July 12th, 2024

‘Unbelievable moment’: Canadiens select Ivan Demidov with fifth pick at NHL draft


By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on June 28, 2024.

Ivan Demidov, centre, poses, after being selected by the Montreal Canadiens during the first round of the NHL hockey draft Friday, June 28, 2024, in Las Vegas. The announcement was made by singer Celine Dion, right. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

LAS VEGAS – Ivan Demidov started to learn English some 18 months ago. The idea was he might need it for a future career in the NHL.

The Russian winger now has another language on his to-do list.

The Montreal Canadiens selected Demidov with the fifth pick in the first round of the 2024 draft Friday, adding another piece to the organization’s stable of young talent.

“Unbelievable moment,” said the 18-year-old. “From childhood, all players dreaming about it. Now dreams come true. In an unbelievable city like Montreal, it’s crazy.”

Demidov had 23 goals and 60 points across 32 games in 2023-24 in Russia’s junior league with St. Petersburg.

The five-foot-11, 181-pound forward said he plans to come to North America after next season when his current contract expires.

Demidov’s name was called by Celine Dion before he climbed on stage at the jaw-dropping Sphere auditorium. He said he’s seen the film “Titanic” and knows the soundtrack featuring the Canadian music icon.

“It’s like a book, like a movie,” Demidov said of getting drafted and meeting Dion. “It’s me “¦ it’s cool.”

The Ottawa Senators stepped to the microphone two picks later and selected defenceman Carter Yakemchuk of the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen.

“It’s a little bit of a whirlwind,” said the 18-year-old. “It was such a long season, talking to so many teams, to going into the prospects’ game and everything, but it was so much fun. I tried to just take in every moment.”

The six-foot-three, 202-pound blueliner had 30 goals, 71 points and 120 penalty minutes in 2023-24.

“It’s a tough league,” Yakemchuk said of the WHL. “There’s lots of really talented guys and there’s lots of heavy guys that play the game hard. It’s a fun game to play.”

Yakemchuk has never been to Ottawa, but the 2025 world junior hockey championship in the nation’s capital is circled on his calendar.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “That’s a dream of mine since I was a little kid. It’s in Canada this year “¦ it’d be unbelievable to be a part of that team.”

Yakemchuk’s other focus is making sure he does everything in his power to join the Senators’ roster one day.

“Some younger guys and crazy talented players,” he said. “It’s gonna be such a fun organization to be a part of.”

The Calgary Flames were the next Canadian team on the board, taking defenceman Zayne Parekh of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit at No. 9.

“Leading up to the pick, I had a feeling that I might end up in Calgary,” said the six-foot, 178-pound blueliner. “Those 30 seconds leading up to it, I just smiled. It feels great.”

Parekh had 33 goals and 96 points in 66 games in 2023-24.

“I took steps in the right direction every day,” he said. “I really matured in terms of my game away from the puck, and with the puck, I became more creative.”

The Canadiens were back on the clock at No. 22, taking centre Michael Hage from the Chicago Steel of the USHL, after trading up from No. 26 earlier in the day. Montreal sent second- and seventh-round picks to the Los Angeles Kings in the swap. Hage had 33 goals and 75 points in 54 games this season.

The Flames picked winger Matvei Gridin at No. 28 after a 38-goal, 83-point showing in 60 contests with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks.

The Toronto Maple Leafs traded back from 23rd to 31st in a deal with the Anaheim Ducks that also netted them a second-round pick Saturday, going with defenceman Ben Danford of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. The lifelong Leafs fan had one goal and 33 points in 64 games this season.

The Edmonton Oilers got back into the opening round after previously dealing their pick, shipping a first-rounder in either 2025 or 2026 for the 32nd selection to take winger Sam O’Reilly. He put up 20 goals and 56 points in 68 games with the OHL’s London Knights in 2023-24.

The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets previously traded their first-round selections.

Demidov, meanwhile, had an inkling the Canadiens would be his destination.

“Before when I go to sleep (Thursday), I thought about it,” he said. “If I was available (at) five, I know Montreal will choose me.”

He’s confident his command of English will only get better 1 1/2 years into the process.

“But now,” he said, “I think I need to start learning French.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2024.

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