The countdown begins.
A week from this evening in Ottawa, your Montreal Canadiens will add another building block – or two or, inshallah, three – when the National Hockey League conducts its annual entry draft.
In a salary cap league where players can become unrestricted free agents when they’re as young as 26, drafting wisely and developing young talent are the cornerstones of successful franchises.
Examples – good and bad – abound, but the most obvious is the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit hasn’t drafted higher than 19th overall in the last 16 drafts. But they scout well and pick judiciously.
Tomas Holmstrom was the 257th pick of the 1994 draft, Pavel Datsyuk was chosen 171st in 1998. The following year, Henrik Zetterberg was the 210th pick.
And on down the list: Valterri Filpula, 95th in 2002, Johan Franzen, 97th in 2004, Darren Helm, 132nd in 2005.
In the Detroit pipeline: Jonathan Ericsson, a 6-5 behemoth the Wings selected 291st overall in 2002.
The other Stanley Cup finalist also built through the draft. But Pittsburgh was so lousy for so long that the Penguins were able to pluck high first-rounders: Marc-André Fleury and Sidney Crosby, each a first overall; Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, who went second in their draft classes.
By virtue of their success this season, the Canadiens will pick 25th next week.
Odds are they won’t pluck a superstar, but you never know.
It’s possible to strike gold at 25. Dallas did it in 1997 with a rugged forward from the Portland Winter Hawks of the WHL.
But Brenden Morrow is not a typical 25th overall – and neither is Cam Ward, whom Carolina took with their late-in-the-first-round pick in 2002.
The Canadiens have picked 25th twice before. They took Alexander Perezhogin in 2001 and Terry French in 1971.
Terry Who? French never played a game in the NHL, but the ’71 draft wasn’t a bust for the Canadiens. Prior to picking French, the Canadiens drafted Guy Lafleur, Chuck Arnason, Murray Wilson and Larry Robinson.
Interesting note: A 25th overall pick has never made an immediate jump to the NHL.
Here’s the history of 25th picks. Note that until 1993, the 25th selection fell in the second round. And 1969 was the first year when more than 24 players were drafted.
2007: Vancouver took Patrick White, a high-school centre from Minnesota who scored six goals and added four assists in his freshman season at the University of Minnesota.
2006: St. Louis took centre Patrik Berglund, who’s had consecutive 21-goal seasons with Vasteras in the Swedish league.
2005: Edmonton took centre Andrew Cogliano, who scored 18 goals and added 27 assists this season as a rookie Oiler.
2004: Edmonton took Rob Schremp, who had 23 goals and 53 assists with Springfield in the AHL this season.
2003: Florida took RW Anthony Stewart (who was born in LaSalle). He had an assist in 26 games with the Panthers and spent most of this season in the AHL.
2002: Carolina scores! Cam Ward, second goaltender picked in the first round after Atlanta used the second pick overall to take Kari Lehtonen.
2001: With their second pick of the first round (the first choice, seventh overall, was Mike Komisarek), Canadiens take Perezhogin, who played 15 NHL games over two seasons and scored 21 goals for Afa Salavat Yulayev in the Russian league this season.
2000: Dallas takes centre Steve Ott, who has become an effective energy player and agitator for the Stars.
1999: Colorado takes LW Mikhail Kuleshov. He played fewer than 20 games in the AHL, three with the Avalanch and is back in Russia.
1998: Detroit takes Jiri Fischer, a Czech defenceman whose promising career was cut short by illness.
1997: Brenden Morrow, come on down! How did a great player last 25 picks? Morrow scored 39 goals, added 49 assists and had 178 minutes of penalties in his draft year with Portland. The Canadiens, picking 11th that year, took Jason Ward.
1996: Colorado takes American prep school defenceman Peter Ratchuk. He was traded to Florida, played 32 games in the NHL and is now with his third team in the German league.
1995: Colorado takes goaltender Marc Denis, who’s been up and, mostly, down with the Avalanch, Columbus and Tampa Bay.
1994: New Jersey takes LW Vadim Sharifijanov who played 75 games over three seasons with the Devils, had a cup of coffee in Vancouver and is now in France.
1993: Boston takes Kevyn Adams from Miami of Ohio University and trades him to Toronto. Adams then plays for Columbus and Florida before putting in a few decent seasons in Carolina. He’s since played for Phoenix and, this season, Chicago.
1992: Ottawa opens the second round by taking LW Chad Penney. He played three games for the Senators and a season with Manchester in the English league. By 200, Penney was out of hockey.
1991: With the third pick of the second round, Washington takes defenceman Eric Lavigne. A 6-3, 225 bruiser, he played one game with L.A. three years later and has since knocked around the minors accumulating bus miles and penalty minutes.
1990: With the fourth pick of the second round, Philadelphia takes LW Chris Simon, who’s had a decent – if troubled – NHL career (29 goals for Washington in 1999-’00) and has gone off to crack heads in Russia.
1989: Winnipeg takes defenceman Dan Ratushny from Cornell. After one game in the NHL, he plays for several AHL and IHL teams and ends his career with the Ayr Scottish Eagles.
1988: Pittsburgh takes LW Mark Major. Great name, not-so-great career in the NHL (two games), AHL, IHL, ECHL, UHL and QSMHL.
1987: Calgary takes LW Stéphane Matteau, who plays 848 NHL games with the Flames, ‘Hawks, Rangers, Blues, Sharks and Panthers.
1986: Pittsburgh takes defenceman Dave Capuano. The U.S. collegian plays 104 NHL games with four teams in a five-year career.
1985: Vancouver takes goaltender Troy Gamble who plays parts of three seasons with the Canucks and finishes his career in the IHL. Two picks later, Calgary takes Joe Nieuwendyk and then the Rangers draft Mike Richter.
1984: Toronto takes defenceman Todd Gill, who played more than 1,000 NHL games with seven teams.
1983: Detroit takes centre Lane Lambert, who gets 20 goals for the Wings in his rookie season, sinks to 14 as a sophomore and then knocks around with the Rangers and Nordiques and ends his career in the minors. With the 26th and 27th picks, the Canadiens take Claude Lemieux and Sergio Momesso.
1982: Toronto takes Czech Peter Ihnacak, who promptly sets hearts aflutter by scoring 28 goals for the Leafs in his rookie season. Ihnacak ends up with 102 goals in 417 games. That’s 102 more NHL goals and 417 more games than Alain Héroux, whom the Canadiens took with the 19th pick. Ihnacak returned to Europe in 1990 and ended his career with the Krefeld Penguins of the German league.
1981: Chicago takes LW Kevin Griffin who never plays a professional game in North America.
1980: The Doug Wickenheiser draft. With the 25th pick, Toronto takes defenceman Craig Muni, who plays 819 NHL games with seven teams and gets his name on the Cup as an Edmonton Oiler.
1979: Islanders take defenceman Tomas Jonsson, who plays eight solid seasons on the Island before finishing his career in Sweden.
1978: Pittsburgh takes Mike Meeker, a U.S. collegian who plays four games for the Penguins in 1978-’79 and then disappears.
1977: After he racks up 265 PiM for the Brandon Wheat Kings, Minnesota takes LW Dave Semenko. In the NHL, Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard had 1,175 PiM in 575 games.
1976: St. Louis drafts John Smrke, who plays 103 games with the Blues and Nordiques.
1975: Chicago drafts LW Danny Arndt, who scores 16 goals in 120 WHA games.
1974: Boston takes defenceman Mark Howe, who had led the Toronto Marlboros to the Memorial Cup but had signed to play with his father in Houston of the WHA. Howe played 929 NHL games with Hartford, Philadelphia and Detroit.
1973: Minnesota drafts John Rogers, who plays 58 games in the NHL and WHA.
1972: Buffalo takes Larry Carrière from Loyola College in Montreal. The highlight of his NHL career – seven seasons, 367 games with five teams – was Carrière’s one-punch KO of Yvon Lambert.
1971: Canadiens take Terry French. He never plays a game in the NHL, but Canadiens fared better with their 1971 first-round pick, Guy Lafleur.
1970: The Rangers take RW Mike Murphy, who ends up scoring most of his 238 NHL goals with the L.A. Kings.
1969: The first year when more than 24 players were picked. Canadiens opened the draft with their last two territorial Quebec picks: Réjean Houle and Marc Tardif. With the 25th pick that opened Round 3, the Minnesota North Stars took goaltender Gilles Gilbert.