The National Hockey League Draft begins tonight in Philadelphia with the first round taking place, followed by the 2nd through 7th rounds tomorrow morning. The Montreal Canadiens are in good hands with Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins at the helm.
The Canadiens, like all teams, have made some amazing late round picks, and have also made some early head scratching decisions at past NHL Drafts. Before the first player gets selected tonight, we will take a look at the top five busts in recent Habs history, and later today we will look at the top five steals made by the Habs at the draft.
To keep things recent, I have only looked at the past 20 drafts to narrow the field a bit, as the draft was not the same monster it is today when it first began in 1963.
A couple of (dis)honorable mentions kick things off as Marcel Hossa and Brad Brown did not even come close to reaching their potential, but stuck around for enough NHL games to not crack the top five draft busts made by the Habs in the last 20 years.
Brown was the 18th overall pick in 1994, and was a big physical defenseman that were extremely valuable in the dead puck era that hit its peak shortly after he was selected. He only suited up for 13 games over two seasons with the Habs, and did not score a point, but played a total of 330 games with the Habs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres. He was big, he was mean and he was tough, but he was not worthy of a first round pick.
Hossa was selected by the Canadiens with the 16th pick of the 2000 draft and was supposed to bring an infusion of skill and scoring to the Habs roster. He would only play 59 games over three seasons with the Canadiens, He could never escape the shadow of his highly skilled brother Marian, and was dealt to the Rangers for Garth Murray in 2005.
Hossa lasted just 237 games in the NHL before returning to Europe to continue his career, and scored just 31 goals and 61 points in his career. That was projected to be a decent season for Hossa when the Habs picked him, so to call him a bust is an understatement.
5th Biggest Draft Blunder By The Montreal Canadiens – Jason Ward
Jason Ward was selected 11th overall in the 1997 draft after scoring over a point per game with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League. After two more seasons of tearing up the OHL, the big winger looked poised to live up to his billing as a big top six scorer that every NHL team desires. He didn’t come close.
Ward made his NHL debut in the 1999-00 season and scored just two goals and a single assist in 32 games. Ward spent most of the next two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League, scoring just five points in 20 NHL games in that span. His longest stint with the Habs was during the 2003-04 season when he suited up for 53 games, but scored just 12 points. He showed some promise, even winning an AHL MVP in 2003, but Ward just could not adjust to the NHL level.
Ward ending up bouncing around the league and playing for the Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Tampa Bay Lightning before calling it quits in 2011. His career high in goals stands at ten, and points at 28. He finished his NHL career with 336 games and 81 points.
4th Biggest Draft Blunder By The Montreal Canadiens – Eric Chouinard
Eric Chouinard was taken with the 16th pick in the 1998 draft, but would turn out to be the second straight first round flop by the Canadiens. Like Ward, Chouinard was an explosive scorer at the Junior level as he topped 100 points in consecutive seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was highly touted as a big scoring center, but could not translate his scoring exploits to the NHL.
Chouinard played just 13 games with the Montreal Canadiens, scoring a single goal and three assists before being dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for a second round pick. His most successful season in the NHL was a 31 game stint with the Minnesota Wild in which he scored seven points.
Chouinard was supposed to be a big, French center who could score plenty of points with the Habs. By the end of his NHL career, which lasted just 90 games, he scored one goal in a Habs sweater. The Habs moved him for a pick that was used on Max Lapierre, and his NHL career has been much more successful than Chouinard’s, and that does not shine a bright light on Chouinard’s career.
3rd Biggest Draft Blunder By The Montreal Canadiens – Matt Higgins
Just like Ward and Chouinard, Matt Higgins was a big forward who scored plenty of points in the Canadian Hockey League, but couldn’t find the net once he got to the NHL. He averaged a point per game for three straight years in Junior, but once he turned pro, the big numbers disappeared.
Higgins made his debut with the Habs in the 1997-98 season but played just a single game. He played 25 games apiece in the next two seasons, scoring just one point in 1998-99, and two points the next year. Higgins then suited up for just six games in 2000-01, and failed to hit the score sheet.
His NHL career was over at the age of 24, and he hung around in the AHL for a couple of season before heading to Germany to play for the Iserlohn Roosters. An 18th overall selection who played a grand total of 57 games and scored one goal, two assists and three points in his career.
2nd Biggest Draft Blunder By The Montreal Canadiens – David Fischer
David Fischer was picked at 20th overall in the 2006 draft, and looked to be a force on the Canadiens blue line for years to come. He would never play a game in the NHL.
Fischer is a 6’3” defender that weighs nearly 200 pounds, shoots right and was supposed to be so good that the Habs were able to make Ryan McDonagh expendable. Well, McDonagh was dealt for the woeful Scott Gomez, and Fischer left the organization as well, but not because anyone else wanted him.
Just two years after being taken before Claude Giroux in the 2006 draft, the Canadiens did not deem Fischer worthy of a contract, and allowed him to walk away unsigned. Unlike the decision to select the American defender, allowing him to leave without a contract offer was the right choice.
Fischer is now playing for the Krefeld Penguins in Germany’s top league at the age of 26, just when he should be entering his NHL prime. However, he never played a game in the league, and only played two AHL games during his two years toiling in the ECHL.
Biggest Draft Blunder By The Montreal Canadiens – Terry Ryan
When you write a book about yourself and title it, “Tales of a First Round Nothing”, you know your NHL career did not go exactly as planned. Ryan was taken 8th overall in the 1995 draft after scoring 50 goals and 110 points in 70 games with the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League.
Drafted three slots ahead of Jarome Iginla, Ryan looked poised to be a difference maker for the Montreal Canadiens for many years to come. He made his NHL debut in 1996-97 but played just three games and did not score a point. He followed that up with a four game stint the next season, but once again failed to register a single point. Once again playing most of the season with the Fredericton Canadiens in the AHL, Ryan played just one NHL game in 1998-99, went scoreless, and that was it for his NHL career.
Eight games, zero goals and zero points after being selected 8th overall qualifies the Newfoundland native as the biggest bust by the Montreal Canadiens in the past 20 years.