It's hard to know for sure, but with the last two Canadiens first round draft picks foregoing the colege route in favour of junior hockey over the past couple of weeks, one has to wonder whether or not Pierre Gauthier and the organization as a whole has decided to push its prospects in this direction.
We'll never know to what extent Gauthier pressured Louis Leblanc to leave Harvard for the Montreal Juniors or Jarred Tinordi to do the same to Notre-Dame in favour of the London Knights, but I would find it difficult to believe the Canadiens did not at least slightly nudge the two of them towards junior hockey.
That would be a pretty major philosophical shift, one that may have began when Max Pacioretty left the University of Michigan after his freshman year to sign with the Habs. Ironically enough, that's a case where leaving the player in school may have ultimately been the right call.
From an organizational viewpoint, the collegiate option looks like it has the best of both worlds. You have four years to evaluate a player before signing him to a professional contract, thereby slowing the free agency clock, but also delaying that player's arrival in Montreal. The case of David Fischer shows how a team can sometimes benefit from this, because the Canadiens didn't have to pay a dime to determine he is not NHL material (though he still may make it with another team).
Since the 2007 draft, or the year after Trevor Timmins went completely off the board to nab Fischer with the 20th overall pick, the Canadiens have used 13 of their 27 draft picks on players who were either in or heading to college. Of those, eight were selected in the third round or later. Of the remaining five who were selected in the top two rounds, Ryan McDonagh (12th overall, 2007) was traded and just signed his first pro contract with the Rangers, Pacioretty (22nd overall, 2007) is entering his third year in the pros, Danny Kristo (56th overall, 2008) is playing his second and possibly final season at North Dakota, Leblanc (18th overall, 2009) is playing with the Juniors and Tinordi (22nd overall, 2010) is heading to London.
So basically, three of the four first round picks since 2007 played two seasons of college hockey combined, and the other was traded.
Previously, both Mike Komisarek and Christopher Higgins played two years apiece in college before making the jump, while Ryan O'Byrne played three years at Cornell.
Again, I can't say for sure whether or not this is true, but it appears to me the Canadiens no longer want their top end prospects learning the game at the collegiate level. Which begs the question, why do they keep using their best picks on players they know are planning on attending college?