Turning The Corner On Player Development

Was it drafting? Was it player development? Or perhaps a combination of both? One thing we know for sure is that the Montreal Canadiens were struggling mightily to develop quality players. It seemed like their top picks we like Cinderella’s carriage, turning into pumpkins at the midnight hour. There was little issues with the lower picks, but the first two rounds were misses more often than hits, particularly in the first round.

Danny Kristo, Louis Leblanc, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Mike McCarron, Jacob De La Rose, Zachary Fucale, Nikita Scherbak, just to name a few, were all first or second round picks who didn’t live up to expectations. This doesn’t mean that Trevor Timmins was doing a poor job overall, as we’ve covered in the past, but developing these young men into quality hockey players was a challenge, particularly the top picks.

Player development

When Marc Bergevin took over this franchise, the cupboards were bare of quality top prospects. P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty and Carey Price were already on the team but the future didn’t look good when looking at who they had coming up. Trying to shake things up a bit, Bergevin did what his predecessors didn’t do by giving full reign to Timmins when it came to the Draft. On Draft days, he even lets him announce the team’s first pick on the podium.

Nick Suzuki

Wanting to help with player development, he hired Sylvain Lefebvre as head coach of the farm team in the AHL. At the same time, he appointed former players Martin Lapointe and Patrice Brisebois to player development jobs. Hindsight being 20-20, the hiring of Lefebvre was a mistake but remember that at the time, several teams were talking to him and everyone thought that he was a good up and coming coach.

The results, even with Bergevin’s changes, were slow coming. At the same time, Bergevin was trying to add to the team he had inherited, and traded some picks for immediate help. But that’s until he decided to blow things up and completely change the leadership of the team. Out went Subban, Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, and in came Shea Weber, Tomas Tatar (and Nick Suzuki), Max Domi. He wanted more character and a “hate losing” attitude.

Summers of 2018 and 2019

I don’t know if there is a bigger time for Bergevin’s tenure than the Summer of 2018. He has completed a bunch of trades (and won most of them), but that Summer is when he approached team President Geoff Molson and explained the new plan that he had in mind: the infamous Reset. Looking back, Molson is probably glad that he kept his main hockey man in position and trusted his new plan, as it is starting to pay huge dividends as we’re starting to witness.

The farm team got closer by moving to Laval, and in came Joël Bouchard to coach them. That’s also when he secured the services of Dominique Ducharme to assist Claude Julien and Kirk Muller in the coaching staff. Later on that summer, he added Luke Richardson to the Canadiens’ coaching staff. Within the next year or so, Bergevin revamped his amateur scouting staff, gave Timmins more responsibilities and announced Shane Churla as the Chief Amateur Scout.

Turning the corner

A rebuilt (or reset as Bergevin called it) takes time. Mr. Molson knew it and he has been patient in spite of the few but extremely loud crowd of disgruntled media and fans. And today, many (to their credit) are acknowledging the amazing work that the Canadiens GM has done with his reset. Everyone can see that the Habs are turning the corner.

The reason why the Pacioretty trade is so great is directly related to the emphasis on player development. Suzuki has had a great rookie season and in spite of having never played in the NHL Playoffs, he’s a beast out there.

And what about the play of Jesperi Kotkaniemi? Already with four goals at the time of writing these lines (tied for second in goals’ scoring), he is not only making a place for himself on the team, but in Habs history. Further, his 26 hits have him ranked fifth in these playoffs, with a game in hand over three of the guys ahead of him. He’s making people like TSN 690 radio personality Tony Marinaro, possibly his biggest detractor, look like the amateur that he truly is. KK is also in the process of shutting up those who have been claiming that Brady Tkachuk was a better pick that year, although it’s too soon to claim victory.

It seems like the future at centre is now, as written by my good friend Blain Potvin at the Hockey Writers. But the future is also coming at other positions with blue chip defense prospect Alexander Romanov is with the team practicing, after signing his entry level contract. Add to that the commitment of Jesse Ylönen to the Laval Rocket and the great strides taken by Victor Mete, Cale Fleury and Jake Evans, the future is starting to come. And with the new emphasis on player development, this future is very, very bright. Go Habs Go!

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