5 Recent Canadiens Late-Round Draft Steals

Despite their relative lack of success with first-round picks over the past decade-plus, the Montreal Canadiens have been fortunate enough to see numerous later-round draft selections develop and blossom into quality players at the NHL level, with several more following an encouraging trajectory. With the bulk of draft picks beyond the first few rounds rarely seeing any NHL action, carving out a full-time role on a big-league squad as a productive and beneficial piece is no small feat.

Related: Canadiens’ Draft Busts Having Success With Other Teams

The dynamic front office duo of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton have seemingly won the trust of the Canadiens’ fanbase, led by several well-received trades (such as Sean Monahan or Jake Allen), and draft choices such as Lane Hutson, Owen Beck, and 2022 first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. While most of their selections are still developing and working their way to the NHL level, their predecessor and ex-Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin and company sought out a few diamonds in the rough who have gone on to have successful seasons in a Habs uniform.

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An honourable mention goes out to Brendan Gallagher, who was a fifth-round selection (147th overall) in 2010 — not quite recent enough for this list. His 213 career goals rank eighth out of the entire draft class, ahead of players such as Mark Stone, Zach Hyman, and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard (Seventh Round, 201st Overall in 2019)

Drafted as a 20-year-old fresh off of a 40-goal, 85-point season and Memorial Cup victory with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, Rafael Harvey-Pinard earned himself a role with the Canadiens following several impressive seasons with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Laval Rocket. Having played in his home province of Quebec since his debut with the Huskies in 2015-16, Harvey-Pinard cemented his role as an NHL regular by scoring 14 goals in just 34 games in 2022-23 as a rookie. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency have led to a major sophomore slump, with a lone goal and eight points in 36 games this season.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard Montreal Canadiens
Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Montreal Canadiens (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The odds of a seventh-round draft choice suiting up for an NHL game are incredibly low regardless, but the Saguenay, Quebec native becoming an incredible story of hard work and perseverance leading to success is all the more unlikely considering he was passed on for two entire drafts after becoming eligible in 2017.

Cayden Primeau (Seventh Round, 199th Overall in 2017)

Cayden Primeau, son of former NHLer Keith Primeau, was drafted extremely late in 2017 after a modest season with the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Lincoln Stars. His 3.16 goals-against-average (GAA) and .895 save percentage (SV%) were nothing impressive. However, his progression skyrocketed after being drafted, as he went on to post a 44-18-6 record across two seasons with Northeastern University of the NCAA, along with a sparkling 2.00 GAA and .932 SV%.

After bouncing between the NHL and AHL regularly since 2019-20, Primeau has cemented himself as a quality option behind Samuel Montembeault and has not seen any AHL action this season. His 2.75 GAA and .913 SV% are both the best marks for a Canadiens goaltender this season (including the now-traded Jake Allen). He is one of only three Canadiens players from his draft class to skate in a game with the team, along with Philadelphia Flyers center Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury of the Seattle Kraken.

Jake Evans (Seventh Round, 207th Overall in 2014)

A native of Toronto, Ontario, Jake Evans did not make his NHL debut until 2019-20 — five seasons after he was drafted. He played a full four seasons with Notre Dame of the NCAA, where he captained as a senior and became the school’s third-leading scorer since 1996. Following two productive seasons with the Laval Rocket, Evans was called up for 13 games in his debut season and has been a fixture in the Canadiens’ bottom six since. He has posted a respectable 88 points in 259 career games, along with an impressive 51.2 faceoff percentage — his only season with a mark below 50 percent being a 49.8 percent in 2021-22. In addition to being a regular penalty killer, he has carved out a balanced and trusted role for Martin St. Louis and company.

Jake Evans Montreal Canadiens
Jake Evans, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 27-year-old center currently sports a career-high 18 assists in 2023-24 and ranks sixth in team scoring. Ranking fourth in both team scoring and games played since 2020-21 (ahead of notable players such as Brendan Gallagher and Joel Armia), Evans has been a staple and prime example of reliability, poise and leadership.

Michael Pezzetta (Sixth Round, 160th Overall in 2016)

It’s not often a forward gets drafted to the NHL following a 28-point season in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) while boasting a minus-44 plus/minus rating. Evidently, Michael Pezzetta was never drafted for his offensive ability. After graduating from the OHL, recording 295 penalty minutes (PIMS) with the Sudbury Wolves and a brief stint with the Sarnia Sting, Pezzetta became a mainstay for the Laval Rocket until being called up to the big club in 2021-22. His energy and physicality earned him a full-time role on the team’s fourth line, where he has recorded 37 points in 166 NHL games since, in addition to 202 PIMS.

The Ontario native’s 216 hits this season rank 10th in the NHL, despite missing 21 games and averaging just 7:48 of ice time per game. His career-high of 239 hits in 2022-23 were 12th in the NHL and just three behind Brady Tkachuk. Though he finds himself serving as a healthy scratch occasionally, Pezzetta has become a fan favourite in Montreal and has earned himself a niche role with the club despite the sixth-rounder lacking serious offensive capabilities.

Joshua Roy (Fifth Round, 150th Overall in 2021)

From 2021 to 2023, Joshua Roy was one of the best players in all of junior hockey. He was selected late in the 2021 NHL Draft, then-GM Marc Bergevin’s last with the Canadiens, after posting 35 points in 35 QMJHL games. He exploded for 119 points in just 66 games in 2021-22, and posted 99 points in 55 games the following season. He memorably set up the gold medal-capturing goal for Team Canada at the 2023 World Junior Championships in Halifax, where he scored 11 points in seven games and was named one of Canada’s top three players.

Related: Canadiens’ Prospect Joshua Roy Trending Toward Top-Line Spot

He started 2023-24 off incredibly strong with 32 points in 40 games for the Laval Rocket, where he was promptly called up by the Canadiens. Until suffering a hand injury in March that would ultimately sideline him for 4-6 weeks, he recorded a respectable nine points in 23 games. He had been receiving consistent playing time in the team’s top six with the likes of Alex Newhook and Joel Armia, and will look to continue to build off of a strong debut season in professional hockey.

Despite the team’s lack of first-round draft success occupying a great deal of the chatter amongst the fanbase, the Canadiens were able to produce several gems hidden within the late rounds of multiple NHL drafts. Other notable recent picks coming from outside of the first round include Lane Hutson, Jacob Fowler, Jordan Harris, and Sean Farrell. The team evidently has a knack for discovering hidden talent as the draft progresses, and time will tell if any other recent Habs selections will follow a similar trajectory to these success stories.