RDS’ own Eric Leblanc had a great article on rds.ca yesterday. He spoke to not one, not two, not even three, but four scouts in Buffalo during the NHL Combine who shared their thoughts and agreed to put themselves in the shoes of the Montreal Canadiens about the first overall pick. It is important to note that they were interviewed separately, so their answers were not influenced by their peers’ replies.
It started at the end of February, when a prominent who shared his opinion about Shane Wright’s lack of involvement and questioned if he’d pick him first overall. “See, our job isn’t that easy, is it?”, he said.
Yes, Wright is an excellent hockey player. A center, to top it off, which raises his value considering the importance of this position.
“He’s and excellent player, no doubt about it. But every time I’ve seen him play, I left the arena thinking that I would have liked to see more drive from him. Especially from a prospect of his rank”, explained the first scout, consulted in the past few days.
Another scout confirmed that affirmation.
“The potential is there with what Wright has accomplished in the past. He’s a guy who has higher probabilities to play a bigger role in your formation (if he develops to his maximum). But his play, this year, hasn’t been up to par”, said that employee of an Eastern team.
This source didn’t hesitate to explain that he would have no problem drafting Slovak Juraj Slafkovsky with the first overall pick. In his eyes, the imposing winger doesn’t constitute a risk or too bold of a project.
“I think that Slafkovsky can grow your team, with what he can accomplish, and that he will be an impact player for many years to come. He just played against a bunch of NHL players (at the World Championships) and he was already stronger than them. Once he has the puck and he boxes out, nobody can take the puck away from him”, he added.
“Yes, NHL players are excellent, but guys who are the strongest at 18, they will continue to be stronger than others. But if you want a center, he’s not your guy”, said the second scout.
The third scout gets more excited when he talks about Logan Cooley, this third prospect mentioned in the top-3, which we don’t hear as much about. But we have to be aware as Cooley plays center and impresses with his offensive abilities and his character.
“If you start taking apart his game, you will pull your hair from time to time. But other times, he has the dynamism making everyone rip their shirts off, fans will go nuts on him”, said the scout who sees similarities in imagination with Trevor Zegras.
“But Wright, he’s a really good hockey player and I think he’ll be a lot more stable in his progression. In my opinion, he will reach his maturity faster than the others”, said that third scout.
And that’s why he’d like to push the reflexion further.
“You’ll think I’m funny, but if I was the Habs, I’d make a decision that would be deeper than just a hockey decision. When you have the first pick, there are all other aspects as well. It comes with enormous pressure. You must determine what type of guy and player that you want to fill that role. It will dictate the DNA of your team”, he added.
Hockey-wise, he would be leaning towards Cooley.
“Cooley has more of an effect on me. For Wright, I have often had to force myself to go watch him play. Usually, when you’re scouting, you are on the job but there’s a hockey fan aspect and you are excited to watch the five best prospects of the Draft. When coming out from watching one of Cooley’s games, I was saying ‘Wow, that was something!‘”
In order to truly get himself into the be in our situation, the first scout thought about the Canadiens’ management and came to that hypothesis.
“I can’t guarantee anything (for the Habs’ choice). But for Martin Lapointe, it’s impossible that Wright is his type of player, impossible… I cannot see Lapointe, after seeing Wright, coming out of the arena, being excited and say ‘Wow he’s good! He plays with drive and he has character‘.”
However, some rumours circulate to the effect taht Nick Bobrov has a bigger influence than Lapointe, even if both are co-Directors of Amateur Scouting.
No bad choice in the top-3, but nothing exceptional
Throughout our discussions, we wanted to understand how much the center position will influence the Canadiens’ decision. Even if the need to help out Nick Suzuki is well known, the scouts would select the best player available. However, the Canadiens could feel the pressure to draft Wright, who is from Ontario, because he plays the North American style.
“Except that there have been others, Europeans, who had success without having ever played a game in North America. But it’s evident that you don’t want to miss when selecting at the top. At the opposite, if Slafkovsky had played for London this year, he might have scored 60 goals and everyone would be talking about him. It’s always the comparable that’s difficult to get”, explained the first scout.
For Cooley, he’s a really good hockey player. He wants to produce, he never quits and he has a natural offensive instinct. He’s 5-foot 10-inches, but he’s a real hockey player. Either way, they’ll have a good discussion, that’s for sure”, he said.
The second scout ignores the details of that discussion within the Canadiens, but he wishes mostly for fans to remember the following.
“The might be one that has more potential, but the three are a good choice for the Canadiens. I also don’t think that any one of them is an exceptional player in that trio. And that’s okay, it doesn’t happen every year. I dont’ think the Canadiens will build their team around that player”, he gently reminded everyone.
“I’m convinced that many teams don’t have Wright ranked first. Fans all range on that side because that’s the direction of the narrative, the logical thing. The Canadiens won’t be passing on a Connor McDavid by not opting for Wright”, related that scout.
The fourth scout reasoned the same way.
“Yes, Wright’s production was good this year, but he was never incredible. You know, a performance when you say ‘he’s really a first pick’. At the same time, there is no other player for which you can say that either, they all have question marks. It is really a year where, no matter who you pick first, it won’t be a true number one pick”, described this source.
In the event the Canadiens select Wright, this scout raised an intriguing possibility.
“Next season, will he turn the switch on and be a great competitor? It’s possible. Many people felt like his coach in Kingston wasn’t great. If a change occurs, will we see a different version of Wright and the questioning from this season disappear? Let’s say that he’s coached by Martin St-Louis next year, the picture could be completely different, but nobody knows”, he concluded.
By not keeping an open mind, I can’t help but feel like many Habs’ fans are setting themselves up for a potential disappointment, which can lead, once again, to a total outburst on social media and spewing hater towards management. “The wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round…”