By JD Lagrange – Ah the NHL Draft. For the first time since 1980, the Montreal Canadiens are set to select first overall on July 7th, and the event is at the Bell Centre. Unfortunately for them, Connor Bedard, a potentially generational talent, is not available until next year. Instead, the Habs have to decide between a handful of very good candidate in a year where the top-end talent isn’t as high as many other years.
For that reason, this year brings out three types of people amongst the Canadiens’ fan base when it comes to the upcoming NHL Draft:
1- At one extreme, you have those you are totally convinced that Shane Wright is the one and only choice to be selected number one. Those people are often condescendent towards others who dare even having a slight doubt about it. For them, it’s all black and white.
2- Then, you have those who keep an open mind, knowing that drafting is not a pure science. They may still believe that Wright should go number one, or they have some doubts about it but no solid convictions for or against. Those fans understand that this is one of those years where the difference between the top three to five picks is rather slim.
3- At the opposite end, you have people like former scout Grant McCagg, who has been on a tarnishing campaign against Wright, making sure that everyone knows anytime he gets a chance. While this group seems to be smaller in numbers, it can be quite loud. Often in this group, there is no consensus as to whom should be the clear number one pick as they disagree amongst themselves.
“First since he was 15”
This is often the excuse we read from fans when it comes to pushing Shane Wright. He was exceptional at 15 and back then, he was predicted to be phenomenal. That was true… then. But since then, partially due to COVID, he hasn’t been as dominant as people thought he would be. Because a player was dominant three years ago doesn’t mean he’s as dominant today.
For one thing, fans need to understand what development is, and what amateur scouts (and NHL teams) are trying to do. They are not only comparing players amongst themselves at 17-18 years old. Their job is to try predicting when those teenagers will stop developing, when they will reach their plateau. They also try to determine if the style of those prospects will transpose to the NHL style of play. And that’s why each and every year, teams are regretting their pick while others were more fortunate selecting later on.
Reputable reporter Mathias Brunet of La Presse has been taking a lot of heat lately, particularly by the Wright extremists, for being in the second category. He is getting his feet wet by going as far as hinting that the Canadiens could be leaning towards Juraj Slafkovsky, a 6-foot 4-inches, 218 lbs left winger. The Kosice, Slovakia native is ranked anywhere from three to six on most people’s lists so that has fans upset thinking that Kent Hughes could go off the charts with his number one pick.
More so than most top prospects in this year’s Draft, Slafovsky has taken leaps and bounds this past season. He turned heads with a dominant performance at the 2022 Olympic Games.
You see, I find myself in the middle group when it comes to this year’s Draft. I promised myself not to get upset no matter what the Canadiens decide to do. The team is under new management and they fully deserve for fans – and media – to cut them some slack, to give them rope. Time will tell if they use is properly or to hang themselves with it.
Hypothetically, what if the Habs are very high on Slafkovsky (or Logan Cooley, Simon Nemec or any other prospect)? The New Jersey Devils are said to be willing to trade their pick (2nd overall). How much interest would the Arizona Coyotes (3rd overall) and Seattle Kraken (4th overall) have in this first pick? More importantly, what would they be willing to offer to switch picks with the Canadiens?
See to me, Arizona is interesting. The Coyotes also have two more first round picks (Carolina and Colorado). They also have 24 year-old defenseman Jakob Chychrun on the trade block. Arizona also have plenty of cap space to accommodate for Shea Weber’s contract, and take another bad contract too.
So because we’re not talking about a generational talent at number one at this year’s Draft, what if Hughes and his boss Jeff Gorton agreed to pull the trigger and help the Canadiens in the short term yes, but also long term? Yet, still getting the pick that THEY want? Closing your mind on such possibility is, in my humble opinion, narrow minded and being focused on saving face. The last time the Canadiens selected first overall, they picked Doug Wickenheiser, who was first on everyone’s list too. They cannot afford to strike out on this one.