By Bob Trask – As Montreal Canadiens fans look forward to and debate who will be the #5 overall pick when Kent Hughes steps up to the podium, the draft is more than the team’s first round pick. With 11 picks currently available to him, Kent Hughes will be facing a lot of decisions before the 2023 draft is in the books. Here are some of them:
#5 Overall Pick
This topic has been discussed to death on social media and by sports journalists across the country. There is little that can be added to the discussion that hasn’t already been said.
Second Pick – First Round
With this pick probably at #29 or later, Hughes has the option of exercising this pick or using it in a trade to acquire and established player or previously drafted top prospect. It will depend upon who is still on the board when that pick rolls around and who might be available in a trade.
There are some interesting players who could fall in the draft and if Hughes sees someone available who has huge potential, he may choose to exercise his pick. On the other hand, if a team offers up a high quality player or prospect in return for a package that includes this pick, the Canadiens’ GM may bite on a trade. Two players whose names have cropped up are Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexis Lafreniere. Either or both would be interesting additions to the team.
The Russian Factor
It remains to be seen how NHL general managers will react to what is happening in Russia. Between the political uncertainty and limited viewings against international opponents, it is harder to get a handle on the Russian prospects. However, if some highly touted prospects drop significantly in the draft, Hughes may be willing to roll the dice with one or two of his eleven picks. With Nick Bobrov on staff, the Canadiens may have a better handle on the situation than some of the other teams.
With seven weeks left until draft day, the political/military landscape in Russia and Ukraine could also change significantly by June 28th. That scenario is an extreme longshot and even if it happened, would it change enough that teams would re-evaluate their views on Russian players?
The Canadiens will be doing their homework on which path to follow.
Best Player Available
NHL teams always stress that they will take the best player available and when it comes to the first few picks, that is probably true… to some extent. Who determines the best player available when you get past those obviously elite players? Every scouting service and the scouting department of every NHL team will have a different list and a different method of evaluation.
Once you get into the mid-rounds of the draft every player is going to have his flaws. Some are great skaters, some are gifted puck handlers and some are elite snipers. Others provide a physical presence, a relentless work ethic or have an exceptional “hockey IQ”. None have all of these elements or they would be early round picks..
The draft team for the Canadiens has to decide, for example, if a sniper can improve his work ethic or if a poor skater can improve that skill through coaching and practice on his technique.
With eleven picks available to him, Kent Hughes has the option of choosing one or two players with elite skills in one area with a plan to develop the rest of their game at the amateur and minor pro level. The fact that the Canadiens have Adam Nicholas on staff as a skills coach and have beefed up their player development department could be a hint that Hughes may take this approach. As an example, it is possible that a one-dimensional sniper who is lacking in other areas of his game could be a target.
Teams are usually adamant that they don’t draft by need but, in Montreal’s case this year, an exception could be made. The prospect pool at goaltender suddenly looks a little thinner than in the past due to a perceived stagnation in development by more than one of goaltending candidates. With some highly touted names on the board Hughes could look to improve the goaltending depth in the organization. Once again, the eleven picks allow for a lot of flexibility in the draft and the Canadiens could use some of that flexibility to address goaltending depth.
There is a chance that the Canadiens could choose a couple of goaltenders in this draft.
Every year there are players who weren’t drafted in their first or second year of eligibility. The Covid situation exacerbated the challenges of evaluating draft eligible players and some of them were only able to get back on track this year because limited ice time in the past hindered their development.
In the 2022 draft, the Canadiens took advantage of this to draft Jared Davidson who led his junior team in scoring this year. It is a strategy that Hughes may revisit with one of is later round picks.
Trading Up / Trading Down
This is always a topic of conversation along with it’s cousin trading in / trading out. It’s hard to evaluate because the draft is the most fluid event of the entire hockey season. Big decisions need to be made on the spur of the moment.
If there is no one available that a team covets when their turn comes up to they trade down and accept multiple later round picks or a pick in the following year’s draft? Conversely, if there is a player the team really wants but their pick is not due to be made within the next few choices, does the GM offer up multiple later round picks or perhaps an equivalent pick in a subsequent draft in an effort to draft a player they want?
Teams will be making these kinds of trades. Will it be one of the strategies that Kent Hughes employs? Chances are the answer is yes.
Picks, Picks and More Picks
The Canadiens already own eleven picks in the upcoming draft. Could they add even more?
There is also more than a slim possibility that the Canadiens will move veteran players or prospects who do seem to fit with the vision of the team for the future. One of the returns that Hughes could seek is more draft picks but with the way in which many veterans finished the season he might have to settle for less than what he had hoped for.
Any picks acquired in this manner don’t necessarily have to be for this draft. In fact, in order to keep the draft cupboard full for the long term, it may be preferable that additional picks would be for the 2024 or 2025 drafts.
This is one approach that Kent Hughes is likely to take, either at the draft or even earlier.
It would be nearly impossible to find a Canadiens’ fan who wouldn’t welcome a replay of the Kirby Dach deal that Kent Hughes made last year. With all the NHL brain trusts gathered together at the draft the environment will be ripe for discussion. It provides the perfect opportunity such a deal to be discussed and perhaps consummated.
The #5 overall pick aside, this is the big move that many fans are waiting for. We’ll see if it happens.
The NHL entry will entail a lot more for the Montreal Canadiens than simply walking up to the podium eleven times and choosing the player currently at the top of their list. The situation will be fluid with quick, well-informed decisions required as players unexpectedly become available or coveted players are chose before the Canadiens’ get there chance.
Some of the strategies and challenges are discussed here but it only touches the tip of the iceberg. The draft should be a dynamic event for Canadiens’ fans. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.