MONTREAL – With a successful sophomore season in the books, Brendan Gallagher joins a small club of late draftees who have made a mark in NHL.
Guessing what the future holds is one tough job indeed. TV weathermen and Wall Street brokers know the tune, but try predicting how well a teenaged boy competing against peers would fare five years later skating alongside seasoned veterans. Evidently, hockey scouts don’t have it easy.
As much as teams value their early-round choices, there is only a fifty-fifty chance that a top prospect at the draft tables will turn into an everyday contributor at an NHL level. Indeed, out of the 40 first-rounders taken by the Canadiens in the past 25 years, just half of them have played more than 200 games in the National Hockey League, which in itself is by no means an indication of professional-level excellence.
In 1980, the last time the Montreal Canadiens held the first overall pick at the annual NHL Entry Draft, the team selected centerman Doug Wickenheiser from the WHL’s Regina Pats. Revisionist history would indicate that a Hall of Famer taken two picks later would have been a better choice. Then again, Wickenheiser’s 556 NHL appearances would have placed him right in the middle of 1980’s 21 first-round picks in terms of games played.
While a long and productive pro career is no guarantee for a consensus first-round pick, the road to NHL glory is fraught with even more peril for players taken in the later rounds. Brendan Gallagher (fifth round, 2010), Andrei Markov (sixth round, 1998), Michael Ryder (eighth round, 1998), Mark Streit (ninth round, 2004) and Jaroslav Halak (ninth round, 2003) all evolved into key contributors for the Habs over the years, defying everyone’s expectations bar their own.
All five had their knocks heading into their respective draft years. Gallagher was a bona fide offensive force for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants, but scouts were worried that his five-foot-eight frame would not hold up against NHL competition. Ryder was a noted sniper for the QMJHL’s Hull Olympiques, but his skating was unspectacular and his defensive play, suspect. Markov was in the process of being converted from a forward to a defenseman by his coaches in the Russian Superleague. Halak was playing away from prying eyes in the Slovakian second division. Streit, six years older than most other players drafted on the same day, toiled anonymously in Switzerland. And yet, these long-shot prospects managed to out-perform most of the supposed “can’t miss” picks of the earlier rounds. Going into their Big Day, they might not have known that they had less than a 10% shot of lasting 200 games in the NHL, but no matter how you look at the numbers, it’s always the exceptions that prove the rule.
Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.