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 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.
Subban was taken 43rd overall in the 2007 draft, and has already won a Norris Trophy, and stands to sign the richest contract in the history of the organization sometime this summer. He is one of the most feared defensemen in the league on the power play, and ensures opponents keep their head up when entering the Habs zone courtesy of his devastating body checks.
The only reason Subban is not higher on this list, is that he was a second round pick. He is still a steal thanks to his immense skill, but getting a great player in the second round isn’t exactly a huge steal.
Getting a great player in the fifth round is a different story, and that appears to be what the Habs were able to do when they took Brendan Gallagher 147th overall in the 2010 draft. In just two seasons with the Canadiens, it appears Gallagher was a huge steal, and he will continue to climb this ranking if he keeps playing with the same tenacity and determination he has shown in his young career.
5th Biggest Draft Steal By Montreal Canadiens – Mark Streit
Streit was drafted in the 9th round by the Canadiens in the 2004 NHL draft. The native of Switzerland was playing in his home country at the age of 27 when the Habs took a chance with the 262nd selection. He played one more year in the Swiss league during the NHL lockout before coming to play full time with the Canadiens in the 2005-06 season.
Streit played just three seasons with the Habs before using free agency as a springboard to greener pastures (greener as in money.) He scored a combined 98 points in his final two seasons with the Habs while anchoring the league’s best power play with Andrei Markov. Streit scored a career high of 62 points in the 2007-08 season, helping carry the Habs to first in the Eastern Conference.
He has gone on to play four seasons with the New York Islanders and another with the Philadelphia Flyers where he will suit up again next season. Thus far in his 573 game career, he has scored 75 goals and 332 points. Not bad for a guy taken two rounds later than the current draft ends.
4th Biggest Draft Steal By Montreal Canadiens – Jaroslav Halak
Jaroslav Halak was drafted to very little fanfare with the 271st pick in the 9th round of the 2003 NHL draft. There were 20 goaltenders selected before Halak who will never play more than a handful of NHL games, but Halak has already suited up for 272, and will add many more to his resume before calling it quits.
Halak took the scenic route to the NHL after being drafted so late, playing another season in his home country of Slovakia, before moving to North America to play for the Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL. After a season with Lewiston, Halak was sent to the ECHL where not much was expected of him. However, he shined there and forced a call-up to the Hamilton Bulldogs where he continued his exceptional play.
Halak would make his Canadiens debut in the 2006-07 season where he played 16 games, before splitting another season between the Habs and Bulldogs in 2007-08.
It was 2008-09 when Halak began wrestling starts away from projected franchise goaltender Carey Price, who struggled at times as a young goaltender. The duo would split starts again in the 2009-10 season, but Halak was too good to sit when the postseason arrived, and he did not disappoint once given the opportunity.
The Slovak goaltender was the sole reason the Montreal Canadiens were able to pull off a dramatic Game 7 victory over the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals in what was one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history. Halak kept his hot play going through the second round, where defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins fell in another Game 7, with Halak playing hero in both series.
Halak was then dealt in the offseason as the Canadiens decided to stick with Price, and got a good young center in Lars Eller in return for Halak.
The undersized netminder battled his way from the 9th round of the NHL draft, to stardom in the Canadiens crease. The 2010 Canadiens would not have made a run to the Eastern Conference Final without the man they took 271st in the 2010 draft, and thanks to that he was an absolute steal.
3rd Biggest Draft Steal By Montreal Canadiens – Tomas Plekanec
Plekanec was taken the earliest of the top five steals, as he was selected in the third round, 71st overall in the 2001 draft. The veteran center has been so consistent for so many years, he has given the Habs way more than they could have imagined when they made the choice to draft the Czech Republic native.
In a draft where Alex Svitov went third overall, the Canadiens were lucky to get any production out of their third round pick. However, they found a very steady two way center who has been one of their best forwards for the past eight seasons.
Plekanec is best known for his strong defensive play, and always gets the bulk of the Habs toughest minutes. However, he has reached the 50 point plateau four times in his career, and has career highs of 29 goals and 70 points. His 679 games and 439 points, all with the Habs, rank him 9th in scoring among players taken in the 2001 draft. Considering he was not taken in the top 70 of that draft, and will continue to produce in the future, Plekanec was a huge steal by the Montreal Canadiens.
2nd Biggest Draft Steal By Montreal Canadiens – Michael Ryder
Ryder was plucked out of the depths of the 1998 draft – 216th overall in the 8th round to be exact. Since then, he just continues to prove everyone wrong who passed him over again and again. After a few seasons in Junior, and a couple more in the minors, Ryder finally cracked the Habs roster in the 2003-04 season.
He finished second on the team in goals with 25 and was also runner up in points with 63 in his rookie season. After the 2005 lockout banished him to the minors again, Ryder bounced back with consecutive 30 goals seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08. The 2008-09 season, his final campaign before leaving the Habs via free agency, he dipped to 14 goals, but in just four NHL seasons, the Newfoundland native had scored 99 times.
Ryder signed with the rival Boston Bruins, before departing for Dallas where he played parts of two seasons with the Stars. He continued to pile up goals, before a deal with the Stars sent him back to Montreal in 2013. He scored an impressive 21 points in 27 games upon returning to the Canadiens, but once again left as a free agent and signed with the New Jersey Devils.
To date, Ryder has scored 231 goals and 465 points in his NHL career. His 231 goals are the 8th most by anyone taken in 1998, even though Ryder was passed over 215 times.
That’s quite a steal. But not the biggest one.
Biggest Draft Steal By Montreal Canadiens – Andrei Markov
The Canadiens hit the jackpot when they took a chance on a Russian defenseman with the 162nd overall pick in the 1998 draft. Yes, the same draft that the Canadiens took Michael Ryder with the 216th pick, they also nabbed Markov a few rounds earlier. In fact, they also took Mike Ribeiro and Francois Beauchemin, after missing big by grabbing Eric Chouinard in the first round.
Markov stayed in Russia for two more seasons before coming to Montreal in 2000. He showed some promise in his first four seasons, but really exploded offensively following the 2005 lockout. Markov scored 46 points in the 2005-06 season, and followed that up with seasons of 49, 58 and 64 points, before injuries took their toll on the veteran defender.
After missing most of three consecutive seasons, Markov bounced back with 30 points in 48 games during the lockout shortened 2013, and then scored 43 points this past season. He has already suited up for 765 games in his NHL career, all of them in a Habs sweater, and will continue to play after signing a three year contract just days ago.
Markov’s 442 career points are the 15th most of anyone taken in the 1998 draft, and by far the most by a defenseman. In fact, the second most points by a blue liner in that draft class is 355 by former Canadien Jaroslav Spacek. Spacek recently retired, so it stands to reason that Markov will put more distance between the pair in the coming years.
Those impressive offensive numbers, and Markov’s ability to be the Habs number one defenseman for most of his career make him the biggest draft steal by the Habs in the past 20 years.