By Bob Trask – As we all ponder the future of the Montreal Canadiens, one of the keys to next season and beyond will be the draft lottery and the ensuing NHL Draft. A lot will depend on how that unfolds. If the lottery were held today Montreal would have a 12.7% chance of winning the 1st overall pick and have the highest likelihood of picking in the the 3rd or 4th overall position. The look of the Habs lineup next October could rest heavily on exactly where that pick lands.
If we go with the consensus that Shane Wright will go first overall, it is not unreasonable to assume that he would be slotted into the Canadiens lineup immediatey if they won the lottery – perhaps as the 3rd line center until the team finds the best role for him.
Unlike the Kotkaniemi situation, there are only two options for Wright – the OHL or the NHL. Since there would be little to be gained from another season in the OHL, a spot on the NHL roster would seem highly probable.
That would bump an existing center either to the wing or to another team. The one at greatest risk to losing his spot in the lineup to Wright is Ryan Poehling. That doesn’t mean Poehling couldn’t be a valuable contributor but it could mean that contribution would be as left winger. He has played the position in Laval at times and played it well.
A trade could also be used to free up the logjam. The improved play of Dvorak has helped his case while Nick Suzuki isn’t going anywhere. Once again, Poehling’s name pops up and so does Jake Evans’. At this point in their careers neither would bring a great return but they could be offered as an extra asset when trying to trade a bad contract.
Drafting Shane Wright would have a domino effect at center.
Second or Later
None of the names coming after Wright seem ready to make the jump. Juraj Slafkovsky is a big winger who could return to Europe or join Laval. Likewise Simon Nemec, who is one of those much sought after right-handed defensemen and who, like Slafkovsky, could return to Europe or play in the AHL next season. Logan Cooley is rated by some as the 2nd best center in the draft but will head to the NCAA next season. When you go further down the list, no one stands out as an NHL candidate for next season.
Choosing any of these players would set up the summer quite differently for general manager Kent Hughes. It could result in the hunt for more immediate depth at center, for example.
Another side-effect of choosing 2nd or later could be the operational timeline that Hughes would operate under. Fairly or unfairly, Wright is expected by many to make a positive contribution immediately while none of the others are. Choosing Wright may prompt Hughes to acquire supporting players sooner rather than later. If someone else is chosen, Hughes may want to monitor their progress and evaluate what other needs may become apparent during the year.
Watch and Wait
The next draft related event to occur will by the draft lottery in mid-May. We will know where the Habs first pick in the first round will be and social media is sure to light up with opinions. If it is 2nd or later there is sure to be disappointment but it will stir even more debate than if the Habs won the 1st overall pick.
The draft itself begins with the first round choices being made on July 7th. It is then when the real planning for the future can begin. The Canadiens’ GM will have a much clearer idea of how he will need to fill out his roster. It will affect trade decisions and potential free agent offers.
In the meantime we watch and wait.