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Unusual Draft Makes For Hard Decisions

By JD Lagrange – You deplored what previous management was doing by keeping you in the dark on what was going on with the team that you cover as a journalist, or the team that you love as a fan. You wanted a management change and you applauded the arrival of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes, and the hiring of Chantal MaChabée as the new Vice-President of Communications. With new management in place, you want transparency but now, you chose not to believe what they are telling you. So in fact, what you really want is to hear them say what you believe is true.

Ever since the Canadiens have won the NHL Draft Lottery, team GM Kent Hughes has been saying the same thing each and every time he has met with the media. They have not made a final decision on whom they will select with the first overall pick on July 7th at the NHL Draft table. He has stated over and over again that they will use every last minute that they have to ensure making the best decision possible for the team. Today, he repeated the same thing.

“Oh but that’s impossible that just a few days before the Draft, they don’t know who they’re picking”, fans claim. “They’re lying, they do know”, proclaim those who think it’s an easy decision. Guess what? It is possible and very likely that they’re telling the truth!

Unusual draft

You see, this is not your typical draft where you have a clear consensus number one choice, contrary to what some want you to believe. Not one of the three best candidates stands out to the point where someone can say for sure that yes, this is the guy. All of them have their outstanding qualities. And all of them have their question marks, which happen to be more prominent at the top than in other draft years.

– Shane Wright

Shane Wright

Great kid, good head on his shoulders, he’s been on the radar for three years now. He’s a center, a position of need for the Canadiens but everyone agrees that teams, when selecting that high, should never draft on needs. It is said that Wright does everything well, but doesn’t stand out in any facet of the game. And there are plenty of NHL scouts who have their doubts about him. This past season, he has lost ground on other top prospects. He hasn’t been as dominant as one would think. Some will say that it’s because he missed a year. But as Hughes said himself today, he was playing against guys who also missed a year… guys of the same age.

– Juraj Slafkovsky

Juraj Slafkovsky

Huge frame, good skater, good shot, good hands, protects the puck like no other in this draft. He is a rare breed of power forward who can dominate a game. But he’s inconsistent. He didn’t have a great season in Liiga this season, playing in a very defensive league against men at the professional level. He was outstanding at the Olympics and played great at the World Championships, but his pundits will remind you that he didn’t put points on the board against the top teams. Again, playing against men.

– Logan Cooley

Logan Cooley

Fast, spectacular, creative, a wizard offensively. He is said to perhaps have the highest ceiling of everyone entering this draft. Not as complete as Wright as a centerman, he is more creative and natural on offense. But standing at 5-foot 10-inches, he is smaller than his two counterparts. He too was playing against older players but the NCAA is a few steps lower than the NHL. Chances are that he will need to return to College for one more season before being given a serious look. But don’t underestimate the factor familiarity as Hughes knows him well.

Anyone with half a brain could make a case for any of those three individuals to go number one on Thursday. And they wouldn’t be wrong. And anyone could find fault for any of them as well, and still be right. It is that close, folks.

Meetings

Hughes mentioned today that the team’s scouts arrived to Montreal from Europe and everyone in hockey operations will have meetings starting tonight. The Canadiens’ GM said that he has an idea on what to do, but he values and wants to hear what each and every one of the staff has to say about it, before sitting with Martin St-Louis, Jeff Gorton, Martin Lapointe and Nick Bobrov to make a decision.

The evaluation is coming to an end soon, but when he says that a decision has not been reached, it is no lie. They are doing their due diligence. They are talking to a multitude of people around those kids. As Hughes said, they are not trying to determine which one is the better player at 18, but which one will be the better player at 22-23-24 years of age. They are looking at their character as much as skills. They are looking at what in their games translates to the NHL and what they have to improve on to make an impact.

“I have coached a long time”, said Hughes, “and even as a players’ agent, I used to look at a player and think: ‘With a little bit of coaching, this players can be A, B or C’. It’s not the case. Based on several factors, it is not always achievable and it goes beyond talent.”

Trade option

Hughes didn’t close the door on trades involving some of his picks, including the first overall pick. Asked if he was worried about fans’ reactions at the Bell Centre if he was to trade that first pick, he acknowledged the issue, but he wasn’t phased by it.

“It wouldn’t be a popular decision”, Hughes said with a smile. “But if it makes the Canadiens better, that’s ultimately my job and I am not afraid to do it. It’s the first time the Canadiens select first in 42 years… and in 42 years, chances are I won’t be GM. What people think about me outside is not important. I have a job to do. If the draft was today, I can tell you that I would be drafting.”

Hughes did mention that it’s not impossible that he’ll be trying to move up in the Draft with his second first round pick, which sits at number 26. That’s the pick he received from Calgary in the Tyler Toffoli trade. He even mentioned that he could add a player to picks to make it happen.

In conclusion, the action is about to start for the Canadiens as while Hughes, Gorton and their hockey staff are busy preparing for the draft, the GM is also fielding and making calls. As discussed recently in our Rumour Mill, he is said to be the busiest one out there and when you work that hard, something is bound to happen sooner or later.

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