It takes several years to really get a feel for a draft class. With that in mind, let’s look back at Montreal’s 2014 draft class, one that had a bit of promise but hasn’t amounted to much just yet.
(Over the past several years, I’ve done grades right after the draft with the exception of this one. So since I can’t compare my pick-by-pick grades, I’ll evaluate my own thinking back at the time each pick was made and compare it to what has actually happened.
26th Overall – RW Nikita Scherbak
Initial Thoughts: A lot of people (myself included) wanted David Pastrnak but he went a pick earlier to Boston and we all know how that turned out. Scherbak seemed like a decent consolation prize at the time. While he was someone that really wasn’t on the radar until that season, he showed a lot of offensive upside on an Everett team that had minimal offensive talent. At 6’2, he also projected to bring some size onto a forward group that was rather small at the time.
What Happened: The flashes of offensive upside never became anything more than that. Scherbak was a decent performer in the minors but consistency was an issue and he never really got going in the NHL. Eventually, the Habs cut bait with him, waiving him where the Kings picked him up last season. Weeks later, he was back on waivers and Montreal didn’t even bother putting in a claim to bring him back, even though he’d have been able to go to the minors. He was non-tendered by Los Angeles last month and has signed in the KHL.
Next Three Picks: 27) RW Nikolay Goldobin, 28) RW Josh Ho-Sang, 29) C Adrian Kempe
Goldobin and Ho-Sang are similar cases to Scherbak. The raw offensive upside is there but consistency has been an issue. Not picking them instead didn’t hurt much. Kempe is a reliable third-line centre and back at this point, centre depth was a concern. However, his ceiling is pretty much that and the Habs were certainly lacking in top-six options so Scherbak’s selection over him is defensible as well.
Grade: D+: I liked the pick at the time and the rationale behind it still makes sense to this day. However, the fact is that they got very little value out of a first -rounder. That’s never a good thing.
Montreal’s second-round pick was traded back at the trade deadline along with Sebastian Collberg for Thomas Vanek and a fifth-round selection. That pick was eventually dealt again and was used on defenseman Johnathan MacLeod who, at 23, was a full-time player in the ECHL last season. (We’ll get to the fifth rounder later.)
73rd Overall – D Brett Lernout
Initial Thoughts: This was a trade I wasn’t particularly fond of. Not only did they pass on Brayden Point who I was hoping they’d trade up to pick once he started to fall in the second round, they gave up two picks (87 and 117) to draft a low-ceiling player. I’d have been okay with Lernout had they stayed pat at 87 (and Point was gone by then) but giving up the extra asset didn’t make a lot of sense to me at the time.
What Happened: Lernout wound up being a useful player on the farm for several seasons, getting into 279 regular season games in the AHL (plus 21 more with the Habs). However, in 2018-19, he was more of a depth piece with Laval which paved the way for him not to be qualified last month. He signed with Vegas at the beginning of free agency.
Next Three Picks: 74) D Brycen Martin, 75) D Alex Peters, 76) G Elvis Merzlikins
Martin spent last season with Montreal’s shared ECHL affiliate while Peters has yet to sniff the professional level and is currently two years into his Canadian university career. Merzlikins has yet to make the NHL but he’s expected to get a chance to push for the number one job in Columbus next season with Sergei Bobrovsky off to Florida. (And Point went 79th but let’s not harp on that further.)
For the record, Arizona drafted wingers Anton Karlsson at 87 and Michael Bunting at 117. Karlsson never signed while Bunting has been a useful forward for their farm team and made his NHL debut last season.
Grade: C+: At this point in the draft, most players don’t get a sniff of NHL action so for Lernout to get a few stints with the Habs is something. And while he didn’t do much in Laval last year, he had been a top-four option for Montreal’s AHL teams before then. Yes, there was a much better player that went spots later but it’s not fair to base a grade solely on who’s the better player five years later. Lernout provided more value for Montreal than a lot of players picked in this round did for their teams.
125th Overall – D Nikolas Koberstein
Initial Thoughts: Who? A stay-at-home, physical blueliner from the AJHL, the Habs clearly thought Koberstein would be a project that would turn into a late bloomer. That’s about the only justification for this pick that made sense at the time.
What Happened: He didn’t progress as well as the Habs hoped over a season in the USHL and four college seasons. In fact, the most memorable thing about Koberstein over these five years is that at one point, his NCAA team was in danger of folding. After his senior year, he signed with Calgary’s ECHL team. The Habs still hold his rights for another month but he won’t be getting signed.
Next Three Picks: 126) D Gustav Forsling, 127) C Clark Bishop, 128) C Dakota Joshua
Forsling has seen a fair bit of NHL action over the past three years and was part of the return when Chicago acquired Calvin de Haan from Carolina last month. Bishop made his NHL debut with the Hurricanes last season as a depth forward while Joshua just wrapped up his college career and actually was just traded to St. Louis earlier in the week.
Grade: D-: I’d like to go lower here but the reality is that given how few fifth-round picks make an impact, I can’t justify the ‘F’ ranking that I’d like to give this pick. Koberstein was off the board enough to the point where he would have been available later on if they absolutely had to have him.
147th Overall – LW Daniel Audette
Initial Thoughts: I thought this was a decent value pick, particularly as he had been ranked to go earlier than he ultimately did. He probably wouldn’t amount to much in terms of being an NHL prospect but someone with that type of offensive skill set would likely be useful in the minors for a few years.
What Happened: Despite getting an early contract and way more playing time than he deserved early on in the minors, Audette never really emerged as a true top-six player with any sort of consistency. He had some good moments over his three years in the system but wasn’t qualified by the Habs last month.
Next Three Picks: 148) D Andreas Soderberg, 149) C Rourke Chartier, 150) G Alec Dillon
Soderberg and Dillon never signed while Chartier, when healthy, has been a decent AHL piece. He also had a brief stint with San Jose last season. However, he can’t stay healthy and was ultimately non-tendered by the Sharks last month.
Grade: C+: I thought Audette would have been more of an impact player on the farm than he was but they at least got a little bit of value out of this pick.
177th Overall – G Hayden Hawkey
Initial Thoughts: What a great name for a hockey player… I’m a proponent of drafting a goalie pretty much on a yearly basis and picking the USHL’s top netminder seemed like a good gamble at this stage of the draft even though he was a second-time eligible player.
What Happened: Hawkey struggled in his final USHL campaign and then hardly played in his first college season. Since then though, he has been one of the better goalies at the NCAA level. Montreal somewhat surprisingly traded him to Edmonton back at the 2018 draft for a 2019 fifth-round pick (winger Rhett Pitlick) so the evaluation for this pick will wind up taking longer. The Oilers have decided not to sign him so he will become a UFA next month.
Next Three Picks: 178) C Dylan Sikura, 179) G Ivan Nalimov, 180) LW Matt Mistele
Sikura was a top performer at the college level but it hasn’t translated to much NHL success just yet. He’ll get another look with the Blackhawks next season. Nalimov has yet to sign with Chicago (despite their attempts to do so) while Mistele never signed and is in the Canadian college ranks.
Grade: B+: Hawkey was one of the top players picked in this round and while their goalie depth was good enough that they opted not to sign him, they were able to flip him for another pick. Nothing too exciting but that’s a better outcome than what most teams had from this point on in the draft.
207th Overall – C Jake Evans
Initial Thoughts: There was originally a bit of confusion over which Jake Evans was picked at the time (one report had them taking a different one out of OHL Erie) but once that was sorted out, this still felt like a bit of a head-scratcher at first. He was a long-term project and while he showed some upside in the OJHL, there were questions about how that would translate into success at the higher levels.
What Happened: Evans became a key contributor with Notre Dame in his second season and that carried over into his final couple of seasons. At one point, there was concern about whether he’d actually sign with the Habs or go to free agency; as a result, he wound up with a contract comparable to a mid-to-late first rounder in the end. His first season in Laval was a little inconsistent but he was still one of their top players. He’s expected to be back with the Rocket next season.
Next Three Picks: 208) RW Jack Ramsey, 209) RW Spencer Watson, 210) D Jacob Middleton
Ramsey’s first pro season was strictly spent in the ECHL while Watson, an undersized winger that I was hoping would have been picked at 207 at the time, has also predominantly played at that level. Middleton saw some brief action with San Jose last season and is a dependable player for them on the farm.
Grade: B+: Evans is still an actual prospect in Montreal’s system which is something that can’t be said about any of their other picks as he’s the last one standing. Even if he doesn’t make it to the NHL, a couple of above average AHL seasons is an above average return for someone picked at this stage of the draft.
Let’s try to cover the positives first. There are 76 players from this draft class that have made the NHL. Montreal had two and Evans could very well make it three which would put them squarely in the average category for that department. Evans and Hawkey were nice value picks…and that’s about it.
If Scherbak would have amounted to something, this would have been an acceptable draft class. Not good, but okay. Had they been able to get something of value for him in a trade, that would have helped. Neither happened. As a result, this draft class wound up being a considerable failure for the Habs. Here’s hoping their recent picks turn out better than this set.
Overall Draft Grade: C-