PITTSBURGH – The route to landing the third-overall selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft isn’t one the Canadiens care to repeat, but Habs GM Marc Bergevin and director of player procurement Trevor Timmins are hoping to make the ends justify the means.
Finishing 28th in the league in 2011-12 earned the Canadiens the dubious honor of being included in the NHL draft lottery this summer, arming them with the third, 33rd, 51st, 64th, 94th, 122nd and 154th picks heading into the weekend’s festivities. Timmins and his scouting staff have spent the last few weeks crossing their T’s and dotting their I’s to make sure they won’t be stepping up to the podium until much later this time next year. Just don’t expect him to drop any hints about which teenage prospect he’ll be handing a jersey and cap to on Friday night.
“Santa Claus doesn’t tell you who’s been naughty and who’s been nice so I’m not telling you either,” joked Timmins, who is overseeing his 10th draft with the Canadiens this year. “Seriously, we have a short list. The way we work is to put players on the list that we want to draft and that we think are assets to the Montreal Canadiens and have a chance to play in the National Hockey League, not players we think are American Hockey League prospects.”
Heading into his first draft as GM, Bergevin isn’t feeling any pressure about owning the highest pick the Canadiens have had since Irving Grundman drafted Doug Wickenheiser first overall in 1980 – two and five spots ahead of Hall-of-Famers Denis Savard and Paul Coffey, respectively.
“When you make a decision like that, you’re not thinking about the possibility that you could be making a mistake,” explained Bergevin, who spent the past seven seasons apprenticing under Stan Bowman in Chicago. “You’re thinking about doing what’s best for the organization.”
Despite spending the past year in rinks everywhere from Stockholm to Shawinigan evaluating the best 17 and 18 year old hockey players the world has to offer, Timmins still wasn’t satisfied he had all the data necessary to make the best prospect hypothesis on Friday night. That’s why he spent the past few weeks visiting with potential draftees, their families and friends to get to know them a little better off the ice.
“First of all, we look for talent. To play in the National Hockey League you have to have a base amount of talent,” shared the 44-year-old draft guru on the factors he looks for in a player. “After we establish that we move forward and look for the character, the compete level and the work ethic of these young prospects and make sure they have all that to move forward and help themselves succeed and become NHL players.”
They may have only had a month-and-a-half to get to know each other, but Timmins and Bergevin are already on the same page.
“You win championships with skill. You need size, too, don’t get me wrong. You need everything. But if you don’t have skill it’s hard to win the big prize. Skill wins,” confirmed Bergevin, who played for eight different teams throughout his 20-year NHL career. “Then it’s character. Character is important. I’ve played with guys who had twice my talent but they never made it.
“You need to be able to process the game and hockey should mean the world to you,” he emphasized. “That’s one of the discussions we have with players: what does the game mean to you and what does playing for the Montreal Canadiens mean to you? To me, that’s important.”
While a lot has changed in the Canadiens’ front office since the spring, one thing remains the same: the team’s policy of drafting the best player available.
“I don’t care about position,” stressed Bergevin, who won the Cup as director of player personnel with the Blackhawks in 2010. “Look at Vancouver; if you have two good goalies like Vancouver has, that’s a nice problem to have. If you have three great centermen or six great defensemen, those are nice problems to have.”
Dealing with the pressure of making the third-overall pick is another problem Bergevin is happy to shoulder, which is no surprise. The last time he was sitting at a draft table that owned the third-overall selection, he and the Blackhawks ended up bringing Jonathan Toews back to Chicago with them.
“It’s a big day. That’s how you build a franchise; you build a good hockey team through the draft,” explained Bergevin. “You listen to other GMs talking and they want to make their teams better but they’re not going to give you something for nothing. If you’re going to get something, you have to give something back. The draft is the only place you’re going to get something pretty much for free.
“The player we pick tomorrow is going to be part of the foundation here for the next 10, 12 years,” he continued. “It’s important to surround him with good people to help him develop like [Patrice] Brisebois and [Martin] Lapointe. Look at the Blackhawks, you have guys like [Patrick] Kane and Toews and [Brent] Seabrook who make up the nucleus of that team.”
So is Bergevin expecting to mine the same kind of gem in 2012 that he and the ‘Hawks did when they chose their future captain at No.3 six years ago?
“I hope so,” he replied with a grin.
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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