If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the Montreal Canadiens have paid the Detroit Red Wings quite a compliment in recent years and done themselves a favor in the process.
Of course, comparing any team to the mighty Red Wings is an awfully generous thing to do given the immaculate way that team is run and performs.
But no matter how the Canadiens fare when they take the ice in Detroit on Wednesday, the club can take some pride in the commonality between the two teams with regard to drafting players.
An outstanding history of selecting under-the-radar players, especially from Europe, is what has put Detroit at the top of the NHL heap and allowed it to be as successful in a salary cap system as it was when it could spend to the hilt. Montreal, though not nearly as prosperous as the Wings, has also displayed some quality drafting acumen. Like Detroit, the Canadiens have become adept at plucking good players in the late rounds, nabbing the likes of Tomas Plekanec, Sergei Kostitsyn and Jaroslav Halak after they’d been overlooked many times by every other team. That says a lot about the work done by Montreal director of player recruitment and development, Trevor Timmins. Detroit, by the way, relies on a European scout named Hakan Andersson to uncover its gems.
The key difference between the Wings and Habs is the absolute home runs Detroit has hit with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, none of whom were drafted before the third round. That track record, in a nutshell, is why the Wings are perennial Stanley Cup contenders, while the Canadiens clearly have a ways to go before attaining that label.
Still, Montreal’s management team deserves credit for building a strong core of players. The foundation of both the Wings and Canadiens will be put to the test next summer when each team will have numerous front-line players eligible for unrestricted free agency. But a recent history of strong drafting has put both clubs in a position to absorb some inevitable blows.
This column also appears in the Montreal Metro newspaper.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.