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Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers backs up as Montreal Canadiens left winger Andrei Kostitsyn moves the puck in Buffalo, Feb. 17, 2012. (Doug Benz/Reuters/Doug Benz/Reuters)
Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers backs up as Montreal Canadiens left winger Andrei Kostitsyn moves the puck in Buffalo, Feb. 17, 2012. (Doug Benz/Reuters/Doug Benz/Reuters)

Canadiens

Montreal collecting draft picks for a better tomorrow Add to ...

If you look at it from an appropriate angle – and squint a little – there’s a natural symmetry to the deal that netted a 2013 second-rounder for erstwhile Montreal Canadiens winger Andrei Kostitsyn.

Next year’s draft is viewed by many talent scouts as the finest since the vaunted 2003 crop – of which Kostitsyn, the 10th choice that year, is a rare underachiever.

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Only a couple of first-round picks from 2003 can justifiably be called busts – anyone remember Hugh Jessiman and Shawn Belle? – but the burly Belarusian was never going to live down the fact he wasn’t Zach Parise, Jeff Carter or Ryan Getzlaf, each of whom was picked later.

By sending the 27-year-old Kostitsyn to the Preds, who have evidently earned most-favoured partner status at the Bell Centre, the Habs should now have four top-50 selections in the 2013 class (one of them the Calgary Flames’ second-round pick).

It’s the sort of haul a team could use to leverage themselves into a higher pick in a year that could be headlined by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Nathan MacKinnon.

“It’s good to have those picks,” general manager Pierre Gauthier told a media conference in Florida, where he is travelling with the team. “We would have much preferred not to be in a position to accumulate them and carry on with a lineup that’s enjoying success. It’s the situation we have, we’ll see how we can use those assets.”

It might be premature to suggest trading Kostitsyn will get the Habs closer to addressing their glaring organizational need – a big, dynamic centre – but Gauthier said he doesn’t believe the team requires a long rebuilding process via the draft.

“In the salary cap era ... we’ve seen a lot of teams rebound very quickly,” he said.

Gauthier got good value when he shipped Hal Gill to the Predators on Feb. 17 for a 2012 second-rounder, a 2013 fifth-rounder that came back in Monday’s deal, and two prospects (including forward Blake Geoffrion, who was recalled from the minors Monday and should make his Habs debut this week).

Calling Monday “a strange kind of day,” Gauthier also bristled at suggestions from commentators that he is working with less than a free hand, saying “nothing has changed, and if it has, no one told me.”

The Montreal brain trust may regret it didn’t wait a few hours to reunite Kostitsyn with younger brother Sergei, given the price Nashville later paid for centre Paul Gaustad – a first-round pick.

That Kostitsyn was a pending free agent was at least as big a factor in shipping him out of town as his recent slump (two goals in his past 28 games) – the acquisition of Rene Bourque in exchange for Michael Cammalleri, another 2013 second-rounder and a prospect earlier this season gave the Habs a surplus of enigmatic, inconsistent goal scorers.

The Kostitsyn trade wasn’t the only move. The Habs also decided to pluck tough guy Brad Staubitz on re-entry waivers from the Minnesota Wild, a move seen as a concession to interim coach Randy Cunneyworth’s appeal for more grit from his players.

Staubitz, a veteran who can play both forward and defence, has more fighting majors this year (nine) than career NHL goals (eight).

Gauthier said his acquisition doesn’t represent a change of philosophy for a team that hasn’t employed a designated fighter since buying out Georges Laraque, but “there’s a balance you need to achieve, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

The 6-foot-1, 215 pound, Ontario native had been playing in the minors, so the Habs will only have to pay half the pro-rated portion of his $600,000 (U.S.) salary.

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