By Bob Trask – The Montreal Canadiens are destined to be one of the first teams on the stage at the NHL entry draft which begins on July 7th in Montreal. Exactly where they will make their first pick won’t be determined until the draft lottery takes place on May 10th, as announced by the NHL today.
At the moment they are slotted to pick somewhere between #1 and #4 but the pick could even be lower than that if the team wins a few games and their luck at the lottery doesn’t hold. According to tankathon.com the Canadiens currently have a 58% chance of having one of the top three picks.
Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities and their implications.
Wright has been the consensus 1st overall pick for much of the year and he is a center. It seems like a perfect fit for the Habs. But Wright should be looked upon as an eventual answer at center and not the immediate saviour some are hoping for. Very few young centers make the jump to the NHL immediately after their draft and even fewer earn the position of a #1 or #2 center.
Next season Wright can return to the OHL, where he may prove to be too strong for the competition, or he can make the jump to the Canadiens where he will be thrown into to the deep end of the pool and expected to perform.
If Wright is the Canadiens’ selection, I would expect a 9 game stint with the Habs before any final decisions are made on his future. The point may be moot because the odds of the Habs choosing first overall currently sit at about 12%.
The big left winger may have a better chance of making an immediate impact on the Canadiens. He plays a less demanding position and has been playing against a higher level of competition this year than Wright has.
In 44 regular season and playoff games in the Liiga, Slavkovsky has recorded 6 goals and 9 assists but he is only 18 years old and stands at 6’4 and 218 pounds. His stature would be welcome on a line with players like Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield.
If Slavkovsky was not deemed ready to play with the Canadiens, there are more options for him next year than with Wright. Depending upon his contract situation could join the Canadiens, he could return to Europe or he could play in Laval. Both are better options than available for Wright where it is the OHL or the NHL.
According to hockey minds, drafting the best player available has always been the best strategy but sometimes it is difficult to clearly identify who the best player is. In a situation where two or three players all seem to have similar potential, organizational needs have to be considered. These aren’t necessarily immediate needs but rather a position where there are few high end prospects who could challenge for a spot on the team in a year or two.
The good news is that among the Wright, Slavkofsky and Nemec the Habs would be getting a shot at a player who exhibits a lot of potential and that player also fills an organizational need.
Nemice is big right handed defenseman and like Slafovsky is playing in the pros against men in Europe. After a solid regular season, he is having an outstanding playoffs from an offensive point of view. He could immediately become the Habs 2nd best defensive prospect after Kaiden Guhle and could eventually find himself as a 1st pairing defenseman in the NHL. Also like Slavkofsky, he has a variety of developmental options available to him after he is drafted.
Because defenseman often take longer to develop than forwards, Nemec is less likely to play in the NHL next year than either Wright or Slafkovsky.
Depending upon whose draft ranking you follow there are several other candidates who could fall into the top five. Montreal is sure to have done their due diligence on them but none are likely to crack the NHL lineup next year. The list includes:
- Logan Cooley – C
- David Jiricek – RD
- Liam Ohgren – LW
- Mattew Savoie – C
- Joakim Kemmell – RW
- Jonathan Lekkerimaki – RW
- Conor Geekie – C
Most Habs’ fans probably don’t need to be reminded that regardless of who the team selects with their first choice in the draft, he is unlikely to immediately to turn the team from a pretender into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.