The Montreal Canadiens made a minor trade yesterday with the Anaheim Ducks, sending Louis Leblanc to the west coast for a conditional 5th round draft pick in 2015. Though this trade won’t alter the landscape for either team, twitter of course went crazy since Leblanc was a former first round pick by the Habs.
Yes, the same Habs fans who wanted Chris Kreider out of the league for his antics against the Canadiens just two weeks ago, are now lamenting the fact he was not selected by them a few years ago.
Trading a former 1st round selection for a conditional 5th round pick just five years after he is selected is of course not what any organization plans when heading into a draft. However, just because the 2009 draft was fairly weak and Leblanc did not pan out, does not mean Bob Gainey was a fool for selecting him. It just means prospects are wildly unpredictable, and drafts are basically a roll of the dice, especially after the first handful of picks.
If the Habs had no idea what they were doing, then the New York Rangers must be geniuses for grabbing Kreider one slot later, right? These are the same Rangers who drafted Michael Del Zotto in 2008 when Jordan Eberle went two picks later, and then drafted Dylan McIlrath 10th overall in 2010 when Cam Fowler was available and went two slots after McIlrath.
So maybe the Ducks are the guru’s of the draft. They have also recently drafted John Gibson, Emerson Etem, Jake Gardiner and Kyle Palmeiri. However, in 2007 they grabbed Logan MacMillan with the 19th pick and Max Pacioretty went just three selections later to the Habs. So are the Habs insane for taking Leblanc in 2009, or are they intelligent for grabbing Pacioretty late in the first round? They did also select Ryan McDonagh and P.K. Subban at 43th overall that year.
Well, let’s take a quick look at the Detroit Red Wings draft history, they seem to have the reputation as the keenest eye for young talent in the league. In Leblanc’s draft year, the Wings first pick was 32nd overall, and they took Landon Ferraro. Ferraro is still young and looks like a decent prospect, but one pick later the Colorado Avalanche picked Ryan O’Reilly who is already a star in the NHL.
So if the Avs were able to pull a fast one on the Red Wings, they must hold the crown as greatest team at the draft. They have made some great picks recently, taking Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog at the top of the draft, and finding O’Reilly and Tyson Barrie in the second round.
Oh, but wait, they took Cameron Gaunce in the second round of the 2008 draft, one spot before the Rangers grabbed Derek Stepan. Rangers are looking good again, maybe McIlrath and Del Zotto over Fowler and Eberle were the only exceptions to a great drafting team.
However, in 2006 the Rangers took Bobby Sanguinetti over Claude Giroux who went to their division rival Philadelphia Flyers just one slot later. In 2003 almost everyone got an impact NHLer in the first round, and some teams like the Flyers and Ducks got a couple of great players. The Rangers picked 12th so naturally, they must have grabbed a top line player, right? Wrong. They took Hugh Jessiman just before the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks took Dustin Brown and Brent Seabrook.
Which brings us to those Kings who just won their second Stanley Cup in three years. Surely they have drafted with pinpoint accuracy to climb to the top. Recent first round picks include franchise cornerstones Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty as well as Brown, Brayden Schenn and Jonathan Bernier.
However, even the greatest teams have their miss-list. In 2010 the Kings took Derek Forbort with the 15th pick. The St. Louis Blues traded to get the next pick and took super skilled Vladimir Tarasenko. The 2008 draft brought the Kings Colton Teubert with the 13th pick, but just two picks later the Ottawa Senators took Erik Karlsson. The Kings picked 4th overall in 2007 and went off the board with Thomas Hickey. Hickey was later lost on waivers, while the next three picks were Karl Alzner, Sam Gagner and Jakub Voracek.
It is almost like no one is invincible when it comes to draft mistakes. In fact, no one is even close. The best drafting teams and management groups have plenty of skeletons in their closet, and the Canadiens are no exception.
What a good drafting team and management group do, is bounce back from a bad pick with a good first rounder the next year, or come up with a great find late in the draft, like the Habs have done countless times.
Sure, Louis Leblanc was an absolute bust, but crying over not selecting Chris Kreider is pointless. One year after “missing” on Kreider, the Canadiens took Brendan Gallagher in the fifth round. Not getting anything out of first round picks is tough, but Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov, and P.K. Subban were all selected after the first round, diminishing the lost value in the first round.
In fact, the Habs first line last year was made up of 39 goal scorer Max Pacioretty who was picked 22nd overall, Brendan Gallagher who went 147th and David Desharnais who wasn’t picked at all.
Nobody’s draft record is perfect, so to wonder where the Habs would be if they didn’t take Leblanc is a waste of time. You should be wondering where they would be if it weren’t for great late round steals like Gallagher and what if the Edmonton Oilers took Pacioretty 21st overall, and the Habs were left with Riley Nash instead?