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Canadiens get defensive

Saturday, 23.06.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Montreal Canadiens
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Canadiens get defensive
Six of nine picks used to solidify Habs blue line

P.K. Subban was the second of six defensemen chosen by the Canadiens at the 2007 draft.

COLUMBUS - If there were any future NHL defensemen to be had in the NHL's Class of 2007, it's a safe bet the Canadiens likely landed a few them by using six of their nine picks to beef up their blue line.

In the second round, the Canadiens continued to have blue-line on the brain, pouncing on defenseman P.K. Subban of the Belleville Bulls at No. 43 overall. The puck-moving rearguard racked up 56 points and 15 goals in 68 games in 2006-07.

"I think my confidence is my biggest asset," said Subban, who looked more than comfortable before the cameras and microphones. "Once you have confidence in your abilities, all the pieces fall into place. My goal is to crack the Canadiens lineup this year. I'm hoping to make their decision to send me back down to junior as difficult as possible. Until then, I might wear this Canadiens jersey every day for the next month!"

The Habs then looked to their own backyard in the third round to address their need for a centerman, drafting Olivier Fortier of the Rimouski Oceanic. The 6-foot, 168-pounder put up 64 points in 68 games for Rimouski in 2006-07 and played for Team Canada at the Under-18 World Hockey Championship.

"You could say my style is like [the Senators'] Antoine Vermette," said Fortier, the 11th QMJHL player chosen at the 2007 draft. "I'm known for my intensity and I always want to be the first guy on the puck. I'm also a strong skater which allows me to break free in the offensive zone."

With their second pick of the third round, the Canadiens grabbed Swiss-born defenseman Yannick Weber of the Kitchener Rangers. Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 194 pounds, Weber already has a pair of World Junior Hockey Championship appearances under his belt and was the youngest player at the 2006 World Juniors.

"I hope to be the next Mark Streit," said Weber, of the Canadiens' current Swiss blue-liner/forward. "Mark is, after all, the best player to come out of my country. He's a very good defenseman, so it will mean that I've succeeded if I manage to follow in his footsteps."

Without a fourth-round pick, the Canadiens were back at it in the fifth round as they returned to the hockey-mad state of Minnesota to select defenseman Joe Stejskal at No. 133rd overall. Stejskal is a product of Grand Rapids High School, where he amassed 28 points in 24 games.

They were cheering in the Minnesota once again when the Habs picked king-sized forward Andrew Conboy 142nd overall. The 6-foot-4, 180-pounder was the third of four Minnesota natives to be selected by the Canadiens at the 2007 draft. Conboy put up 50 points in 56 games with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, twice-earning USHL player of the week honors in the second half of 2006-07.

In the sixth round, the Canadiens nabbed their fifth defenseman, Nichlas Torp. The Swedish rearguard had four points in 17 games for HV 71 in 2006-07, while also suiting up for his homeland at the 2007 World Under-18 Championship. The hard-shooting defenseman was the seventh-ranked European skater at this year's draft.

After acquiring a seventh-round pick from Carolina in exchange for goaltender Michael Leighton, the Habs wrapped up their picks by drafting their sixth defenseman with the 192nd overall selection. Scott Kishel, a 5-foot-11, 170-pounder from Virginia High School in Minnesota, is slated to play for Sioux Falls (USHL) in the fall.

The Canadiens' Class of 2007 includes five Americans, three players from the Canadian Hockey League and one Swede. Defense was the order of the past two days with the Habs using six of their nine total picks to select defensemen. The Habs rounded out their picks with a pair of wingers and a center.

Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com