PHILADELPHIA – The Canadiens are leaving the City of Brotherly Love with six new prospects to groom into future NHLers.
After waiting nearly three hours on Friday night to call on Russian-born forward Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades with the 26th overall selection at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Canadiens decided to trade up on Saturday morning in Round 3. Swapping picks No. 87 and 177 to the Arizona Coyotes for No. 73 overall, Canadiens director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins opted to beef up the team’s depth chart by drafting 6-foot-4, 205-pound defenseman, Brett Lernout in the third round.
“We made that trade to move up because we wanted to make sure we had the chance to draft Brett,” explained Timmins of the hulking blue-liner, who had 22 points and a plus-7 differential in 72 games in 2013-14, while leading the Broncos with 103 PIMs including 11 fighting majors. “I looked at the teams drafting in front of us and thought there was a good chance he wouldn’t be there if we had stayed.”
Jumping from 80th at the midterm rankings to 52nd among all North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting at the end of the season, Lernout turned heads at the NHL Combine in early June by dominating a few of the fitness tests. Finishing first in a pair of jumping tests – vertical leg power with and without pause – he also tied for second among all prospects by completing 12 pull-ups. Described as “big, tough and nasty” by Central Scouting’s B.J. MacDonald, it’s no surprise Lernout lists Chris Pronger as one of his biggest hockey influences.
“He’s a big, strong, strapping defenseman,” added Timmins. “He’s tough as nails and has a heavy shot. We wanted to add some size on defense and he was a good fit.”
Lernout didn’t make the trip to Philadelphia to hear his name called in person, but the Winnipeg native will be in Brossard, ready to put his big body and intermediate-level French to use at the team’s summer development camp in July.
In Round 5, Timmins added even more depth to the back end of the depth chart, calling on 6-foot-2 Western Canadian rearguard Nikolas Koberstein from the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Olds Grizzlys. Another frequent penalty box guest, the Barrhead, AB native racked up 153 PIMs in 55 games with the Grizzlys in 2013-14. Ranked 205th by Central Scouting at the end of the season, the big blue-liner was an off-the-board pick for Timmins and his staff at No. 125 overall.
“Koberstein was a guy we went under the radar with. We spent some time with him after the season and I think this guy has good upside and long-range projection,” shared Timmins, adding that Koberstein will head back to Olds to serve as the team’s captain next year before attending the University of Alaska-Fairbanks in 2015-16. “He’s a good kid with tons of character, but he’s a good hockey player, too.”
With their second fifth-round pick of the day, the Canadiens went for a player with strong family ties to the organization, drafting Daniel Audette with the 147th overall pick. The son of former Hab and current Canadiens scout Donald Audette has spent the last two years starring for the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL. Audette had 76 points in 68 games in 2013-14, leading the Phoenix in scoring with 32 more points than the team’s second-leading scorer. The Blainville, QC native finished 15th overall in the QMJHL scoring race, one spot behind fellow Habs prospect, Charles Hudon, earning his spot with the Canadiens through merit, not bloodlines.
“We took Donald right out of the equation in all our draft meetings. Any discussions we had, we asked Donald to leave the room,” shared Timmins, who also had the elder Audette watch the second day of the draft from the stands with Daniel to ensure an unbiased selection.
“At the press conference on Thursday I said we wanted to get bigger, stronger and faster, but at the same time, if there’s a player that’s undersized there and he’s a good hockey player, it’s tough to pass. That’s the situation here with Daniel,” continued Timmins, likening the 5-foot-9 forward to a fellow fifth-round pick the Canadiens made in 2010. “Similar to Brendan Gallagher in his draft year, you simply can’t go by a player with that much ability. He was pretty emotional when he came to the table and he said we wouldn’t regret it. He’s an undersized player, but he’s thick. He’s got that tenacity and grit that it takes for an undersized player to succeed.”
With the team’s second-last pick in 2014, the Habs opted to shore up the future of the Canadiens’ crease by calling on USHL Goaltender of the Year, Hayden Hawkey at No.177 overall. Posting All-Star numbers in his rookie season with the Omaha Lancers, Hawkey led the league with a .926 save percentage and became the first USHL netminder since 2002 to finish with a sub-2.00 goals-against average. Hawkey has committed to playing at Providence College in the NCAA following his USHL career.
Rounding out the Canadiens’ Draft Class of 2014, Timmins looked to the Ontario Junior Hockey League, selecting 6-foot forward Jake Evans from the St. Mike’s Buzzers. In his second full OJHL season, Evans recorded nearly an assist-per-game, finishing with 63 points – including 47 helpers – in 49 games.
Despite having fewer early picks in 2014 than he had at his disposal in 2013, Timmins made the most of his six turns at the mic. Adding skill, and offensive hockey sense in Scherbak, grit and power in Lernout and Koberstein, playmaking and tenacity in Audette and Evans and some solid backstopping in Hawkey, the team’s director of amateur scouting was happy with his staff’s haul in Philadelphia.
“It’s going to take a few years before we know how we did at this year’s draft, as it always does, but we’re happy with the guys we got,” he said. “They’re guys we targeted and we still have guys left on the list that we wanted to draft.”
While the six players drafted by the team in 2014 have already made the first step in their NHL hockey journeys by hearing their names called by the Canadiens on Friday and Saturday, their long road to the league begins for real when development camp kicks off in Brossard in early July.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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