The ’90s was the last time the Montreal Canadiens won a Stanley Cup (1993). It was also a poor decade of drafting for the team. Most of their first-round picks either never played for the Canadiens or were traded before they could have an impact on the franchise.
However, in that decade of shared general manager duties between Serge Savard and Réjean Houle, Montreal drafted a few gems. Here is a look at five of the best draft picks, taking into account impact on the Canadiens franchise, as well as individual and collective accomplishments.
5. Craig Rivet
Craig Rivet was drafted in the third round (68th overall) by the Canadiens in the 1992 NHL Draft, out of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The solid right-handed defenceman established himself as a force in the NHL with his physicality, reliable defensive play and protection of his teammates.
Rivet played a total of 12 years in Montreal’s organization, growing as a player and leader for the Canadiens. Accordingly, he was awarded the “A” as assistant to captain Saku Koivu.
Rivet was traded alongside a fifth-round pick at the 2007 trade deadline for quite an interesting haul — Josh Gorges and a first-round pick in 2007. That first-round pick, 22nd overall, became Max Pacioretty.
Since then, Pacioretty was traded for Tomas Tatar, Nick Suzuki and a second-round pick. In some ways, Rivet is responsible for two current, solid players on the Canadiens’ roster. As the saying goes: nothing is lost, everything is transformed.
At the culmination of his hockey career, Rivet held the Buffalo captaincy for three years (2008-11). He totaled 923 NHL games and 237 points to go along a feisty 1,171 penalty minutes.
4. Michael Ryder
Michael Ryder was picked in the eighth-round (216th) by the Montreal Canadiens, out of the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Ryder played four seasons with the Canadiens before signing with the Boston Bruins as a free agent in the summer of 2008. In three of his four seasons with the Canadiens, Ryder reached the 55-point plateau, potting 30 goals twice in that span.
Ryder went on to win the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, contributing 17 points in the team’s 25-game run to the great honours. Oh, and also he dropped and dented the cup upon visiting his home province of Newfoundland. Good thing the NHL has a backup cup!
His 237 goals and 484 NHL games are records among players born in Newfoundland and Labrador. As an eighth-round pick in the NHL draft, it is safe to say Ryder was an excellent pick by the Canadiens and that he had a career above expectations in the NHL.
3. Jose Theodore
Jose Theodore was drafted 44th overall in the 1994 draft from the St-Jean Lynx of the QMJHL. Like most goalies, he had a slower development towards becoming an NHL regular. He took the reins of the Canadiens in the 2000-01 season when he played 59 games, after splitting duties with Jeff Hacket and Jocelyn Thibault for a few seasons beforehand.
Theodore led the Canadiens to the playoffs in 2002 with amazing performances, beating the Boston Bruins in the first round before losing in six to the Carolina Hurricanes.
In Game 6 of the first round that season, Theodore made a legendary save with his blocker in a desperate move. The image is still sacred among fans, and used today to highlight the Boston-Montreal rivalry and in top-10 edits from sports outlet.
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Theodore won the Hart and the Vezina in 2002, the last Montreal goalie to do so until Carey Price stole the awards show in 2015. Theodore’s star dwindled quickly after 2002, except for a 33-win season in 2003-04. With subsequent stints with the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers, he racked up a total of 648 NHL games and a highly respectable 286 wins in a career that ended in 2013.
2. Andrei Markov
Andrei Markov was drafted with the 162nd pick at the 1998 NHL Draft from Khimik Voskressensk in the Superliiga (the former KHL). The 1998 Draft proved one of the deepest of the decade for the Canadiens, with picks such as Mike Ribeiro, François Beauchemin, Markov and Ryder.
Markov had a tremendous career with the Canadiens, spanning two decades, nine playoff runs and 990 regular season games. Markov sits second in franchise history for points by a defenceman (572) and sixth total in assists (453).
Along with Tomas Plekanec, Markov became a cornerstone of the Montreal club, surviving rebuilds and personnel movement in the 2000s and helping groom the next stars of the team in P.K. Subban, Pacioretty and Price.
In his career, Markov represented Russia multiple times, including three times at the Olympic Games, a feat that points to his durability, leadership, character and pride as an athlete.
Although his departure from Montreal left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans and media alike, Markov’s legacy as one of the best defencemen to play for the Canadiens will remain for decades to come.
1. Saku Koivu
Koivu was drafted in the first round, 21st overall in the 1993 draft from TPS Turku in the SM-liiga (Finnish Elite League). Along with Turner Stevenson (1990), Koivu is the only Montreal first-round pick of the Canadiens in the ’90s to continue his career with the team.
Upon his arrival in the NHL, Koivu made an instant impact, scoring 45 points in his first season as a rookie and following with two seasons of over 50 points. In his career with Montreal and the Anaheim Ducks, Koivu recorded 832 points in 1,124 regular season games and a solid 59 points in 80 NHL playoff games.
Koivu was named the 27th captain of the Canadiens franchise, succeeding Vincent Damphousse in that role in 1999. His biggest victory came only a few years later, when he battled cancer during the 2001-02 season. Expected to miss the entire season, he made a speedy recovery and was welcomed with a now mythical eight-minute standing ovation at the Molson Centre. He won the Bill Masterton Trophy that season for his perseverance and team spirit.
On the international level, Koivu represented Finland an astounding four times at the Olympics, winning four medals: silver in 2006 and bronze three times — in 1994, 1998 and the Vancouver Games in 2010.
The Montreal Canadiens drafted some gems in the 1990s, but in retrospect their success rate for drafting and developing key players was below average. Players such as Darcy Tucker, Craig Conroy and François Beauchemin were drafted by Montreal and had long careers in the NHL. The issue is that they were traded away before having any impact with the Canadiens, sometimes before even playing a single game with Montreal.
With Marc Bergevin’s stated objective of developing more players from the farm system and building from the draft, it can be fathomed that the Canadiens will send more players to the Laval Rocket in the coming years.
As the incentive to create a perennial winning mentality in Montreal is becoming urgent, scouting and drafting must improve dramatically with a constant flow of solid prospects knocking at the doors of the Canadiens. (from ”It’s always been about winning to me,’ Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher says,’ Montreal Gazette, 04/24/2020) If the 2018 and 2019 drafts are any indication of the future strategy of the Canadiens, the future looks brighter than the past.