There must’ve been something in the air when the Montreal Canadiens selected defenseman Andrei Markov 162nd overall in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Having announced his retirement on Thursday, he finished his illustrious NHL career with 572 points in 990 games, all with the Habs. He’s the top-scoring defenseman in that draft class, ahead of players like Jaroslav Spacek and Brad Stuart, and will go down as one of the greatest late-round picks in NHL history.
Despite their lack of success with recent earlier picks, the Canadiens have been no stranger to late-round gems, and I’ll be going over four of the more productive ones in this post.
Honing his game as a talented offensive defenseman with Zurich SC of the Swiss A League, Streit was taken by Montreal with the 262nd overall pick in 2004. Being 26 years old at the time of his selection, whereas most players drafted are between the ages of 18 and 20, he joined the Canadiens full time after the 2004-05 lockout year and developed quickly.
After producing 36 points in 76 games in his second season, Streit established himself as one of the NHL’s elite offensive defenseman in 2007-08. Recording 62 points over 81 games, he was the Canadiens nominee for the Bill Masterton Trophy and formed a key partnership with Markov on the Canadiens power play.
Despite this, he left as a free agent that summer, signing a five-year, $20.5-million contract with the New York Islanders, where he continued his offensive production, producing 56 points in 2008-09. He would go on to record four more years with at least 40 points, winning a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016-17, before retiring after two games with the Canadiens the next season.
Playing for an offensively-gifted Hull Olympiques team alongside future AHL 60-goal scorer Alexandre Giroux, Michael Ryder had to wait until the eighth round of the 1998 Entry Draft before the Canadiens took him with the 216th overall pick. After spending three years split between the AHL and ECHL, he made the Canadiens full time in 2003-04.
Playing alongside playmaking whiz Mike Ribeiro, Ryder recorded 63 points in 81 games, establishing himself as one of the Canadiens key producers. Recording two more seasons with at least 50 points, he was let go after a disappointing 2007-08 season, signing with the Boston Bruins as a free agent. He would continue to be counted on as a reliable second-line scorer, even rejoining the Canadiens briefly during the 2012-13 shortened season, and retired after the 2014-15 season.
In a 2010 draft class where the Canadiens only had five picks and wasted their first-round selection on Jarred Tinordi, Brendan Gallagher turned from pleasant surprise to heart and soul of the franchise after being taken 147th overall. After finishing his junior career as the all-time leading scorer for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, he joined the Canadiens at the beginning of the shortened 2012-13 season, playing a key depth role with 28 points in 44 games.
His career since then needs no introduction, with Gallagher recording at least 40 points in six out of his last seven seasons, being named an alternate captain and developing a penchant for never giving up despite his small stature. At 27 years old he’s still got his best years ahead of him, and barring two serious hand injuries that have limited his production at times, he has been of the most consistent weapons the Canadiens have.
Where would the Canadiens have been in 2009 had they not had Jaroslav Halak? The Slovakian native was seen as nothing more than an afterthought when the team selected him with the 271st overall pick in the 2003 draft, having been small at 5-foot-11 and without a large body of work. After spending three years with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs splitting duties with Yann Danis, Halak slowly eased his way into the Canadiens crease, splitting duties with Carey Price before taking most of the starts in 2009-10.
In that season’s playoffs, Halak almost single-handedly led the Canadiens to the Conference Final, brushing aside the first-place Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the process, before falling to the Philadelphia Flyers in four straight. After that season though, the Canadiens traded him to the St. Louis Blues for Lars Eller, where he established a dominant tandem with Brian Elliot. Since then, he has played for three more NHL teams, currently serving as one of the NHL’s best backups to Tuuka Rask in Boston.