The 2022 Draft – Long Shot Report

By JAG – Long shots are quite often omitted by sports writers who focus on the sexy stuff, mainly the number one pick and prospects with a news worthy, sellable story. It’s just good business. Me, I enjoy following the progress of higher draft picks and I also have a thing for overachieving underdogs. Which means that I enjoy keeping track of everybody that is on the Habs prospect list, especially the long shots. Consequently, as a fan, I have had the pleasure of watching players like Jake Evans, Michael Pezzetta and a few others overcome massive odds and claim the big prize. Yeah, making it to the NHL is the big prize indeed!

Moreover, reporting on the sexy picks is already vastly covered from all kind of writers so this piece is about the long shots and more specifically, the 2022 later rounds draft picks.

Why this particular draft matters?

I have a few good reasons to specifically write about last year draft long shot prospects.

  • First: It is the first draft of the Kent Hughes era. It should be a harbinger of things to come from this regime. This makes it worthy of following up on the results. Keep in mind that this is a team with a different philosophy, new analytic tools, new player development staff and new talent evaluation people. The perfect recipe for high expectations indeed!
  • Second: Say you have been a perennial contender for a while, then, you haven’t had a first round pick better than a 17th pick in years …. And that only applies if you haven’t traded that pick already, chances are high that you have. And maybe you traded a few second rounders as well. How can you remain a perennial contender in such condition? There is only one conclusion possible, perennial contenders draft well in the lower rounds, they also find valuable undrafted players and they trade well … consistently! That is why drafting well in the ‘’long shot/home run zone’’ is a key factor for successful team. I want to see how this new regime is doing in the talent evaluation/scouting department.
  • Third: It is my strongest wish that the Habs have the last pick of every round of every draft for years to come (let it sink through, it’s not as mean as it sounds). It is not as bad as it looks, the odds of getting serviceable NHL players from such a drafting position are the same as the odds for the team who finished last the same year …. Without a first-round pick, of course! If you aspire to become a perennial contender, you will have pick late …. And you must pick well!
  • Consequently, the real acid test for a manager is not as much the building of a playoff team loaded with high draft picks, many have done it before, but rather successfully facing the constant challenge of maintaining a team in contention despite the low draft picks associated with becoming successful. This is why the 2022 draft is worth looking as a stand alone for now.

For the purpose of clarity, in this piece, long shots are defined as having a 33% probability, or less, of playing 100 games or more in the NHL. There are many charts on the topic and they all point to the 33% range starting at about the 60th pick and go down after that. Also, signed, undrafted free agents like Arber Xhekaj do qualify as long shots. So, Slafkovsky, Mesar or Beck are not included in this report. No worries there, they’re all doing exactly what they should be doing anyways.

Now, let’s look at this year’s long shots, from Miguel Tourigny with a 10% probability of success to Lane Hutson with a 33% probability.

Hail mary-long shots: 7th and 6th rounds. 10%-12% probability of success

Miguel Tourigny, 7th round, 216th

Overaged, undersized, dynamic, offensive minded RD. Moved to Europe to play against men in the Slovak Extraliga, a league comparable to the ECHL. He has 4 points in 8 games so far. Very interesting move for his development on the Habs’ part. The combination of a much bigger ice and the exposure to a different type of hockey may produce unexpected results. The early results seem to justify the gamble.

Verdict: Player’s development seems to be on schedule.

Petteri Nurmi, 7th round, 194th

Overaged, medium built, offensive minded LD. Plays junior and pro in the HPK system (Liiga) in Finland. Has 4 points in 8 games against men in a very defensive league.

Verdict: Player’s development on target.

Emmet Croteau, 6th round, 162nd

Tall goalie from the USHL, 8 games played, 2.91 GAA, 0892 Sv%. Similar stats as last year, we may not have a true read on this prospect until next year when he gets to college.

Verdict: Too early to tell.

Long shots: 5th and 4th rounds. 13%-25% probability of success

Jared Davidson, 5th round, 130th

Overaged, good built LC, plays the game with a motor that won’t quit. Plays for Seattle in the WHL. Has 19 points in 10 games and a winning face-off percentage north of 60%. Started the season at the same level of play that got him drafted, erasing doubts that last year success was a ‘’one-of’’ season. Looks like a good candidate for the Rockets in 2023. 

Verdict: Player’s development better than expected, scouting looks good.

Cedrick Guindon, 4th round, 127th

Slightly undersized LC, quick and fast, 18 points in 14 games in the OHL. General performance improved over last year, has earned more ice time. No longer a ”sleeper” pick. One prospect I will watch.

Verdict: Player’s development on target.

Swing for the fences-long shots: 3rd and late 2nd rounds. 26%-33% probability of success

Adam Engstrom, 3rd round, 92nd

Good size, mobile LD who plays in the Rogle (SHL) system in Sweden. Has excellent numbers against his age group and has 2 points in 16 games against men in the top Swedish hockey league. Should be at the World Junior tourney. His game grew by leap and bounces in the second half of last year and he has not looked out of place in his first season against men.

Verdict: Player’s development has gained speed. Another one to watch. Scouting looks good again.

Vinzenz Rohrer, 3rd round, 75th

Slightly undersized, agile, dynamic player. Listed as a RW but he has taken almost 20 face-offs per game and is winning slightly more than 50% of them. He already has 15 points in 13 games and has improved in all facets of his game including face-offs which were a struggle last year.  He was one of the youngest players drafted last year which gives him 3 more years of junior eligibility. My guess is that he will be in Laval before that.

Verdict: This player’s development has gained speed. Another one to watch. Scouting looks good again.

Lane Hutson, 2nd round, 62nd

This player is as blatantly undersized as he is blatantly brimming with talent. I don’t think he is in the ‘’home run’’ territory, I think he has ‘’grand slam’’ potential! His hockey IQ is off the scale, he creates open lanes with ease and he finds open space with the puck on a string. He is learning the defensive ropes at Boston U where he is in the process of eliminating any doubts about his ability of playing against bigger, more mature opponents. He already has 8 points in the 7 games he has played. This is a rather good result for a rookie defenseman in the NCAA. Realistically, he is only considered a long shot because of his draft selection, justified solely by his lack of size. Everything else about his play screams 1st rounder talent. The eye test is a treat, he is the absolute Mr. Dekes. When I watch his highlight clips, I replay his dekes more than I replay his goals and assists. This guy is reinventing ‘’shifty’’.

Verdict: This is the one to watch. He may be the draft ‘’coup’’ of the decade for the Habs scouting.

Conclusion

We are at about the 10 games marker for most of these players. Admittedly, it is a bit early and this report cannot be more than anecdotal impressions. However, this first report is about getting the ball rolling, it is meant to set the basis for the next report due for the 20 games marker. The goal is to report periodically on these prospects and build a more robust picture of who they are, how they progress through their seasons and where they could fit in the Habs future …. If there is one for them. That is the acid test for management. Remember, drafting well in the lower rounds is key to creating a perennial contender. This report is as much about assessing management performance as it is about assessing players’ progress.

That being said, at this point, the ‘’Long shot’’ draft of 2022 has no prospect off the rails and all of them are either on track or ahead of schedule in their development. While it is too early to call it anything else than being ‘’on track’’, what has been shown so far should keep us watching for more.

Thanks for reading

Keep your stick on the ice, the puck is coming.

JAG

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It Takes Two To Tango

By JAG – It is common knowledge that Montreal could use a couple of trades to clear up Cap space and free a couple of spots for the young prospects. To conclude a trade, you need a trading partner. It takes two to tango. It’s the first step in getting a deal done. But before you look for a trading partner, you should decide what you are willing to put on the market, NHL players, prospects and draft picks alike. You should also know what you are looking for as a return.

The need to trade

Let’s be honest. In the Habs case, they only need/want a trade because they have too many forwards and the Cap is tight. They could just as well run this roster until the trade deadline and only make deals then. The reality is that if Martin St-Louis puts the right forwards on the ice, as he did against the St. Louis Blues. The team is already competitive enough to win their share of games and valiantly, barely, not qualify for the playoffs …. BUMMER!

I am not surprised, I have long been a proponent that the Habs were a better team that they showed last season and so far, they are proving me right.

But it is a big conundrum, if/when you bring back Edmundson and Matheson, the defense core will be that much stronger and winning will be more frequent. You can’t be a close to playoff contention and hope for a top 5 draft pick, the math doesn’t work! So, if you are on the ‘’Tank for Bedard wagon’’, you’d better get the tissues out right now, you ain’t getting him! On the other hand, if you’re dreaming of trades that will improve the team right now and hope for more wins, this team might just end up as the closest also-ran for the playoffs …. and a measly 16th pick for the effort (no offense to Kayden Guhle). Considering what we are right now, it seems that the hope for a top pick is slim at best …. BUMMER AGAIN!

What are the Habs to do?

Assuming that Martin St-Louis will not coach to lose and knowing that Kent Hughes has stated clearly that winning is necessary for growth, it leaves a very narrow path to satisfy the wish to tank for a high draft pick and the opposing need to create a winning culture. Even with some attrition through trades, Martin St-Louis can get this team to achieve a decent season. It’s on him and the players to do so but they are all saying that they believe in themselves. I say let them play it out!

You can’t serve two masters anyways. You either pursue tanking or you play to win, period! I say play to win. Tanking sucks anyways. It’s defeatist, it makes your life meaningless and teaches you nothing other than tanking sucks! And by the way, every player, manager and coach in this league will tell you, they are quite able of dealing with the consequences of winning (duh!). And if establishing a winning culture means getting a 16th pick instead of a top three, so be it! The VP will deal with it, the GM and the coaching staff will deal with it, the players will play to their potential and the fans will love it. So, let them play it out!

But trade some players they must! I can’t see a positive outcome for this group if the young guns are not afforded the ice time that they are genuinely earning right now! Regardless of waiver exempt situation, economics or the need to show off a veteran player for trade purpose, WHEN ICE TIME IS EARNED, IT MUST BE GIVEN! It is the unwritten rule. That alone should drive the need to make a move.

However, sadly, the Habs don’t have much to offer other than quantity. They have veterans to unload, prospects in throve and picks galore …. But what is their worth?

The answer is, at this point in the season, really not much! I see only three players that could fetch a number one pick. Not surprisingly, they are also the type of players that are hard to find or replace and they are players that I’d like to keep on the roster but, life being what it is, you only get value when you offer value. They are Josh Anderson, Joel Edmundson and Sean Monahan.

If Sean Monahan keeps trending in the same direction and he is willing to re-up in Montreal, I see no reasons to trade him. From what I have seen of him so far, he may be in the 70 points range by the end of the season and, even as a new guy, he is a stabilizing veteran presence. That’s a keeper! The Habs need size and speed on the wing and Anderson provides just that. Another keeper! This leaves Joel Edmundson, an experienced playoff veteran. He is the Clydesdale who may become, for a serious contender, the biggest catch at the trade deadline. Just look at Montreal’s record once he came back from injury last year, day and night! And he is a great catch financially with a low salary and another year  for term. Actually, if healthy, he will get more than a first-round pick. So, if any trade can bring a first-round pick, this would be the one…. And the Habs would still have plenty of strength on the left side of defense.

On a side note, I think that if Justin Barron gets his power play footing in Laval or if any one of Guhle, Xhekaj or Harris can move to the right ride effectively, the problem on defense will be solved for this year even after trading Edmundson.

Results of trading up

That would give the Habs three first rounders this year starting with probably the 16th pick belonging to the Habs plus a couple of acquired late first rounders, including the Florida Panthers’ pick (acquired in the Ben Chiarot deal). Add to this the Habs first pick next year and the eventual, floating Calgary first pick and you’d have a good start in your quest for a suitable tango partner. If you want to trade-up, better have a bag full of goodies!

Also, other players may also have value at the trade deadline or before. Pitlick, Drouin, Hoffman, Dadonov and possibly Dvorak might be moved for assets and/or picks. I see these players as part of a strategy to partially replace the first rounders traded in the above scenario by actively seeking second round picks for this year and the next ones. These transactions may need to include some actual Habs picks, Habs prospects and/or retained salary to sweeten a move and get the desired second round picks but it would strengthen the Habs drafting position for a few more years.

I know that Kent Hughes has said he wouldn’t retain salary but, push comes to shove, at some point it may become the only way to get some value for signed players or let them become UFAs and get nothing in return.

Conclusion

There you have it. Trade a player that you like for a first rounder and trade surplus players for secondary picks and assets. Put your best team on the ice and let them play! That’s what the Habs should do!

Don’t get me wrong, I know how exciting it is to get a first round draft pick… for everybody! We just got one and it provided some of the best Habs fan moment of my life and I loved every minute of it! But let’s face it, getting the first pick doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup at all, even getting so called generational talent is no guarantee. Case in point, right here in Canada, Toronto and Edmonton have yet to prove that jockeying for generational talent is a sound Cup winning strategy.

Also, as a rhetorical question, what happens if, come draft day, Habs management decides that keeping the picks they have accumulated provides more value to the team than a trade-up would? My answer remains the same. Let management put their best team on the ice and let them play!

What gets you the Cup is the right mix of players that play the type of hockey identified in the vision and the plan. Tampa Bay and Boston have been perennial contenders without the benefit of drafting high, at least not in a long time. It is up to Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes to get Montreal to that level of excellence, sooner than later, I hope! We get to sit and watch!

But in any case, let the tango begin, this is going to be a very entertaining year!

Thanks for reading

Keep your stick on the ice, the puck is coming!

JAG

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