PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Marc Bergevin didn’t seem like a rookie during his first NHL draft as the Montreal Canadiens general manager.
While drafts take years to properly evaluate, the Canadiens couldn’t help but hide their pleasure Saturday following a draft in which they repeatedly wound up with players who, by ranking, shouldn’t have fallen into their hands.
First-round centre Alex Galchenyuk went as projected at No. 3 on Friday—the Canadiens insist they had him ranked as the top player in the draft.
But their next three picks—right wing Sebastian Collberg, defenceman Dalton Thrower and left wing Tim Bozon—weren’t expected to be available when they picked.
Multiple draft analysts were proclaiming the Canadiens as the winner of the two-day draft at Consol Energy Center, and Bergevin and player development director Trevor Timmins couldn’t hide their pleasure at how the weekend played out.
“We’ll tell you in five years, but we added a lot of talent, a lot of scoring upside, some toughness,” Timmins said Saturday. “Some physicality as well. Right now, we’re very happy. It’s like Christmas day and Santa Claus arrives. Now we’ve opened our gifts and it’s time to get to work.”
Collberg starred on Sweden’s gold medal-winning team in the world junior championships and, despite being ranked No. 3 overall among European skaters by NHL Central Scouting, was on the board when the Canadiens made the third pick of the second round Saturday morning.
“Some of the guys we got, I’m surprised they were there,” Timmins said.
Later in the second round, they added no-nonsense defenceman Dalton Thrower, who had 18 goals and 54 points with the Saskatoon Blades. Thrower especially impressed Bergevin during the Prospects Game when he willingly took on tough guy Tom Wilson, who went No. 16 overall to Washington and was considered to be the most physical player in the draft.
Thrower, at five-foot-11 and 200 pounds, was giving up three inches and 25 pounds to Wilson.
“I remember saying, who is this kid?” said Bergevin, the long-time NHL defenceman who was hired to rebuild the Canadiens following their disappointing 31-win season. “We got talent and character and, to me, those are the most important things.”
Thrower was ranked 26th by Central Scouting but lasted until the 51st overall pick. Bozon had 36 goals and 35 assists with the Kamloops Blazers and adds yet more high-end offensive skill to a team that apparently picked up plenty of it during a seemingly productive two days. Six of their seven picks are forwards.
“For the most part, all of our guys were there,” Bergevin said.
In the later rounds, Montreal picked up Windsor Spitfires centre Brady Vail on the fourth round, Chicoutimi Sagueneens left wing Charles Hudon on the fifth and Swedish juniors forward Erik Nystrom on the sixth round.
Vail appears to be another value pick—he was ranked 38th in the final Central Scouting ratings yet wasn’t picked until No. 94.
On Friday, the Canadiens ignored Galchenyuk’s recent injury problems and chose the 18-year-old centre only two picks after Russian prospect Nail Yakupov, his Sarnia Sting teammate, went No. 1 to Edmonton.
Only a year ago, there was some speculation that the son of former Belarus national team member Alexander Galchenyuk might be the No. 1 pick himself, after he piled up 31 goals and 52 assists in 68 games during the 2010-11 OHL season. But he was limited by an anterior cruciate ligament injury to two regular season games this past season, although he had two goals and two assists in six playoff games.
His elite-level production pushed the six-foot-one, 197-pound Galchenyuk into the top three, even if he didn’t have a recent body of work to validate such a high selection.
“I knew what kind of skill I have, what kind of player I am,” Galchenyuk said. “I’m just going to keep working hard. I played a couple of games at the end of the year and showed what I am capable of doing, I went to the (NHL prospects) combine and showed them my knee is no concern and there are going to be no issues.”
Not with the language, either. He grew up in Wisconsin and already speaks English and Russian, but he now realizes the necessity of being trilingual.
“Oh, yes, French lessons start in a couple of days,” Galchenyuk said.
The Canadiens badly need forward depth and size as they lack scoring outside of the top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole, and Galchenyuk might not be that far removed from providing it.
No Canadiens player reached even the 70-point mark last season.