Canadiens’ Loss of Fleury Continues Streak of Losing Young Defensive Talent

Montreal Canadiens fans can rest easy now that Carey Price—the face of the franchise—was passed over by the Seattle Kraken in Wednesday’s expansion draft. This is not wholly a good thing. The Kraken plucking Cale Fleury finds the Canadiens, yet again, without a defensive prospect who was on the cusp of breaking into the NHL.

Losing Fleury is not the end of the world, but it’s going to be important for general manager Marc Bergevin to fill the lingering hole, as he so often has to do. It’s great that Price is staying with the club, but there are long-term effects to a thin defensive pool. A couple of the defensemen mentioned below were shipped in big trades, which burned Montreal in the end, and then there are a couple that the organization seemed to give up on, maybe too soon.

Here’s a look.

Ryan McDonagh

Picked 12th overall by the Canadiens in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Ryan McDonagh was a promising talent. However, he didn’t play a single game for the club, and, to be completely honest, he didn’t put up huge numbers at the University of Wisconsin, registering 46 points over three seasons (119 games).

Lightning defender Ryan McDonagh
Tampa Bay Lightning defender Ryan McDonagh (27) (Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yet, McDonagh had to be doing something right to be drafted so high. He was ultimately traded in 2009 to the New York Rangers, where he played six seasons before he was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2017-2018 season. McDonagh was just one dimension of the trade. The Rangers received McDonagh, Chris Higgins, Doug Janik, and Pavel Valentenko in exchange for Scott Gomez, Tom Pyatt, and Mike Busto. There were a lot of moving parts, but the primary trade targets were McDonagh and Gomez.

New York came out on top of this trade.

McDonagh is now one of the most well-known names in the NHL, while Gomez—a two-time Stanley Cup champion—brought virtually none of his elite talent to Montreal, playing just two seasons before leaving to play with the San Jose Sharks.

In this case, the Canadiens gave up McDonagh way too easily. The return for him was subpar, at best, and it’s hard not to imagine how much better the Canadiens might have been with McDonagh in their lineup after he developed into the player he is now.

Hindsight is 20/20.

Mikhail Sergachev

Mikhail Sergachev was drafted ninth overall by the Canadiens in 2016, but he only played four games for the club before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Jonathan Drouin during the 2017-18 season. Though Drouin was a third-overall pick and the trade was reasonable from the Canadiens’ perspective, the Lightning came out on top again, and it came at the expense of a quality defenseman.

Mikhail Sergachev Tampa Bay Lightning
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In Sergachev’s first season with the Lightning, he potted nine goals and 31 assists in 79 games. Drouin performed slightly better with the Canadiens, scoring 13 goals and 33 assists in 77 games.

However, since the 2017-2018 season, Sergachev hasn’t dipped below the 30-point mark. On the other hand, Drouin has only cracked the 30-point mark twice. Sergachev is also a defenseman who can effectively move the puck up ice. It’s incomprehensible that the Canadiens’ upper brass could have traded Sergachev after just four games and without fully grasping his abilities. That’s not to say Drouin is a dud—he isn’t—but it’s frustrating that the Canadiens made another trade at the expense of their blue line.

Just to drive the point home: Sergachev and McDonagh have both won the Stanley Cup…twice…with the Lightning.

Noah Juulsen

Noah Juulsen hasn’t made a big impact in the NHL, but he was, nevertheless, a first-round pick by the Canadiens in 2015. Sadly, he was claimed off waivers by the Florida Panthers on Jan. 11 of this year.

At 24 years old, it’s uncertain what Juulsen’s ceiling might be. The Panthers used him in all of four games last season, where he put up zero points and was a minus-3.

Juulsen—who doesn’t have a lot of NHL experience—will likely develop into a decent defenseman, and losing him on waivers reinforces the point that first-round defenders drafted by the Canadiens do not seem to pan out.

Victor Mete

Victor Mete was the latest casualty (before Fleury), and many disagree on why Bergevin let the young defenseman go. He is a quick skater with good puckhandling skills, but he isn’t a physical player. He’s small, at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, and doesn’t have a lot of offensive upside.

Victor Mete Montreal Canadiens
Victor Mete, former Montreal Canadien (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He was claimed off waivers in April by the Ottawa Senators, where he has struggled to find his offensive game. In 14 games with the Sens, he scored one goal and one assist. He also gave up the puck five times and registered three takeaways.

Given Mete’s solid play in Ottawa, he became another defensive prospect the Canadiens have failed to keep and effectively develop. Some believe his development was ruined by the organization, and I can see their point. His role was never made clear in Montreal; sometimes he was on the top pairing with captain Shea Weber and other times he was on the bottom pairing. He was demoted to the AHL before the Senators claimed him off waivers.

Another Gap to Fill

Though it’s not Bergevin’s fault, losing Fleury is a blow to the Canadiens’ defensive development pool. He has a lot of big decisions to make this offseason, especially regarding his defense. With Shea Weber likely out of the lineup long-term, it will be that much more important to snag an established talent to seal up the hole through free agency, since drafting doesn’t seem to be their forte.

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