I am one of those who believes that the Montreal Canadiens would be more fun if they had a true French Canadian face; if we could return to the days when the team could maintain a hold over Quebec-born players the way the did until 1970 when, after a rule change, Gilbert Perreault got away from them. Professional teams today are a collection of components. Some better than others. The Canadiens of another time were more than that. They had a regional and ethnic identity that was established in their founding in 1909.
How would the Canadiens look today with Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Daniel Briere, Patrice Bergeron,Simon Gagne, Claude Giroux and Martin Brodeur?
The Canadiens have been severely criticized for failing to maintain a serious francophone, or even Quebec presence, on the team but their options have been limited, not only by the entry draft but, by a player development system in Quebec that can only be termed a failure.
In 1969, the Montreal Junior Canadiens played in what was then called the OHA, the Ontario Hockey Association. They were Quebec’s only major junior hockey franchise. On that team were the best-of-the-best of the province’s junior-aged players. Supporting them were, not the province’s midget hockey system as it is today, but what were called “Junior B” leagues such as the Metopolitan and Richelieu Valley leagues. There was no force-feeding of players directly from midget hockey into major junior as is the case today. In their final year of existence the Junior Canadiens sent twelve players to the NHL including Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, Bobby Lalonde and Jocelyn Guevremont,. The year before Rejean Houle and Marc Tardif plus Guy Charron and J.P. Bordeleau moved on to the NHL. This team played against the highest level of junior hockey available.
Today, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league is so diluted that otuside of a few extraordinary athletes like Lecavalier, it has now become a league of late developers if the players develop at all. The QMJHL now has more franchises than the midget teams that are designed to be their support group. And it shows in the annual NHL draft where Quebec leaguers are almost universally iegnored in early rounds.
So, what are the Canadiens’ options. Their first three picks in the draft will be 27th, 57th and 117th overall (their third round pick is gone). According to central scouting the best Quebec-born player in the draft is Rouyn-Noranda defenceman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc ranked 50th overall. Gauthier scored 20 goals and 46 points this past season and was plus-26. He’s 6’1″ and 176 pounds. And, knowing the development curve of Quebec league defencemen, a project. At around 50th in the draft, what else would you expect.
In order to preserve the “frenchness” of the franchise, do the Habs take Gauthier-Leduc 27th, ahead of players who have a higher upside, or do the risk waiting until 57th with the hope that he’s still available.
There are few secrets anymore, especially in North American junior hockey. Last year the Canadiens took the West Island’s Louis Leblanc Central Scouting had slotted Leblanc 18th on their final pre-draft list. That is exactly where the Canadiens got him. Because there is no strong Tier II junior system in Quebec Leblanc, in order to retain his US College elibibiltiy had forced to go to the high-quality United States Junior Hockey League for Omaha to continue his development while retaining his US College eligibility which he exercised with scholarship to Harvard. There are lessons to be extracted from all of this. Is anyone paying attention?
The 2010 entry draft will be no exception.
According to NHL Central Scouting, the top French-Canadian born player in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League eligible for the draft his year, ranks 50th overall for the upcoming entry draft. Not a very good advertisement for the league. Three of the top four players listed were born in Europe while the top QMJHL prospect, defenceman Brandon Gormley of Moncton was born in Prince Edward Island. Among the first 100 players listedy Central scouting, four were born in Quebec.
Here are Central Scouting Selections from the Quebec League.
6. Brandon Gormley, D, Moncton (QMJHL) (b. Murray River, PEI)
20. Stanislav Galiev, RW, Saint John (QMJHL).(b. Moscow)
23. Petr Straka, RW, Rimouski (QMJHL); (b. Pilzen, Czech Republic)
31. Kirill Kabanov, LW, Moncton (QMJHL); (b. Moscow)
50. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, D, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL).(b. Quebec City)
52. Jakub Culek, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL); (b. Pilzen, Czech. Rep)
75. Michael Bournival, LW, Shawinigan (QMJHL) (b. Shawinigan)
78. Michael Chaput, C, Lewiston (QMJHL) (b. Montreal)
85. Stephen MacAulay, LW, Saint John (QMJHL); b. Cole Harbour, N.S.)
87. Louis-Marc Aubry, C, Montreal (QMJHL); (b/ Trois Rivieres, Que.)
97. Morgan Ellis, D, Cape Breton (QMJHL); (b. Ellersie, PEI)
102. Alex Emond, C, Rimouski (QMJHL); (b. Pohemegamook, PQ)
105. Jonathan Brunelle, LW, Drummondville (QMJHL); (b. Boisbriand, Quebec)
114. Etienne Boutet, D, Rimouski (QMJHL); (b. St. Nicolas, Quebec)
122. Brandon Hynes, RW, Victoriaville (QMJHL); (b. Norris Point, Nfld.)
127. Jeremie Blain, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL); (b. Longueil, Quebec)
132. Julien Levasseur, D, Rimouski (QMJHL) (b. Amqui, Quebec)
147. Danick Gauthier, RW, Saint John (QMJHL); (b. Repentigny, Quebec)