History Says Canadiens Can Still Get Lucky with Panthers Pick

If the Florida Panthers are this postseason’s Cinderella story, the Montreal Canadiens are hoping the clock strikes midnight… about two rounds ago. Unfortunately, the best Habs fans can hope for is for the Panthers to lose to the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 3. Up 2-0 though, the Panthers are doing everything they can to defy the odds as eighth seeds, who just snuck into the playoffs.

Canadiens fans are no stranger to similar success, with the 2021 edition reaching the Stanley Cup Final as the playoff team with the fewest points. So, under normal circumstances, they might even be rooting for them to pull off what they couldn’t, as the Habs lost 4-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the championship round. However circumstances are far from normal, with the Habs owning the Panthers’ first-round pick.

Sign up for our regular 'Habs Newsletter' for all the latest.

The pick came the other way in the Ben Chiarot trade. At the 2022 trade deadline, general manager Kent Hughes dealt the defenseman to the Panthers for two picks, including their first in 2023, and prospect Ty Smilanic. There had been a time earlier this season when the Panthers struggled to the point it could have theoretically (but unrealistically) turned into top-prospect Connor Bedard. However, the 2022 Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers turned it all around to their credit. Framed that way, maybe no one should be completely surprised.

Ben Chiarot Florida Panthers
Ex-Florida Panthers defenseman Ben Chiarot – (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Had the Panthers lost in Round 1 to the Boston Bruins, the current Presidents’ Trophy winners who set multiple records during the regular season, the pick would have been at No. 17. Ditto for in Round 2, against the similarly favorite Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, the best Habs fans can hope for is No. 29, if the Panthers lose to the Hurricanes, as the final-four team with the fewest points in the standings. If they beat the Hurricanes though, the pick turns into No. 31 or No. 32 with a Stanley Cup victory.

Related: THW’s 2023 Draft Guide

Considering how close it came to a lottery pick instead, circumstances are obviously less than ideal, but there is at least some hope for Canadiens fans. At each possible outcome for the pick, there have been great players selected in the past. Here are the best of the best:

No. 29: Stephane Richer (1984; Montreal Canadiens)

Canadiens fans don’t have to look very far for proof of how well Pick 29 can pan out. Winger Stephane Richer, the team’s last (two-time) 50-goal scorer got taken by the Habs there in 1984.

Richer had two stints with the Canadiens, first getting traded away in 1991 to the New Jersey Devils when the Habs got eventual-captain Kirk Muller back. Five years later, the Canadiens reacquired him for defenseman Lyle Odelein. After parts of two relatively uneventful seasons, the Canadiens traded him to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a six-player deal, made up mostly of role players, with the Bolts getting Darcy Tucker as the best player in the exchange.

Stephane Richer
Ex-Montreal Canadiens forward Stephane Richer – (Robert Laberge /Allsport)

That’s not a knock on Tucker, who found some top-six success, but rather a sign of how Richer had a hard time staying relevant in the back nine of his career. He nevertheless produced to a degree, but had little staying power, with short appearances with the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Devils again before he left the NHL in 2002. Even so, there’s no disputing the goal-scoring prowess he showed early on, especially with the Habs.

Honorable mention: A trio of defensemen taken at No. 29 in the past should give further hope to Canadiens fans that not all is lost. Cases can be made for both Mike Green (2004; Washington Capitals) and Detroit Red Wings blue-liner Niklas Kronwall (2000), but arguably the best of the bunch was Teppo Numminen (1986; Winnipeg Jets). While he is the highest-scoring Finnish defenseman in history (637 points), it’s the 1,372 games he played to place him second behind Teemu Selanne among Finns that are truly a testament to his effectiveness.

No. 31: Felix Potvin (1990; Toronto Maple Leafs)

It’s no secret the Canadiens are in need of a quality starting goalie. If they’re not sold on the progress Samuel Montembeault showed this past season, Cayden Primeau’s development so far or the potential of someone else in the system like Jakub Dobes, there are several high-profile names projected to be available in the range of the Panthers’ pick. Ex-Maple Leafs goalie Felix Potvin serves as proof the Habs can get someone reliable around there, too.

Related: 2023 NHL Draft: Baracchini’s Top 96 April Rankings

True, Potvin never truly stood out among his peers, but, when Martin Brodeur and Dominik Hasek are among them, no one’s going to have a shot. However, Potvin’s career .905 save percentage was pretty good for the era and even rivaled the .906 earned by Ed Belfour, another arguably top goalie of the time. Granted, Belfour found significantly more success (winning two Vezina trophies), but Potvin’s 266-260-85 record, playing for some bad Leafs, New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks teams? Not that bad, all things considered.

Felix Potvin Toronto Maple Leafs
Ex-Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Felix Potvin – (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Honorable mention: The Canadiens can even look to the Panthers themselves for inspiration, as they took goalie Jacob Markstrom in this spot back in 2008. It did admittedly take Markstrom some time to find his legs in his career, first achieving success with the Vancouver Canucks after a 2014 trade there that saw Roberto Luongo go back the other way. However, even if Markstrom struggled in 2022-23, now with the Calgary Flames, he’s undeniably been a solid starter in the NHL for the past half-decade-plus. If the Canadiens can get something similar out of a future starter (and not just one taken late in the first round), they can probably consider themselves lucky.

No. 32: Ron Greschner (1974; New York Rangers)

In the interest of full disclosure, the New York Rangers took defenseman Ron Greschner at No. 32 in what was then the NHL Amateur Draft (which became the NHL Entry Draft in 1979). The 1974 edition was especially significant for this piece’s purposes in that all three pick numbers produced quality NHLers. The Buffalo Sabres took Danny Gare (685 points in 827 games) at No. 29. The Leafs took Tiger Williams (513 points in 962 games) at No. 31.

Latest News & Highlights

Obviously, neither one made the cut, but it’s hard not to list Greschner as the stand-out No. 32 selection. Sometimes deployed up front, Greschner regularly scored over 40 points officially as a defenseman, most notably hitting a career-high 72 points in 78 games in 1977-78. Spending his entire career with the Rangers, he served as team captain in 1986-87 and is considered one of the team’s all-time greats.

Honorable mention: Taken by the Sabres in 1978, Tony McKegney became first Black player to score 40 goals (1987-88 with the St. Louis Blues). Of course, simply being a 40-goal scorer is impressive, let alone as someone who scored over 30 goals on three other occasions. Overall, McKegney scored 320 goals (and 319 assists) in 912 games, edging out fellow-Sabres pick Derek Roy (2001; 524 points in 738 games) here due to his longevity.