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Strong seven

The Canadiens primarily went after centermen and defensemen over the weekend, and picked up a stellar netminder as well

by Matt Cudzinowski @canadiensmtl /

CHICAGO - Two centermen, four defensemen and one goaltender. That's what the Canadiens stocked their cupboards with over the weekend at the 2017 NHL Draft.

It all began on Friday night when the Habs' brass made centerman Ryan Poehling the 25th overall pick out of St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. The 18-year-old forward had been on vice president of player personnel Trevor Timmins' radar for two years, before the veteran staffer stepped up to the microphone and officially made him a member of the organization.

Admittedly, Timmins was surprised to see that Poehling was still available at that point in time because in his mind, the talented young gun has the potential to bring plenty to the table down the road. 

"We have a good history with him. I've seen him for a good two years - at the high school level, but also with the Under-18 teams at the World Championships and at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. He has lots of upside, good size, and he plays well in the four corners of the ice," said Timmins, on the soon-to-be Huskies sophomore. "He has a lot more skills than what his stats showed last year. We see a guy that needs time to develop, but has a chance to play in a Top 9 role and help the Canadiens."

Video: Timmins on the Canadiens' draft work in Chicago

On Saturday, Timmins stated that his goal was to draft centermen and defensemen - and he certainly accomplished that objective.

With the first of two second-round selections, the Canadiens drafted 18-year-old rearguard Josh Brook of the WHL's Moose Jaw Warriors at No. 56. In his third season with the Saskatchewan-based franchise, Brook was the Warriors' top point-getter among defensemen with eight goals and 40 points in 69 regular-season games, before leading his club with seven points in as many playoff outings. 

"Brook went a little bit under the radar. He reminds me a bit of John Carlson in Washington. We like what he brings. His skating is probably the best asset of his game," said Timmins, on the Roblin, MB native. "Throughout the course of the season, he's probably the player that developed and improved the most. We hope to see that continue. We see a guy that can eventually log a lot of minutes at the pro level and play in every situation."

Video: Brook on his top assets

Brook, who tries to model his game after that of St. Louis Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, wasn't in attendance at the United Center on Saturday when his name was called. He had a good excuse, though.

"I have grad today. That's a big thing for me," said Brook, who shared the once-in-a-lifetime moment with loved ones back home in Manitoba. "I'm with all of my family in Roblin and they were very happy for me when I got drafted. They all hugged me. I got to celebrate with the people who supported me growing up. I think it was awesome."

At No. 58, the Canadiens selected their second and final forward in the Windy City, choosing 18-year-old centerman Joni Ikonen from Frolunda in Sweden. Interestingly enough, Timmins likened the upstart forward to fellow Finn Artturi Lehkonen.

This past season, Ikonen put up 22 goals and 41 points with Frolunda's junior squad, and played 10 games with the big club, too, in addition to representing his country and serving as an assistant captain at the World Under-18 Championship.

"He's really driven. He drives the net. He's a fierce competitor. He moved from Finland [to Sweden] to play for Frolunda, which is a great development system. The talent level is the floor with him, the character is his ceiling. He gets to the ceiling," said Timmins, on the 17th ranked European skater according to NHL Central Scouting's Final Rankings. "He's always been a national team player with tremendous upside. We project him to be a Top 6."

Video: Ikonen on playing in Sweden with Frölunda

Ikonen fully expects to be playing in Europe again next season, but he isn't sure if he'll be back with Frolunda. What he is sure of, however, is that he'll be in Montreal soon to attend Development Camp at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, where he's hoping to put his skills on full display.

"I really didn't have any expectations which team would draft me. I'm just happy that Montreal took me," said Ikonen, who, like Brook, spoke to the members of the media via a conference call from his home in Espoo, Finland. "I'm an offensive player. I like to have the puck and just create scoring chances." 

Timmins used the ensuing three picks to continue to build the Canadiens' back end, selecting 18-year-olds Scott Walford from the WHL's Victoria Royals at No. 68 and Cale Fleury from the WHL's Kootenay Ice at No. 87 in Round 3, and Jarret Tyszka from the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds in Round 5 at No. 149. 

"Walford got injured the game I went to see him and there were no other scouts there, so I was lucky," said Timmins, on the Royals' rearguard, who put up six goals and 30 points in 60 games in 2016-17. "He plays all situations, has good size, and he's a really strong skater. He has lots of potential. He could eventually play Top 5 in the NHL someday. He wasn't at the NHL Combine, so we knew he was a little bit under the radar."

Video: Walford on finding out he'd been drafted

Walford also wasn't on site to don his Canadiens jersey and cap. He was back home in Coquitlam, BC when the news of his selection broke.

"I was sitting in the kitchen with my mom and just then my family was watching around the TV, and I could see the TV from the kitchen. We were just talking and I think my dad and my uncle were both in the room. My name came up and they were screaming. I gave my mom a big hug. It was a very exciting day," said Walford, who likens his game to that of Ryan Suter in Minnesota. "It's kind of cool because I was in French immersion until Grade 9. Alors, je parle un peu en français. So, I have a bit of French in my arsenal. It was definitely a surreal experience."

Fleury, meanwhile, captained the Ice this past season and registered 11 goals and 38 points in 70 games. His brother is Carolina Hurricanes hopeful, Haydn Fleury, who was selected seventh overall in 2014.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: �� Cale! #GoHabsGo ��

Timmins liked what he saw from the Carlyle, SK native enough to secure his services in the latter stages the round.

"Not a lot of people wanted to go see the Kootenay Ice this past year. They were one of the worst teams in the entire CHL. But, he had an outstanding [CHL] Top Prospects game," praised Timmins. "We've seen quite a bit from him. He's a good-sized defenseman that skates well and moves pucks and is competitive."

Video: Fleury on joining the Canadiens

As for Tyszka, Timmins drew comparisons between him and the Canadiens' 2015 first-rounder, Noah Juulsen.

"Tyszka is a lively guy, a little bit like Juulsen," said Timmins, on the 2017 WHL champ, who registered six goals and 25 points in 54 regular-season games, before coming on strong again in the playoffs en route to participating in the Memorial Cup. "He's a good skater. He's driven. He wants that puck. He wants to be 'the guy'."

The Canadiens were seemingly done for the day at that point, until they made a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 7 to acquire the 199th overall selection, which Timmins used to take 17-year-old butterfly-style goaltender Cayden Primeau from the USHL's Lincoln Stars. The son of former NHLer, Keith Primeau, was ecstatic to learn the news.

Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: �� @cpreems29 #NHLDraft #GoHabsGo

"There's really no words. Getting drafted is one thing, but being picked by the Montreal Canadiens is a whole other thing," shared Primeau, who is headed to Northeastern University in Boston this fall. "They've got some of the most passionate fans in the league. I've been able to go up to Montreal and experience a game or two, so I'm really excited."

As was Timmins with the group of picks the Canadiens managed to assemble over the weekend to fulfill some key needs going forward.

"The D's that we drafted all have good size. They can move pucks and they can skate. Those were the key components," concluded Timmins. "The goal was to draft defenseman and centers, and in the end we got a high, high goalie on our list and we made the trade to get him." 

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