stats than team success. He didn’t fit the Canadiens’ image and even though he constantly scored over 20 goals, he was moved in 1992. The Habs would probably like that pick back and take Gary Roberts or Kevin Hatcher instead.
9. Marcel Hossa – 2000
After passing on his brother Marian (we’ll get to that), the Habs probably felt they couldn’t let another Hossa slip through their fingers, so they took the bait, drafting Marcel Hossa in 2000 at 16th overall. While there weren’t superstars selected after Hossa, the Habs could’ve gotten some building blocks in Brooks Orpik or Justin Williams. Hey, if they take Justin Williams, he doesn’t take Saku Koivu’s eye out in the 2006 playoffs! Hossa played 237 games for the Habs, only managing 31 goals and 30 assists.
8. Matt Higgins – 1996
The 1996 draft was a pretty weak one and the Habs were coming off a tough season, in which they had traded Patrick Roy and Mike Keane only to see them win a Stanley Cup in Colorado. They selected Matt Higgins, who constantly had trouble cracking the Habs’ main roster. He played just 57 NHL games and scored three points, before plying his trade in Europe. Who could the Habs have taken instead? Daniel Briere, yet another local kid they let slip through their fingers.
7. Eric Chouinard – 1998
The Canadiens of the late 90s were all mediocre teams always lacking a superstar player. In 1998, they selected Eric Chouinard 16th overall. Chouinard was a promising prospect from the Quebec Ramparts. The Candiens got this part right. There was a quality forward on that Ramparts team that could have helped them. His name was Simon Gagne and he went just six picks later to the Philadelphia Flyers. Chouinard would play just 13 games for the Habs.
6. Andrei Kostitsyn – 2003
This was the draft where the Canadiens could have gotten the big no.1 centre that they’re still searching for today. Whether it was Patrice Bergeron in the second round or Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler or Jeff Carter in the first round, all of these guys would have been better selections than Andrei Kostitsyn. Kostitsyn wasn’t a total disaster in the NHL, but was inconsistent, and would outright disappear at times. He would play six full seasons in Montreal, but was a constant reminder for Habs fans of what could have been.
5. Jason Ward – 1997
Here was yet another draft pick of the late 90s that the Habs whiffed on big time. This was also the year where the Habs should have gone with a guy named Hossa. Marian Hossa would be selected shortly after Jason Ward. Ward would play 101 games in Montreal, but never showed any offensive prowess that had made him a high draft pick. He never became the top six forward the Habs craved.
4. David Fischer – 2006
This was perhaps the biggest mistake of the Bob Gainey era as far as drafts go. The Canadiens could have selected themselves a future superstar at centre, as Claude Giroux was still available when the Habs went to the podium at 20th overall. The Habs went with a big defenceman in David Fischer, who never wound up playing an NHL game. As for Claude Giroux, well you know where he went. While he’s having a down year in Philly, I’m sure any Habs fan would take him.
3. Brent Bilodeau – 1991
The Canadiens didn’t know it in the early 90s, but the franchise was heading for a decline and the selection of Brent Bilodeau would prove to be a regrettable one. A lot of the big names were off the board by the time the Habs made their selection at 17, but there were still names like Glen Murray, Ray Whitney and Ziggy Palffy who all went shortly after Bilodeau. Bilodeau never ended up playing an NHL game.
2. Terry Ryan – 1995
Terry Ryan was the Habs’ highest draft pick of the 90s, going eighth overall to the Canadiens after the Habs missed the playoffs in the short 1995 season. Instead of Terry Ryan, the Habs could have taken Jarome Iginla. Iginla would have been a tremendous boost for the Habs of the early 2000s who always needed a winger for Saku Koivu, one that could score and play a physical game.
This was just a bad year for the Habs overall.
1. Doug Wickenheiser – 1980
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