The Montreal Canadiens have a been a very consistent team when it comes to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs over the last nine seasons, failing to qualify twice in that span.
However, they have also managed to win four playoff rounds over that same span, and most people often point to what has been an organizational weakness for at least that long as the main reason: a lack of size.
General manager Marc Bergevin was at the Canadiens' table for the second time at the 2013 NHL Draft in June, and for the second year in a row, Montreal opted for a big forward with its first round pick. In 2012, it was Alex Galchenyuk who was selected with the No. 3 pick in the draft, a player the Canadiens hope will become the big, skilled center the team has lacked for years.
This year, the Canadiens picked much later in the first round at No. 25 and went a bit off the board by selecting Michael McCarron from the U.S. National Team Development Program, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound right wing who brings an element of nastiness with his game. Their first pick of the second round was also a big forward, Swedish center Jacob De La Rose, known for being a strong two-way player with some physical edge.
For years the Canadiens emphasized skill at the draft, but Bergevin made it clear that this year the goal was to beef up his pool of prospects via the draft because acquiring big, skilled players is near impossible any other way.
"We had a message," Bergevin said on the draft floor. "Time will tell, but we felt there was a need to be addressed and we did that today."
The list of Canadiens top prospects is missing several of their brightest hopes for the future because they've played too many NHL games to be considered: Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller and P.K. Subban, all of whom are younger than 25. But the players who will be looked upon to support those young veterans in the coming years likely will come from this group.
Here are Montreal's top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Nathan Beaulieu, D: A smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman, Beaulieu learned a lot in his first season of professional hockey with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League and was named the team's top rookie and most valuable player.
Beaulieu, 20, got off to a difficult start to the season with two points and a minus-6 differential in his first 16 games, but he was tremendous from that point onward with seven goals and 22 assists with a minus-2 differential in 51 games to finish tied for the team lead in scoring with 31 points.
He was given a six-game audition with the Canadiens from March 30 to April 15, and the 6-foot-1, 182-pound defenseman more than held his own, putting up two assists and looking anything but out of place while earning some time on the power play.
Beaulieu, the No. 17 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, said that little glimpse of the League was a big step in his development, and he hopes to be able to make it a permanent move this season.
"I know what it takes now. I know I can play in that League," Beaulieu said at development camp in July. "I just feel like getting those few games in made me mature and grow up a lot quicker and establish that I can be here."
2. Jarred Tinordi, D: Tinordi had a very positive rookie season in professional hockey, sharing the Bulldogs' top defenseman award with Beaulieu and showing improved skating and mobility, two areas that will naturally need improvement when you are still growing into a 6-6, 205-pound frame.
Tinordi, 21, played difficult minutes for coach Sylvain Lefebvre in Hamilton, often facing the opposing teams' top lines and getting minutes on the penalty kill.
Like Beaulieu, Tinordi got a six-game audition with the Canadiens in March and showed an ability to play a physical game while also killing penalties, which earned him another call-up with two games remaining in the regular season and through the Stanley Cup Playoffs when injuries hit.
That gives Tinordi, the No. 22 pick at the 2010 draft, a good chance to stick with the big club out of training camp this fall.
3. Sebastian Collberg, RW: Collberg had a second consecutive strong performance at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring four goals with two assists in six games to help Sweden reach the final for the second year in a row. Collberg had four goals and three assists in helping Sweden to the championship in 2012, but this time the Swedes fell short when they lost the gold-medal game to the United States.
It was another highlight in Collberg's international resume as he has risen to the occasion whenever he has played on a world stage.
A second-round pick in 2012 who was ranked third among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, the 5-11, 181-pound forward had some encouraging results in the Swedish Elite League with Frolunda last season, scoring his first career goal and finishing with six goals and three assists in 35 games.
He played two games late in the season with the Bulldogs, giving him his first taste of playing on North American ice.
"It was a little confusing," the 19-year-old admitted. "But being a smaller guy and being quick and fast in the corners, it's better for me [instead of] the bigger ice in Europe."
He'll have at least one more year on that European ice, still under contract with Frolunda this season, but Collberg likely will be ready to come to North America to begin his professional career next year.
4. Zachary Fucale, G: The Canadiens had a glaring lack of goaltending depth in their system and stated a desire to address that at this year's draft. Little did they know what would fall into their laps.
Fucale, 18, was the top-ranked goaltender in North America by NHL Central Scouting and fell to the Canadiens at No. 36 in 2013. They were more than happy to scoop up the local product.
The 6-1, 181-pound goaltender won the Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads last season and should have an excellent chance to be the No. 1 goalie for Canada at the 2014 World Junior Championship.
"He's a winner," Canadiens director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins told the team website. "He's won at every level and he continues to win. His record in the CHL is impeccable. He's a guy that even if he lets in four or five goals in a game, he's a battler, he fights right to the bitter end. The last guy I saw in the draft like that was Jaroslav Halak. He's a fighter right to the end and even if he gives up six goals, maybe his team will win 7-6."
5. Michael McCarron, RW: McCarron will be playing his first season in the Ontario Hockey League under coach Dale Hunter with the London Knights this season, opting to go that route after committing to coach Andy Murray at Western Michigan University.
The Canadiens certainly would not mind if that ever came to pass, but Timmins insists there is more to McCarron than his brawn.
"Aside from his mean streak, his size and competitiveness and physicality dimension that he brings, he's also a good hockey player," Timmins said. "He has good hands, he has good hockey sense and he has continued to improve, especially over the last two years. He is probably the one player on the U.S. Under-18 development team that has improved the most. So we see his growth potential continuing and we're very excited about that."
6. Jacob De La Rose, LW: For a second consecutive year, the Canadiens had a highly ranked Swedish forward drop to them in the second round of the draft. Last year it was Collberg, and this time it was De La Rose, a 6-2, 190-pound two-way forward who was ranked seventh among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
The Canadiens were very happy when the 18-year-old was available with the No. 34 pick in the draft, seeing as he filled their stated need for size up front.
De La Rose had expressed interest in coming to North America to play for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League, who owned his Canadian Hockey League rights. But De La Rose was still under contract with Leksands of the Swedish Elite League and he was not released from his contractual obligations.
De La Rose had six goals and six assists in 38 games in his first season with the top club in Leksands, and he was held scoreless with 22 penalty minutes in six games for Sweden at the World Junior Championships.
7. Michael Bournival, LW: A third-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche at the 2010 draft acquired in a trade for Ryan O'Byrne, Bournival was another Bulldogs rookie who had a solid entry into professional hockey last season.
Bournival, 21, had 30 points in 69 games with Hamilton to rank third in team scoring and had a very respectable minus-3 differential on a team where many players were further south.
Bournival (5-11, 179) is unlikely to become a top-six scoring threat for the Canadiens but could become a valuable checker thanks to his exceptional motor and skating ability.
8. Tim Bozon, LW: Bozon, 19, was a third-round pick by the Canadiens in 2012 and has shown great offensive skills in his two seasons with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. After finishing third on the team in scoring as a rookie with 71 points in 71 games in 2011-12, Bozon was second on the team and ninth in the WHL with 91 points in 69 games last season.
At 6-1, 185, Bozon has a decent frame, but it his puck skills that set him apart.
9. Darren Dietz, D: A fifth-round pick by the Canadiens in 2011, Dietz has blossomed with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.
In 2011-12 he had 44 points in 72 games, and last season the 20-year-old led WHL defensemen with 24 goals and finished third in points by a defenseman with 58.
Dietz (6-1, 198) will be graduating to the Bulldogs this season, adding to the Canadiens crop of promising young defensemen on the farm.
10. Charles Hudon, LW: Undersized at 5-10, 177, the Canadiens were able to grab Hudon in the fifth round of the 2012 draft.
Hudon, 19, is a strong candidate to play for Canada at the World Junior Championship because of his versatility as a penalty killer and checker who can score.
He had 71 points in 56 games for the Chicoutimi Saguneens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and is beginning to look like he could turn out to be a bit of a steal for the Canadiens.
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