MONTREAL – Trevor Timmins never had it so good.
The Montreal Canadiens’ amateur scouting director holds the third overall selection in Friday’s NHL draft in Pittsburgh, the highest the team will pick in his 10 years on the job.
And he has two second rounders, a bonus for a club that dealt away its second- and third-round choices the last two years.
Now he just has to find a front-line player to make the team’s dismal 28th place overall finish in 2011-’12 pay off at the draft table. In short, a pressure pick.
”We will get a good player,” Timmins said recently without tipping his hand on which prospect he covets most. ”The pressure’s always greater when you’re picking high.
”You try to hit a home run.”
It’s the highest Montreal will have picked since 1980 when it held the first overall choice and hit an infield pop-up with Doug Wickenheiser, a big scoring centre in junior who battled injuries and never developed into more than an average NHL forward.
Like that draft, which still gives Canadiens fans fits of fury as homegrown star Denis Savard went third overall to Chicago, the 2012 edition once again sees the club in need of a big, skilled forward. That could make Sarnia Sting centre Alex Galchenyuk or Swedish right-winger Filip Forsberg attractive.
There has been speculation new general manager Marc Bergevin may make a splash by trading up to No. 1 to take Sarnia right-winger Nail Yakupov, a speedy five-foot-10 goal-scorer widely considered the top player available. Edmonton, which picks first, is reportedly considering trading down and then taking a top defence prospect like Ryan Murray or Griffin Reinhart.
That will all play out in Pittsburgh, but for now, Timmins is focused on the third overall pick.
Like other teams with high picks, the Canadiens brought in several of the top prospects for their own testing after the recent NHL combine. It was mainly to analyse their skating technique and see if there are injury risks.
Yakupov missed time this season with a knee injury and a late-season concussion, while Galchenyuk played only two regular-season games after tearing a knee ligament in an exhibition game.
Sarnia coach Jacques Beaulieu, the father of Canadiens prospect Nathan Beaulieu, raves about Galchenyuk’s skill and work habits and says he has potential to be even better than Yakupov.
Galchenyuk was born in Milwaukee and considers himself American even though he grew up following his hockey-playing Belarusian father to stops in several European countries.
Timmins seems to like American players, as four of his last six first picks were from the U.S.—David Fischer in 2006, Ryan McDonagh in 2007, Danny Kristo in 2008 and Jarred Tinordi in 2010. A second first-rounder in 2007 was used to take American forward Max Pacioretty.
The French factor is not in play, as no Quebec-born players are rated to go inside the top two rounds. The closest thing is Russian forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who played his junior hockey for Patrick Roy’s Quebec Remparts. Once ranked high, Grigorenko’s stock plummeted on some lists after a weak playoff performance, which may have resulted from a bout of mononucleosis.
It is a strange draft year, with not even Yakupov considered a certain game-changer.
The various lists, from NHL Central Scouting to the International Scouting Service to McKeen’s, are completely different after Yakupov at No. 1. Galchenyuk is fourth on Central Scouting, second on McKeen’s and 14th on ISS.
The Canadiens have not taken a European in the first round since Andrei Kostitsyn in 2003, but Forsberg may be enticing because of his size and speed. Timmins said he visited Sweden this season to meet the young player and his family.
It will be Montreal’s highest pick since they took goaltender Carey Price fifth overall in 2005.
Timmins seemed equally excited about his second-round selections, their own at No. 33 and the 51st overall pick they got from Nashville for Kostitsyn.
The second and third rounds have been more productive than the first for Montreal over the years, harvesting stars like Roy, Chris Chelios, Mats Naslund, two-time 50-goal scorer Stephane Richer, John LeClair, Claude Lemieux, Jose Theodore and many others.
But they have not had a second rounder since 2008. In recent years, former GM Pierre Gauthier was forced to deal away picks to shore up his defence, mainly due to Andrei Markov’s string of knee injuries.
While Gauthier was vilified for some questionable moves before he was fired near the end of the season, he did two very productive things—he signed scoring forward Erik Cole as a free agent and stocked up draft picks. The Canadiens have three second rounders in 2013, which gives them seven picks in the top two rounds of the next two drafts.
”Every pick is exciting,” said Timmins, whose late-round gems include goalie Jaroslav Halak at No. 271 in 2003 and Mark Streit at No. 262 in 2004.
He said the Canadiens made up somewhat for the missing picks by trading last season for forward prospects Patrick Holland and Michael Bournival, the captain of the Memorial Cup-champion Shawinigan Cataractes.
Timmins and his staff have already given the club a solid group of prospects, especially on defence with 2011 first-rounder Beaulieu, Tinordi and Morgan Ellis of the Cataractes.