(Danny Kristo left, Mike Cichy right)
When the Habs selected Louis Leblanc at 18th overall in last weekends NHL Entry Draft, you wouldn't expect him to be among the nine draft picks that played or will play in the USHL since Trevor Timmins has taken over as Director of Scouting. The Quebec native spent this past season in the USHL playing on the same team as last year's first pick of the draft, Danny Kristo, and the prior season saw the club acquire another USHL talent when they picked Max Pacioretty in the first round, 22nd overall.
Over the past three years the Montreal Canadiens have picked nine players from the USHL and acquired another one via the trade market, from a league that the club seldom looked to in the past. (Matt Shasby and Jozef Balej were two USHLers from past drafts), so clearly not an area you would expect three top picks to come from. But when the USHL gained classification as America's only Tier I junior league back in 2002, and the NCAA changed their rules in regards to high school players being allowed to be drafted to the NHL without losing their NCAA eligibility, it opened the doors to get NHL scouts attention.
In the last five years, nearly 140 players with ties to the USHL have been selected in the NHL Entry Draft, a clear sign that NHL scouts have taken notice to the advances that hockey has made in the states and looks to continue on this course.
For Trevor Timmins and his staff, they have displayed a willingness to grab players from this league by using nine draft picks out of a total of twenty-two picks from the last three drafts, with five of those selections being picked in the top 80 of their respective draft classes. The club has drafted Max Pacioretty, Andrew Conboy, Scott Kishel, Danny Kristo, Steve Quailer, Patrick Johnson, Louis Leblanc, Mac Bennett, and Mike Cichy, and acquired Greg Pateryn in a trade with Toronto for Mikhail Grabovski.
The Habs may have disappointed fans when they heard the name Max Pacioretty during the first round of the 2007 Entry Draft, but it hasn't take the future power forward long to make a name for himself as one of the organization's top prospects. A mixture of size, skill, and speed, Pacioretty is just what the Habs have been looking for in their lineup, if he can continue to build off last seasons success then the Habs could have a great NHLer on their hands.
Andrew Conboy had rep for being one of the top fighters in the USHL when the Habs opted to select him 142nd overall in 2007, a big body that will drop the gloves and play a mean nasty physical game. The 21 year old Minnesota native moved up to the NCAA this past season but was suspended for the rest of the regular season by his coach for a questionable hit against his teams rival Michigan University but he then found himself in Hamilton where he got his feet wet and a chance to know what lay ahead for him as he will look to make an impact in his first full season in the AHL next season.
Scott Kishel was a late round pick in 2007, going 192nd overall, drafted out of the USHS in Minnesota, Kishel would spend the next season in the USHL before heading off to the NCAA to join the UMD Bulldogs. The offensvie defensmen had some troubles getting ice time after an injury forced him to miss a chunk of the season. Next he should be looking for an increased role with the club while he rounds out his game and hopefully adds some mass to his frame.
Danny Kristo was the Habs first pick in the 2008 draft in the second round, 56th overall while he was still in high school. He spent this past season in USHL as a teammate of Louis Leblanc, where both were standout players in the league. Kristo has blazzing speed and a willingness to shoot the puck from anywhere and everywhere, something the Habs could use more of.
When the Habs selected Steve Quailer as the next pick after Kristo, fans may have been wondering what was going on as the club had never in it's great history drafted two players from the USHL back to back with their first two picks. The tall lanky forward was named MVP and Rookie of the Year on his team after leading his club in assists and points.
Patrick Johnson was another last round pick of the Habs that spent time in the USHL as he was in the league in '06-'07 before going to Wisconsin University in his draft year. The feisty forward was passed over for the 2007 draft after putting up only 27 points in 49 games but the Habs must have seen something they liked to select him the following year.
When the Habs selectedLouis Lelanc this past weekend, it was the third year in a row that the club would pick a player with ties to the USHL in the first round or with their first pick. It was also the second league MVP the organization would draft, as both Pacioretty and Leblanc were USHL Rookie of the Year's. The skilled center will be looked upon to put points on the board but also take care of his own end, something he appears ready to do after a successful rookie year in the USHL. Next stop is Havard of the ECAC before turning pro.
The Habs had two picks in the third round this year and with their second pick they opted for Mac Bennett a gifted offensive defensemen who played in the USHS but since he is still in high school, he is headed to the USHL next fall before going to Michigan the following year. Bennett likely played against another Hab draft pick, Mike Cichy and could have faced Max Pacioretty during his last season with Taft and Bennett's first with Hotchkiss.
In keeping with the trend, the Habs once again looked to use their 7th round pick on someone with ties to the USHL when they selected Mike Cichy, a former teammate and friend of Danny Kristo's. It was an impressive season for the Connecticut native, putting up 76 points, breaking the USHL record for most assists in the playoffs with 16 and being named MVP of the playoffs as he helped his club win a league championship. Cicy will be roommates with Kristo at North Dakota in the fall, one of the top programs in the NCAA.
Greg Pateryn was drafted by the Maple Leafs but the Michigan native spent his draft season playing in the USHL where he led his team in scoring among defensemen (27) and penalty minutes (145) When the Habs moved Mikhail Grabovski for a 2nd round pick, you can be sure that Timmins and his scouts voiced their opinion to get him. A solid two way defensemen that has a good frame and moves the puck well, is something the Habs could use down the road if he can develop his game more.
Another interesting note is how these draft picks are intertwined. Pacioretty, Pateryn and Bennett all have played or will play for Michigan University, one of the best programs in the NCAA bar none. Paciroretty, Bennett and Cichy all played in the Northeastern prep league before going to the USHL. Kristo and Cichy were once teammates and will be again, Kristo and Leblanc were teammates this past year. Pacioretty, Leblanc, Quailer and Cichy were all named MVP or Rookie of the Year or both for the league or their club in the USHL. Conboy, Kishel, and Kristo all played in the USHS in Minnesota.
(Greg Pateryn blue jersey)
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