When the Canadiens made Kyle Chipchura their first round pick of the 2004 NHL entry draft, they knew what kind of player they were getting, a hard working character player who is a team first guy with decent offensive skills to go with his solid frame. With the Canadiens lacking size down the middle within the farm system, Chipchura adds another kind of player, as they already have a number of smallish offensively gifted forwards, it was clear to Bob Gainey that the team was lacking size and grit, especially down the middle.
Going into the draft, Chipchura was at one point ranked number one by central scouting, only to fall in the second half of the season when a groin injury had a major effect on his level of play and production. When asked how he felt about dropping from the number one ranking, Chipchura responded, “I can’t say I’m disappointed, as long as they still call my name I get the same chance I guess. There’s nothing to be too disappointed about.” “I think maybe when I came back I wasn’t as good as I was before.” It didn’t take very long for Chipchura’s name to called, as the Habs selected him eighteenth overall, and management claims he was one of the top ten players they had on their list prior to the draft.
After being drafted by the Habs, Kyle was asked to describe his game and how playing in the WHL has prepared him for the NHL, he replied, “I think I’m a two-way player, I play hard all-around. I can be counted on in all situations.” As for the WHL, “I think the WHL of all the juniors is the closest style to the NHL maybe. Tight checking, defense. I know the OHL is pretty even hockey, but the WHL is a little more defensive-minded, a little bit closer in style to the NHL.” While it would be hard to find someone who would disagree that the WHL is a more defensive minded league, it’s a league that the Canadiens have not drafted from to often of late, with Duncan Milroy (’01), Marcel Hossa (’00), Josef Balej (’00) and Evan Lindsay (’99) as the only WHL picks in the last seven drafts.
It can be a bit of culture shock when players from the Western part of Canada make the trek across country, as the French speaking culture may take some time to adapt to for some of the younger players making their first trip into Quebec. Chipchura was asked how he felt about going to a pressure cooker like Montreal and his plans on learning French, and he was quoted saying, “It should be fun. Anytime a guy gets to play for a team in a city…lots of pressure on the team. I think I’ll kind of enjoy that. It’s good to have pressure on you once in a while.” As for learning French, “I think it’s the right thing to do, learn French. Learn the language I guess. I took it when I was younger, Grades 7 and 8. Got kind of the basics. High school it’s hard with changing classes, I never took it from then on.”
When discussing a young player’s future impact in the NHL and his overall abilities, it helps to speak with different scouts to get an idea of what the professionals think. According to International Scouting Services on Kyle Chipchura, “There is a strong feeling of comfort when a team considers drafting a player like Chipchura because you know what you’re getting- a good honest player willing to work hard and give a consistent effort in both ends of the rink on a nightly basis.” “He has established himself in the league as a very reliable, strong, two way center, capable of playing both a checking and scoring role” “His best asset is the fact that he is a complete player with a favorable grasp of all aspects of the game with no deficiencies. He competes hard, has good hockey sense, finishes his checks and perhaps most importantly, he has proven leadership abilities.”
Chipchura did get the chance to play a big role with Team Canada’s U-18 program, where he was one of the top scorers for his team, even though he played on the bottom lines. When one scout was asked about his play, he wasn’t thrilled with what he saw saying, “Chipchura was OK at the U-18’s but he didn’t play like a number one ranked guy. He played one really good game and that was against Sweden but against USA and Denmark he did nothing. My last trip out west, every scout from the east and a good portion of the western people were there at the same time. I saw P.A. play in Lethbridge and then in Calgary and Chipchura didn’t show up for either. With the number of scouts who were there, it certainly must have hurt his stock. Foot speed is going to be a concern.” When another scout was asked about the selection of Chipchura he stated, “Think you’ll see some team take him on reputation alone but he’s not going to be any more then a 3rd line player. He played on the 3rd line at the U18 tournament! He played a 3rd line-checking role and when they played USA and were beat by them, he really wasn’t a factor at all. He took some stupid penalties.”
It seems as though the Canadiens are very happy with their selection of Kyle Chipchura, as he has started off the season as one of the top players in the WHL and is currently the leading scorer of his team the Prince Albert Raiders. When the Canadiens Director of Scouting Trevor Timmins was asked about Chipchura’s play this season he added, “I’ve just returned from a trip out West and he really impressed me”, says Trevor Timmins. “If you see the team, he is very poorly complemented but nevertheless succeeds in producing. He must do all the work by himself. He would have many more points with a more talented team. I hope that he is selected for the WJC team, but I know that many veterans are returning. Perhaps he can win a place on the third or fourth line. I hope so. Chipchura could render invaluable service to them because he is highly reliable defensively and can also produce on offense. His progress is really admirable.”
As the season progresses for Chipchura, hopefully he will get the chance to suit up for Team Canada again, this time for the U-20 team, although the NHL lockout could effect him from landing a spot with the team, he may have to wait until next year. Either way Hab fans have to be happy that the Canadiens were lucky to pick Chipchura, as he undoubtedly brings another dimension to the team that is sorely lacking currently.