Montreal Canadiens Think Long-Term With 2016 Draft Picks
BUFFALO — The Canadiens have no doubt Mikhail Sergachev will be an impact defenceman in the NHL, but there is a question about how long it will take him to reach the big time.
“He’s physically ready to play in the NHL but whether he can step in and play right away (is a question because) it takes defencemen longer to develop,” said Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ director of amateur scouting.
All the indications are that the Canadiens attempted to trade for Edmonton’s fourth overall pick so they could select forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, but that plan was derailed when Columbus grabbed Dubois at No. 3.
But Timmins made it clear that Sergachev wasn’t a consolation prize. Many scouts, including Timmins, felt he was the best defenceman in the draft and that he was available for Montreal at No. 9 because there is a lingering unease about drafting Russians, even if they are playing for the Windsor Spitfires.
“He’s big, strong, and he has a cannon of a shot,” said Timmins. “He provides offence from the other end. What we like about him is that he retrieves pucks quickly and gets them to the other end. He doesn’t try to do too much but he gets the play going in transition.”
Timmins sees Sergachev helping on the power play.
“OHL coaches told us their players tried to get out of the way of his shot,” said Timmins. “And’s it’s not just the slapshot. He has a variety of shots and he’s smart how he uses them.”
The Canadiens project him as a replacement for countryman Andrei Markov down the line. Markov is still a top-flight defenceman, but he’s in the final year of his contract and he will be 39 in December.
As a scout, Timmins was disappointed the Canadiens traded their two second-round picks to Chicago for centre Andrew Shaw — “An established player we needed” — but he noted that the team picked up two future second-rounders from Washington in a trade for Lars Eller.
The Canadiens picked five other players and, befitting their draft position, they are all projects and the Canadiens are hoping their talents overshadow their shortcomings.
Ottawa resident Timmins said it was a coincidence that he selected Gloucester’s Will Bitten in the third round. He stands a shade under 5-foot-10 and is a slight 168 pounds, but Timmins said looks can be deceiving,
“He’s a warrior, he’s talented, he’s skilled and he bring a level of passion similar to (Brendan) Gallagher. He’s been involved in the national program with Team Canada. He plays an uptempo game.”
It’s a plus that Bitten is fluently bilingual — his parents are former Olympic badminton players Doris Piché and Mike Bitten — and he oozes character. Last fall, he was one of the leaders of a players’ revolt after Flint Firebirds owner Rolf Nilsen fired coach John Gruden and his staff. Gruden was reinstated a day later and the Ontario Hockey League later suspended Nilsen for five years and fined him $250,000.
Victor Mete, the fourth-round choice from the Memorial Cup-champion London Knights, is a 5’11 offensive defenceman. Timmins said Mete has a thick body and good reach for a small defenceman.
The Canadiens picked up another small defenceman in the fifth round, taking 5’11, 181-pounder Casey Staum from Hill-Murray High School in Minnesota.
“He’s going to Dubuque in the USHL next year and then going to the University of Nebraska Omaha so we see him as a five-year project,” said Timmins.
The Canadiens finally added some size in the final two rounds, and there might be a sleeper or two in these picks.
Mike Pezzetta, a 6’1, 191-pound centre, was selected in the sixth round after scoring 10 goals and 28 assists with the Sudbury Wolves. Timmins noted that Pezzetta was a first-round in the OHL draft and his production might have been better if he had better players around him.
The Canadiens didn’t have a seventh-round pick, but they acquired one from Winnipeg in return for a seventh-rounder in 2017 so that they could select Arvid Henrikson, a 6’3 stay-at-home defenceman from AIK in Sweden. He spent most of last season with AIK’s junior team but played one game in the Swedish League.
“Our Swedish scout (Christer Rockström) begged me to get a pick to select him and he dragged me to Sweden to see him,” said Timmins. “He’s been under the radar and we figured we’d pick so someone else wouldn’t get him in the second or third round next year.”
The Canadiens draftees will join other prospects and some free agents at a development camp in Brossard, July 3-7.