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Clutch hitter

Thursday, 26.06.2014 / 6:14 PM / News
NHL.com
PHILADELPHIA – Hundreds of teenage hockey players have arrived in Philadelphia for what could turn into a life-changing moment in their lives, but the prospects aren’t the only ones looking forward to Draft Day.

After closing out the 2013-14 campaign with 100 points for the first time since 2008 before making a run to the Eastern Conference finals this spring, the Canadiens will have to wait an hour or two after the opening remarks before Marc Bergevin finally gets his chance to step up to the podium on Friday night.

While he likely won’t be leaving Philadelphia with a blue-chip prospect like he did when he plucked Alex Galchenyuk out of the crowd third overall in 2012, the Habs’ GM has no problem waiting his turn. He actually wouldn’t mind waiting even longer next year.

“For me, with the exception of this year with New Jersey, the best place to be drafting is No.30 because it means you won the Cup,” stressed Bergevin, who drafted 6-foot-6 forward Michael McCarron with the 25th-overall pick in 2013. “We’re drafting 26th, but if you want to make the playoffs and make a run, that’s the price you pay. There are still lots of good players who go late in the first and early in the second.”

Having picked up a few of those in 2013 with three second-round selections, Bergevin will have fewer opportunities to steal some first-round calibre players deeper in the order this time around. Last year, the Canadiens had six picks in the Top 90. This year, they’ll only be adding their second prospect of the weekend to the depth chart by that point.

“We value every pick and a lot of homework goes into each and every one of them,” explained director of amateur scouting, Trevor Timmins, on the eve of his 12th year at the helm of the Canadiens’ draft table. “We’ll hope we get what we call ‘helps’ from the teams in front of us and hopefully there are players we have [ranked] higher than other teams and they fall to a position where we’d be excited at No. 26 to pick that prospect. You sit there and cross your fingers and think positively about the player you want to get.”

Picking 26th, 87th, 117th, 125th, 147th, 177th, and 207th may seem like the Habs will have their work cut out for them looking for diamonds in the rough, but Timmins has made a career of mining late-round draft day gems.

“There are always surprises. We drafted P.K. Subban in the second round [in 2007] and now you look back in hindsight today and he should have been a Top 10 pick,” mentioned Timmins, who also helped the Habs land an undersized and under-valued Brendan Gallagher in the fifth round in 2010, in addition to Sergei Kostitsyn (seventh round, 2005), Mark Streit (ninth round, 2005) and Jaroslav Halak (ninth round, 2004). “There will probably be surprises like that in this year’s draft.”

While Bergevin and Timmins insist they’ll be sticking with their usual “best player available” policy in 2014, both admit there are a few key intangibles they’ll have on their radar when they’re looking to strike gold at the Wells Fargo Center.

“Since Marc Bergevin came on board and took over the leadership, we’ve really emphasized character and compete,” explained Timmins. “We want players who are hard to play against. [Size] is part of the equation, but we’re not going to overlook an undersized player who we feel has a good chance to succeed. If that was our way, we would have missed out on Gallagher. But it’s part of the equation and we’re always trying to get bigger, stronger and faster.”

Counting 12 players on the current roster who were drafted by the organization, including All-Stars in Andrei Markov and Carey Price, and a Norris Trophy winner in Subban, the Canadiens have had one of the best draft day success rates among all NHL teams in recent history. Since 2003, the team’s draft picks have combined to play nearly 6,100 NHL games.

“What we do is project, and that’s the most difficult part,” admitted Timmins. “We’re dealing with players who are 17 or 18 years old. That’s where experience comes in and we have a very experienced scouting staff. We do our best. Sometimes you’re going to strike out and sometimes you’re going to hit a homerun. You just want to have a good batting average.”

Unless Bergevin makes a move on Friday night, Timmins will be stepping up to the plate with the 26th-overall pick, looking to swing for the fences once again.

Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.

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