VANCOUVER - On a day that saw Erik Johnson become the first defenseman in a decade to be selected first overall, the Canadiens continued the defensive trend by using four of their six picks to beef up their blue line, beginning with top pick David Fischer.
In what will certainly go down as a draft with a distinct U.S. flavor that included a league-record 10 American players being selected in the first round alone, Gainey and the Canadiens fittingly looked south of the border for Fischer.
A native of Apple Valley, MN, Fischer was the toast of hockey-mad Minnesota, winning the 2006 Mr. Hockey Award as the top high school player in the state. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder was team captain at Apple Valley High School where he put up 39 points and eight goals in 28 games. Known for his quickness and puck moving ability, this blue line workhorse is all set to begin his freshman year at the University of Minnesota in the fall, as the 18-year-old will continue his studies close to home.
No strangers to dipping into U.S. waters with their top pick at a draft, the Canadiens did the same for three straight years with Chris Higgins (2002), Komisarek (2001), and Ron Hainsey (2000). Fischer also becomes the 10th defenseman to be a Canadiens top pick dating back to the first-ever NHL Entry Draft held in 1969.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first American high school player ever to be chosen in the opening round: future 50-goal man Bobby Carpenter, who was drafted third overall by the Washington Capitals in 1981.
The Class of 2006
Next up for the Canadiens with their 49th overall pick was some homegrown talent in centerman Ben Maxwell of the WHL's Kootenay Ice. The 6-foot, 177-pound native of Vancouver received a warm reception from the hometown crowd at GM Place as his name was announced. Maxwell used his above average speed to triple his offensive output with 60 points in 69 games, including 28 goals. He also won gold with Team Canada at the 2005 Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic.
David Fischer is the 10th defenseman to be a Canadiens top pick.
|2006 ||David Fischer ||20th overall |
|2001 ||Mike Komisarek ||8th overall |
|2000 ||Ron Hainsey ||13th overall |
|1994 ||Brad Brown ||18th overall |
|1992 ||David Wilkie ||20th overall |
|1991 ||Brent Bilodeau ||17th overall |
|1988 ||Eric Charron ||20th overall |
|1984 ||Petr Svoboda ||5th overall |
|1979 ||Gaston Gingras ||27th overall |
|1975 ||Robin Sadler ||9th overall |
The Canadiens then looked no further than their own backyard with their third pick of the day by reaching out to Acadie Bathurst's Mathieu Carle of the QMJHL. The 6-foot, 206-pound defenseman rode his heavy shot from the point as the Gatineau native, piled up 69 points in 67 games along with 18 goals for the Titan.
The Canadian content continued in the third round with centerman Ryan White being the next to make his way to the Habs' draft table at No. 66. The heart and soul of the WHL's Calgary Hitmen, he certainly lived up to his team's name by never hesitating to lay out an opponent. The strong-skating, 5-foot-11, 200-pounder, is a tenacious forechecker with a definite mean streak.
The Habs then left the continent to get their hands on Russian defenseman Pavel Valentenko. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound native of Moscow is a strong, physical defenseman with a booming shot. Valentenko played a dozen games with Neftekamsk of Russia's first division.
The tidal of defensemen continued through the seventh and final round with the Canadiens rounding out their Class of 2006 with Cameron Cepek of the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks at 199th overall. Cepek, who missed the majority of the 2005-06 season with a broken wrist, still managed to put up 10 points in 21 games.
When the dust settled, the Canadiens draft crop consisted of three Canadians - Maxwell (49th), Carle (53rd), and White (66th), two Americans - Fischer (20th) and Cepek (199th), and one Russian -Valentenko (139th).
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com