What the Puck: Just how great is the Canadiens' prospects pool?
The party line for uncritical Habs fans is that all is well because the Canadiens have so many stunning prospects. But do they?
Every time anyone dares to question Quebec’s Royal Family, aka the Montreal Canadiens, the rose-coloured-glasses set has one ready-made response. You say they have barely played in the playoffs for years. They say: ‘Yeah but look at all these great prospects’.
These same fans idolize Carey Price, so maybe they should take another look at what he recently told The Athletic’s Arpon Basu when discussing the Habs’ much-vaunted prospects pool.
“We’ve got a great future with our prospects,” Price said a couple of weeks back. “But when I think of it, I kind of think back over the course of my career and seeing so many players come and go. So it’s good to have depth in your system, but for me personally, being on the ice, it’s kind of irrelevant until I see somebody in the lineup, you know?”
Given all of the talk of this spectacular group of prospects coming down the pipeline, I figured the time was right to give a call to my old pal Simon Boisvert, a former Quebec Major Junior Hockey League scout and a drafting analyst for francophone sports station 91.9 FM.
The first thing he said was that we shouldn’t expect to see any of these prospects in the lineup this coming season, with the exception of maybe Ryan Poehling. The other thing, which will come as news to so many of these uncritical Habs fans, is that there is no guarantee that all of these kids — Nick Suzuki, Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook and Cole Caufield — will turn out to be stars. Drafting is a high-risk business.
“We all know that most prospects don’t make it,” said Boisvert. “You pick seven guys and you’re crossing your fingers that two of them will make the NHL.”
Before you go medieval on us, understand that Boisvert is not saying Suzuki, Romanov, Brook and Caufield won’t make it. He’s just saying most prospects don’t. But the more quality prospects you have in the system, the better off a team is and the Canadiens have more now than they did a few years back.
“The fans are not used to this because the prospect cupboard for the Habs was bare for years,” continued Boisvert. “Now that they have a list, they get all excited. But other teams also have prospects. The Habs don’t play alone. It’s more a question of where do the Habs stand in relation to other teams when it comes to prospects. And I don’t necessarily see tons of major impact players on that list, for now. What they have are good complementary pieces, which is good. I look at guys like Nick Suzuki, Josh Brook, Alexander Romanov. They’re all guys who’re praised right now. But what is their ceiling? Are they second-liners? Are they third-liners?”
In other words, we’ll see. This is called objective analysis. This is called not automatically buying into the Canadiens’ spin. For one thing, you might well ask yourself why the cupboard was bare for so many years. I’ll answer that one. It’s bare because until maybe three years ago, Canadiens’ executive Trevor Timmins’ drafting was almost unbelievably terrible. Yes it’s good that the team appears to have turned its drafting around but how and when will this have an impact on the team on the ice in the NHL?
That’s what Price was talking about and, in fact, part of the bitterness of his comments is clearly related to the lack of high-quality draft picks during his first decade with the Canadiens. The other question is why Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and assistant general manager Timmins only began drafting intelligently in 2018, after six years on the job for Bergevin and more than double that for Timmins.
Last but not least, here’s la question qui tue. If you buy into the new Bergevin philosophy that began in the summer of ’18 – that the team needs to develop young talent via the draft — why is the team’s foundation still built around two thirtysomething vets, Price and Shea Weber? As Boisvert told me, if this was the plan, you should’ve traded P.K. Subban for picks not Weber and you never would’ve signed Price to an eight-year, $84-million deal.
The short version is that no other team goes around making the case that they’re great ’cause they have great prospects. They wait and see because it’s a crapshoot unless the players being drafted are named Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid or Jack Hughes. Let’s check back in four years and see how this all shakes out.