PHILADELPHIA – The Montreal Canadiens got bigger in Saturday’s NHL draft but couldn’t resist the allure of five-foot-eight Sherbrooke centre Daniel Audette.
Its other five picks were all six foot or better, with three at 6-1 or above. Third-round pick Brett Lernout stands six foot four and weighs 206 pounds.
“He’s a big strong strapping defenceman,” Trevor Timmins, Montreal’s director of amateur scouting, said of Lernout. “He’s tough as nails and has a heavy shot.”
Timmins had talked prior to the draft about the Habs wanting to “get bigger, stronger, faster.”
“But at the same time if there’s a player that’s undersized there and he’s a good hockey player, then he’s hard to pass. That’s the situation here with Daniel — similar to a Brendan Gallagher in his draft year. You simply can’t go by a player with that much ability.”
Gallagher is five foot nine and 180 pounds but plays much larger.
The 175-pound Audette had 21 goals and 55 assists in 68 games last season.
Audette, the son of Habs amateur scout and former NHLer Donald Audette, went in the fifth round. Timmins said Audette Sr. had not been involved in any of the pre-draft discussion on his son.
In fact, Donald was told to spend the afternoon in the stands with his wife and son until Daniel got drafted.
Donald collected 260 goals and 249 assists 735 career NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, Atlanta Thrashers, Dallas Stars, Montreal and Florida Panthers.
The Canadiens traded up to get Lernout, a Swift Current defenceman.
They gave up their third-round pick (87th overall) and fourth-round pick (117th overall) to get Arizona’s third-rounder (73rd overall).
“I looked at the team picking in front of us and I thought there was a good chance that he wouldn’t be there (by Montreal’s pick) … We wanted to add some size on defence and he was a good fit for us there,” said Timmins.
Montreal took AJHL defenceman Nikolas Koberstein (125th overall) and Audette (147th overall) in the fifth round, USHL goalie Hayden Hawkey (177th overall) in the sixth round and Ontario Junior Hockey League forward Jake Evans (207th overall) in the seventh round.
Montreal used its first-round pick Friday to take Russian forward Nikita Scherbak of the Saskatoon Blades 26th overall.
Thanks to reaching the Eastern Conference final, the Canadiens’ draft position was well down this year.
“If you take a look at our picks in every round, they’re pretty late. So the asset value of the picks we had wasn’t near as high as last year or the year before,” Timmins said. “That’s why we had to make that trade in the third (round) to move up.
“We had to wait out turn pretty long in each round. I’ll tell you (how we did) a few years down the road. But we’re happy with the guys we got. They’re the guys we targeted and we still had guys left on the list that we wanted to draft.”
The Habs went “under the radar” on Koberstein, according to their scouting director.
“I think this guy has good upside and long-range projection,” he said. “He’s a great kid and has tons of character but he’s a good hockey player too.”
Koberstein is committed to play at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks after one more year with the Olds Grizzlys of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Timmins sees him as a five-year player, meaning he has one year at Junior A and four at college.
Hawkey, USHL goalie of the year, is committed to play collegiate hockey at Providence. “He’s like money in the bank,” said Timmins.
Evans is headed to Notre Dame. “He’s a skilled centre with great playmaking ability,” said Timmins.