Something is happening for only the second time in the Trevor Timmins era:
Consecutive first round picks will be playing in the CHL thanks to Louis Leblanc
and Jarred Tinordi walking away from their NCAA scholarships. Not only
does this mean both players should be able to contribute at the pro level
quicker, but their successes and/or struggles have the potential to make a
significant impact on the organization moving forward in more than one way.
For years now, fans have lamented the Habs’ continual strategy of selecting
US-bound collegiate players at the top of the draft. In fact, since
Timmins took over the scouting department, just a pair of CHL players have been
selected with the team’s top selection, Kyle Chipchura in 2004 and Carey Price
in 2005. As we all know, Chipchura failed to live up to the hype and was
shipped to Anaheim last season where he’s found a home as an adequate checking
forward. In regards to Price, everyone has overanalyzed his situation ad
nauseum, so I’ll simply say that he, like several other top-10 picks in his
draft year, has not yet met his lofty expectations.
That isn’t to say that the NCAA-bound players have had that much more success
either. Of the top US-bound selections in each draft since Timmins arrived,
only two have played in an NHL game and they’re probably not who you’re
thinking. One is J.T. Wyman, selected 100th in 2004 (the only US-born
player Montreal picked) who played a trio of lacklustre games last season with
the Habs while the other is Ryan O’Byrne, drafted out of Canada, but played
college hockey at Cornell. If you’re wondering why Max Pacioretty isn’t
noted here, it’s because he was the team’s second collegiate-bound pick in 2007.
To be fair, some of the US picks appear to still be legitimate prospects.
Ryan McDonagh, picked ahead of Pacioretty and is now part of the Rangers’
organization, turned pro this offseason and will see NHL ice within a year or
two while Danny Kristo, the Habs’ top pick in 2008 is progressing nicely at
North Dakota. Of course, there’s also the David Fischer fiasco so it
doesn’t always work out. (For those of you who are wondering, the Habs
will lose Fischer’s rights this weekend when he fails to sign by August 15th.)
So despite a so-so success rate and the fact it often takes longer for the
NCAA players to make an impact at the pro level, why do the Habs keep going that
route? The truth is, the Habs have a terrible track record drafting
CHL’ers. Before Chipchura, the last CHL player selected with Montreal’s
top selection was Eric Chouinard in 1998, who suffice it to say was a bust.
Ditto for Brad Brown, Terry Ryan, Matt Higgins, and Jason Ward, the Habs’ first
selections from 1994-1997. With a streak that lousy, it’s hard to blame
Montreal for going with what they feel is a safer route.
This is where Leblanc and Tinordi can make a big impact. If they
succeed in junior and in the pros, not only will the Habs benefit on-ice but all
of a sudden, their track record in the CHL gets a big jump. Put their
successes with a hopefully improved Carey Price and all of a sudden, things
aren’t looking quite so bad in terms of drafting out of Canada. Of course,
the Habs aren’t drafting CHL’ers high solely because they have a lousy track
record but it stands to reason that the organization isn’t impressed with how
some (note, not all) of their prospects in those leagues develop.
If Leblanc and Tinordi pan out, it could go a long way in swaying management
in that the CHL development path is a good one (especially since P.K. Subban has
turned into quite the promising prospect). Their success could lead to a
change in the Habs’ drafting philosophy, a new era if you will (that might be
stretching it a bit, but it’s safe to say it could easily facilitate a change).
Of course, if they struggle, it will only cement the team’s US-based drafting
strategy. I don’t want to call it added pressure so let’s just say there
could be more at stake than just another success or failure of a top prospect.
It’s a small storyline, but it’s something to follow as both prospects play
during this upcoming season.