Kotkaniemi Offer Sheet Highlights Canadiens Poor Draft Record

by | Sep 5, 2021 | Soapbox | 17 comments

The Carolina Hurricanes signing away Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens provided a week of welcome excitement for NHL fans bored by the off-season dog days. It’s the first successful offer-sheet signing since the Edmonton Oilers landed Dustin Penner from the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

NHL pundits and fans of both clubs will watch with interest over the next several years to determine which club made the right decision.

Former Montreal Canadiens center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (NHL Images).

This could blow up in the Hurricanes’ face or prove a shrewd move to take advantage of a cap-strapped rival. It also provides them with a measure of revenge for the Habs failed attempt to sign Sebastian Aho to an offer sheet two years ago.

The Canadiens, meanwhile, could face the humiliation of seeing a promising if inconsistent young player blossoming into a star in Carolina. Then again, they could breathe a sigh of relief if Kotkaniemi fails to develop as hoped.

L’Affaire Kotkaniemi also served as a significant reminder of what a lousy job the Canadiens have done drafting and developing talent.

I wrote about this back in January 2020, reviewing what at that point was 27 years of Canadiens fans futilely waiting for each crop of promising talent to blossom into stars that would carry their club back to Stanley Cup glory.

They came oh-so-close earlier this year. Thanks in part to homegrown stars such as Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher and youngsters such as Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov, the underdog Canadiens shook off a difficult regular season to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Nevertheless, the Canadiens have a long history of busts among their first-round picks since their last Stanley Cup championship in 1993. As I wrote in 2020:

“From Terry Ryan, Matt Higgins, Eric Chouinard and Alexander Burturlin in the 1990s, through Marcel Hossa, Alexander Perezhogin, David Fischer and Louis LeBlanc in the first decade of this century, to Jarred Tinordi, Michael McCarron and Nikita Scherbak in the last decade, all were once touted as potential foundation pieces for future championship clubs in Montreal. None made much of a mark in their short careers.”

Tinordi, McCarron and Scherbak were selected by current Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin and his scouting staff. Since becoming GM in 2012, the Habs’ first-round picks also included Alex Galchenyuk (2012), Noah Juulsen (2015), Mikhail Sergachev (2016), Ryan Poehling (2017), Kotkaniemi (2018), Caufield (2019), Kaiden Guhle (2020) and this year’s unfortunate choice of Logan Mailloux.

Galchenyuk showed promise as a scorer but eventually played his way out of Montreal and has bounced among several NHL clubs. Juulsen’s career was nearly ended by an eye injury before being claimed off waivers by the Florida Panthers earlier this year. Swapped for Jonathan Drouin in 2018, Sergachev blossomed into a star with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Poehling has yet to crack the Habs roster on a full-time basis while Kotkaniemi’s struggles were well-documented during his three years in Montreal.

Caufield made the jump from college hockey last season, becoming a key ingredient in the Canadiens run to the 2021 Cup Final. Guhle is a big, promising defenseman who appeared in three games with the Habs’ AHL affiliate in Laval last season. Mailloux, meanwhile, is suspended indefinitely from the OHL this season after being fined last year by Swedish police for sharing a photo among his teammates of an 18-year-old woman engaged in a consensual sexual act with him without her permission.

Bergevin’s predecessors didn’t have a stellar record of first-round selections but they could at times strike gold in the first round (Price, Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty) or subsequent rounds (Jose Theodore, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Gallagher). Of his selections, only Sergachev has truly panned out but that was after he was traded to the Lightning. Caufield has the makings of a star but it’s too early to determine what he’ll truly become based on his short NHL career to date. 

It’s too early to tell how things will work out for his selections over the past three years. It takes time for promising youngsters to reach their full potential, with some taking longer than others. Still, there’s no denying the Canadiens haven’t been getting much bang for their buck from their prospect pipeline.

Some of that could be down to poor scouting. Some of it could also be because the Canadiens are doing a poor job preparing those young players for NHL duty.

Bergevin’s saving grace is his ability to win more trades than he loses. Suzuki, Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault, Josh Anderson, Jake Allen, Joel Edmundson and Joel Armia were among the notable acquisitions on the roster during their deep postseason run last season.

Nevertheless, Kotkaniemi’s struggles with the Canadiens cast a harsher spotlight on how the Habs draft and develop talent. If he goes on to improve and his full potential in Carolina it will only stoke criticism of Bergevin and his staff. It could eventually lead to changes in the front office, starting with the general manager.


  1. you seldom see any mention of Trevor Timmins and his finger prints on the Habs past amateur drafts. Timmins oversees the Canadiens’ amateur scouting system, including the annual NHL Entry Draft and amateur free-agent recruitment. He also oversees the Habs amateur scouting staff, covering Canada, the United States and Europe. The poor draft history should not be all on the GM.

    • Indeed, Fergy, it should not be on MB solely. I watched a video of at least a half dozen Habs scouting staff go through player evaluations one year to establish their draft order. I’m sure most teams go through the same process with multiple personnel. Otherwise what is the point of having a scouting team?

      It is true that the Habs have had a lot of first round busts. But a team is not comprised solely of its own draft picks. Team management should be judged on the results of the season and the playoffs, irrespective of whether the players are the team’s draft picks, UFA signings, or acquired by trades.

      The Oilers have had a lot of early first round picks and everyone knows McDavid and Draisaitl, but how about Yakupov and Pulujarvi? Or their trading away Hall?

      And, Lyle, and others, you can virtue channel all you want about Mallioux, but if you do then don’t complain about the Habs’ poor drafting. He was rated highly and would not otherwise have been around at the position where the Habs drafted him.

      • There can be more than one type of ‘poor’ when it comes to a draft pick.

  2. Well written article Lyle. Can’t disagree with anything you said. Of course Timmins and the scouting staff have some responsibility but since Bergevin is the GM, he has to also evaluate the performance of his scouting team and if they are not performing, the responsibility falls on his shoulders to rectify the problem. For all we know, the scouts may be recommending someone different. What we do know for sure is that Bergevin has the final say. We can all say that Bergevin made the best out of a bad situation by getting Dvorak but this is the same as congratulating someone who played with matches, lit the house on fire but did a good job in putting out the fire before the entire house went burned down.

    • Except, habman67, Bergy didn’t start the fire. The Canes did.

      • LJ. I think we disagree on that. It was Bergy who decided to let KK play at 18 instead of letting him stay in Finland for a couple of more years. It was Bergy who sent KK down to the minors 2 seasons ago. It was Bergy who was ok with KK not starting in the playoffs against the Leafs and it was Bergy who was also ok with sitting him out in the last 2 games against Tampa (and we both understand that the interim coach wasn’t strong arming Bergy into these decisions- all Bergy had to say to Ducharme is – play KK or you’re fired). Lastly it was Bergy who decided to take his time with these negotiations and not come up with a deal for KK … hence the offer sheet from the Canes. The fire was in full force before the Canes arrived to the scene.

      • The Canes started it?

        Ahhh, no.

        Or should I say…


  3. The poor draft record of the Habs is a myth that has gained legs in the re-telling.

    Take the Canadian teams one by one and see how many they have drafted in the last ten years of:

    Top 15 picks
    Top 5 picks
    #1 picks

    What you’ll see is Montreal at the bottom of each, which seriously impact how “good” a pick they could choose.

    If we go back a few more years we have active players chosen #1, #2 in consecutive years which seriously improves their success.

    Montreal’s #3, Galchenyuk is considered a whiff but in his draft class, he’s #2 in G and #3 in points as of now.

    When the loupe is taken off Bergevin and Timmins and applied equally, you’ll see that in every first round there are players 5-10 players higher who were “misses”

    • It’s not so much the actual draft pick that concerns me but how they are able to develop the player once in their system. When you are drafting an 18 yr old it’s a given that it’s a bit of a crap shoot, but Galchenyuk was a talented player and by constantly messing with his confidence they ruined him. Just based on the law of averages they should have been able to select and develop a “star” in the 1st round in the last decade.

      • I have laughed at all the Drama over the past few weeks. In the Aho deal the Habs were hoping that Tom would not write the check. Then they messed around and did not take care of business. Wadell said they had been discussing a trade with Montreal, and. Could not come to terms. They had to know an offer sheet was coming and did nothing.

        This was not a spite deal it was someone they had been following since before the Habs drafted him.

        Bottom line is if the Habs fans want to be mad at anybody be mad at the management in Montreal. They have now botched two offer sheets with the Hurricanes in just a few years.

  4. Habman67,

    Studies have given probabilities of drafting an NHL player, not a star.

    1 to 5 is 95% chance of making it to the NHL.

    6 to 10 is 80% chance of making it to the NHL.

    11 to 20 is 65% chance of making it to the NHL.

    21 to 30 is a 50% chance of making it to the NHL.

    The first half of the second round is 30% chance of making it to the NHL.

    The second half of the second round is a 15% chance of making it to the NHL

    The probabilities fly in the face of your assertion that they should have picked and developed a “star” from the 1st round in the past decade.

    • habfan30 I’ll take your stats as the Gospel truth. So we agree then that Galchenyuk is a bust since no team has signed him to date and he is in the 95% category. As far as KK is concerned, time will tell if he will be worthy of a third overall pick but to date Dahlin, Svechnikov and Tkachuk have all had significantly better starts to their careers. Bergy loved KK so much he decided to let him walk away after sitting him out in the final 2 games of the Finals. After seeing KK for 3yrs Bergy decided that he wasn’t the player he thought he was getting. So it’s either Bergy picked the wrong guy at 3 or he picked the right guy and mismanaged him. Either way, this falls on Bergy’s lap. This team must have better success in the first round or we’ll never raise Lord Stanley again.

      • Habman67,

        “I’ll take your stats as the Gospel truth”

        Then you don’t at all.
        Those stats are for becoming an NHL player, not for becoming a star.

        Galchenyuk was a #3 pick, giving him a 95% chance of being an NHL player.
        583 gp Most gp in his draft class
        140 G 3rd most goals in his draft class
        333 Pts 2nd most points in his draft class
        NOT a bust

        They had 1 pick in the 6-10 range which gives an 80% range and that was #9 Sergachev and he has the 7th most games played in his draft class.

        They had 1 pick in the 11-20 range that has a 65% chance and hi is an NHL player, drafted at # 17 Nathan Beaulieu- 29th most games played in his draft class.

        Most picks have been between #21-#30 which ha only a 50% chance of becoming an NHL player.

        As for KK, he had a 95% chance of being an NHL player….and that he is.

        If you actually look at the Habs picks and the probability of them playing in the NHL, they have done pretty well.

        I know its tedious to look at stats specially when they contradict one’s own perceptions.

  5. habfan3o, I think we can use hockey stats the same way scientists use science to deny or affirm that climate change is happening. I mean Vasilevskiy has fewer points than Galchenyuk so I guess Galchenyuk is the better player? Suffice to say when you have the opportunity to pick in the top 5 you are hoping you draft a game changer not a fringe player who bounces from team to team. Right now, no one likes him enough to offer him more than the league minimum. At third overall and supposedly in the prime of his career, at age 27, this makes him a bust. Reilly, Dumba, Trouba, Forsberg, Wilson, Hertl, Vasilevskiy – all players that were available at #3 and all players that are much more successful than Galchenyuk. Yes Sergachev was a good pick – and what did Bergy do with him – traded him for Drouin who is looking like another bust. Good for Beaulieu but he nothing more than a 6th/7th defenceman – not something you would expect from a 1st round pick. KK could be a good player but Bergy mismanaged him and now he plays for another team. Bottom line, our drafting, developing and managing of our first round picks has been poor at best. Go back and read Lyle’s excellent column he articulates it much better than I can.

  6. Habman67,

    How are these guys doing?
    None of them drafted by Timmins and Bergevin,
    All high first round picks in the past decade.

    #10-Dylan McIlrath
    #11-Duncan Siemens
    #4-Griffin Reinhart
    #11-Samuel Morin
    #4-Sam Bennett
    #5-Michael Dal Colle
    #3-Dylan Strome
    #5-Olli Juolevi
    #2-Nolan Patrick
    #5-Barrett Hayton

    You keep repeating yourself without any facts to back your assertions other than you want it to be true.

    Your reaction to stats is:
    ” Vasilevskiy has fewer points than Galchenyuk so I guess Galchenyuk is the better player? ”

    and the beauty:

    “we can use hockey stats the same way scientists use science to deny or affirm that climate change is happening.”

    Some people insist the world is flat no matter how much evidence to the contrary.

    • habfan30, I think you are wrong here, the world is definitely round – Bergy said so himself!