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Building up the back end

Of the 10 picks the Canadiens made at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver, five were defensemen who all boast left-handed shots

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

VANCOUVER - The Canadiens are leaving British Columbia with 10 brand new prospects in tow.

After selecting American right-winger Cole Caufield 15th overall on Friday at the 2019 NHL Draft, the Habs stocked the cupboards with nine more hopefuls on Saturday, including five defensemen, three forwards and one goaltender.

Video: Cole Caufield's first day as a Hab

Seventeen-year-old defensemen Jayden Struble was the first of four-straight left-shooting blue-liners to join the fold after being selected 46th overall in Round 2.

The Cumberland, RI native enjoyed a standout season production-wise with St. Sebastian's School (USHS) in Massachusetts, scoring 10 goals and collecting 40 points in 28 games.

He was also a standout during the fitness testing portion of the 2019 NHL Combine, besting the competition in multiple events, including the Wingate cycle test, bench press, grip strength test in both hands, and the standing long jump.

Struble believes his success both on and off the ice has a lot to do with his diverse athletic background.

"I played a lot of sports growing up. I think it just rounds you out as an athlete and just gets you in better shape. I played basketball, baseball, lacrosse and hockey," explained Struble, who credits his grandfather for teaching him the fundamentals of the coolest game on ice. "My papa taught me to play when I was three years old. I always loved it. I always knew that was going to be my sport. I've kind of just stuck with it ever since. He's the biggest influence hockey-wise in my life so far."

Video: Jayden Struble on being selected 46th overall

Admittedly, Struble could have easily gone the baseball route at one point in time. Back in 2014, he even took part in the famed Little League World Series as part of a squad representing New England.

"I was a good hitter. I was pretty good at scooping the ball at first base, so I did a little bit of everything. I was definitely better at hockey, though," cracked Struble, who believes playing in such a prestigious event provided a huge mental boost going forward. "If you get put in front of that many people at 12 years old, you can do it now. I'm not really a nervous kid, so I'm just going to embrace the challenge ahead of me and I think it'll work out."

Step one in that process will be dropping his allegiance to the Canadiens' Original Six rivals in Beantown, of course, something he fully intends to do.

"I like [Patrice] Bergeron and the Bruins. That's kind of awkward," joked Struble, minutes after his selection. "Now, Montreal is my new favorite team."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: 👋@jaydenstruble#NHLDraft #GoHabsGo

As it should be, and the Canadiens believe they've secured the services of someone special in more ways than one.

"This guy is a natural athlete, but he's also a hockey player. He's really intense. You guys all watched the playoffs. A guy like Charlie McAvoy in Boston, that's his style," said assistant general manager, Trevor Timmins, during his post-Draft press conference. "He really engages the game. He's strong, powerful, a great skater and really physical. He's what [director of amateur scouting] Shane Churla likes to call an 'alpha male.' He's that type of guy."

The six-foot-and-a-half, 205-pound Northeastern University (NCAA) commit will play with the Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) next season.

And it goes without saying that Struble will be a welcome addition to his future clubs.

"I'm an offensive defenseman. I'd say very physical, though, with high compete level. I'm looking to bring that all to the next level," he stated. "I play with a lot of emotion. I think that's a good thing."

Up next, the Canadiens called upon 19-year-old Swedish defenseman, Mattias Norlinder, with the 64th overall selection in Round 3.

This past season, Norlinder split his time with MODO between the J20 SuperElit League and the Allsvenskan.

Like Struble, Timmins believes Norlinder's future is incredibly bright. 

"He's a swift-skating defenseman. He's a new-style-of-NHL type of defenseman who's a great skater, moves pucks and really had a great progression this year in his development," said Timmins, of the six-foot, 181-pound prospect. "In MODO in the Allsvenskan, I don't think they expected him to play as a regular at the start of the season, but he got called up and showed what he could do. He was a Top-4 defenseman on their team this year. We're expecting big things from him."

Timmins did confirm, however, that Norlinder recently suffered a fracture in his hand while doing off-ice training. As a result, he doesn't expect him to participate in the Canadiens' annual development camp next week.

The Habs capped off their work in Round 3 by selecting 18-year-old defenseman, Gianni Fairbrother, with the 77th overall pick.

The North Vancouver, BC native was a force to be reckoned with for the WHL's Everett Silvertips in 2018-19.

"He's a hard defenseman. He moves pucks well. He's a great skater. He's got a real heavy shot. He plays with a lot of nastiness and intensity," detailed Timmins, before recounting a Fairbrother highlight he witnessed first-hand. "One game I saw him stick up for a teammate. He fought a 6-foot-6 overage forward from Prince George and he did him in pretty well. He's got that edge to him."

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: On est excit��s aussi, @Fairbro24!We���re excited too, Gianni!#NHLDraft #GoHabsGo

Fairbrother believes that intensity really caught Montreal's attention. 

"I think they just like my hard-nosed playing style and probably compete. I'm always hard on the puck and make life difficult for the other teams' forwards in our end," he explained. "I don't know if there's one player in particular that I play like, but I like watching Torey Krug with Boston. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he plays with a lot of compete and a lot of battle and he's always trying to make a difference."

Video: Gianni Fairbrother on being selected 77th overall

Fairbrother's numbers weren't too shabby, either, scoring 10 goals and collecting 36 points along with a plus-23 differential in 64 games.

Then, the Canadiens used their first of three picks in Round 5 - 126th overall - to select 18-year-old defenseman, Jacob LeGuerrier, from the OHL's Soo Greyhounds.

The Gloucester, ON native registered six goals and 16 assists in 68 games with the Greyhounds this past season, in addition to posting a plus-33 differential.

And at 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds, he certainly isn't lacking in size either.

Eighteen-year-old left-winger, Rhett Pitlick, was the next addition to the Canadiens' Draft haul, jumping on board at No. 131.

Pitlick, who is the son of former NHLer, Lance Pitlick, had a breakout season at Chaska High School in Minnesota with 28 goals and 61 points in 25 games, and also enjoyed a brief stint with the USHL's Omaha Lancers as well. 

He is slated to play with the Lancers again next season before heading to the University of Minnesota (NCAA) for the 2020-21 campaign.

The Habs closed out the round by selecting 18-year-old Danish goaltender, Frederik Nissen, with the 138th overall pick.

Nissen will play for the Malmö Redhawks J20 squad in Sweden's SuperElit League next year.

Come Round 6, the Canadiens selected 21-year-old Russian centerman, Arsen Khisamutdinov, with the 170th overall pick.

"He's a guy that we had at our European Combine in Stockholm. We watched him on video a lot play at the KHL level and some games below [in the MHL]," said Timmins, of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound hopeful. "He's a big, offensive forward that has one year left on his contract. We're hoping to get him over here the year after this coming season."

Video: Trevor Timmins on the 2019 Draft class

In the seventh and final round, left-winger Rafael Harvey-Pinard (201st) and defenseman Kieran Ruscheinski (206th) also became Canadiens assets.

Harvey-Pinard put up a team-leading 40 goals with the QMJHL's Rouyn-Noranda Huskies during the regular season in 2018-19, along with 85 points and a plus-43 differential.

He captained the Huskies to a coveted President's Cup title and a Memorial Cup crown as well.

"I love his intensity," praised Timmins, regarding the 20-year-old Jonquiere, PQ native. "He's got hockey sense, and he has a never quit, never die attitude, much like our first pick."

For his part, Ruscheinski registered seven goals and 11 points in 33 games with the Calgary Northstars Midget AAA (AMHL) contingent last season and also played three games for the Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL).

"He's going to play in Salmon Arm [BCHL] next year and go to university the year after," said Timmins, of the 18-year-old Calgary native.

Like fellow rearguards Struble, Norlinder, Fairbrother and Leguerrier, Ruscheinski also shoots left.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Marc Bergevin added 10 new prospects to the fold during the 2019 #NHLDraft. Learn more about the new crop of Habs hopefuls.🕵 ���

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