Hughes Early List of Things to Do

By JD Lagrange – Due to mostly factors out of his hands, Canadiens’ General Manager Kent Hughes was unable to accomplish what he would have liked to do at trade deadline. And for that reason, it simply added to his workload for the upcoming off-season. Of course, he won’t have to worry about Paul Byron, Jonathan Drouin and Sean Monahan, who are all set to become UFAs on July 1st. But there are plenty of other items on his agenda.

In a recent interview with NHL Insider Pierre LeBrun, Hughes was realistic about the work ahead of him and the timeline for his team to become a constant threat in his division, or in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s hard to pinpoint in certain ways because it’s not just what we do but what others do. There’s obviously a group of teams in our division and in our conference that are going through the same processes us, be it a Buffalo, Ottawa or Detroit; and then you’ve got a group of teams that have been there, the Tampas of the world, the Bruins of the world, that all the teams that are coming up are going to have to push out. So I kind of look at it less from “when will we be there?” but more what we need to do before we feel that we have that kind of team. Listen, I think it’s going to be another two, three years… but again, we’re hopeful we have opportunities to trade for good, young players like a Kirby Dach, instead of using a draft pick for it. We’ll try to do that, and that’s kind of a way to expedite the timeline. But we won’t go sign a 28 year-old or 29 year old to a long term deal at this point in time to be that much better next season.” ~ Kent Hughes

I have decided to rank what I consider to be his top-5 issues to address after this awful season is over. As always, this is only one man’s opinion and others will disagree, or have the items in a different order… and that’s okay.

1- Medical staff and PROCEDURES

One unlucky season with multiple players out with long term injuries, an organization gets a pass. But the Canadiens shattered the record with over 700 man-games lost due to injuries and illness last season, and will be at the top of the NHL again this season.

Worse, is how many players have been either mis-diagnosed or have missed A LOT more time than originally planned. Again, if it’s a one-off, it’s one thing. But it started in 2015 when Carey Price played 12 games and was originally supposed to be out a few weeks. They kept pushing it back week to week, month to month, until they shut him down. It was followed by Shea Weber was allowed to keep playing on a broken foot, which he broke the very first game of the season, only to create permanent damage and was shut down after 26 games. It ultimately contributed to his early retirement.

And do I need to get into the past two seasons? Joel Edmundson’s back… Paul Byron’s hip… Sean Monahan’s mystery injury(ies)… Kirby Dach’s virus which turned into an injury… and it goes on… A deep look into the staffing, diagnosis and creating new policies is crucial to not only the success of the team going forward, but avoiding risking the Canadiens’ players’ careers.

2- Goaltending

The Canadiens cannot move forward with two backup goaltenders in Jake Allen and Samuel Montembeault. They are building something very nice at every position so far, with tons of good young players coming onto the team and top-end prospects who will be joining in the next few years. Kent Hughes must be pro-active and avoid the mistake being made by the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, in having a team ready to contend, but unable to take the next step in big part because of their inability to find suitable goaltending.

I’m personally not ready to give up on Cayden Primeau just yet and right now, he’s one of the main reasons why the Laval Rocket is making a strong push for a playoffs’ spot. He needs a bit more developing and time before making a decision. But as a 7th round pick, he remains a project. In fact, all of the Canadiens goaltending prospects are projects at this point. All are later rounds draft picks.

It appears like Carey Hart could become available and if I’m Kent Hughes, I’m all over the Flyers on this one. There are many reasons why Hart could be the solution in net for the Canadiens for years to come. But if not Hart, the Canadiens must trade for one. They cannot wait to develop another goaltender as that would take years to do.

3- Pierre-Luc Dubois

Of course, as long as he’s not signed long term elsewhere, you cannot downplay the possibility or the interest the Canadiens might have towards acquiring Pierre-Luc Dubois. We have already demystified his so-called “attitude” myth. We have also gone into much details as to why the Canadiens should NOT wait for him to become a UFA.

So if the Canadiens are going to acquire him, this upcoming summer will be the time to do it. A 6-foot 2-inches, 214 lbs gritty center, who puts up about a point per game at 24 years of age, no one can claim that the Canadiens “don’t need him” and be taken seriously. Imagine a center line of Suzuki, Dubois, Dach… All young, all entering the prime years of their career.

4- Crucial NHL Draft

One cannot talk about the upcoming off-season without talking about the NHL Draft, at least not when the team is currently sitting 28th overall in the standings. Stating that this year’s Draft is crucial to the future of this team would be an understatement for sure. Whether or not the Canadiens are lucky enough to win the Lottery Draft two years in a row remains to be seen. Of course, Connor Bedard, along with the prospects drafted and traded for since the 2018 Reset, would turn this franchise around immediately.

But there are other names out there of players who could step in and help. I will leave those names to my colleague Bob Trask, who follows prospects a lot more than I do. But my understanding is that this is a very deep draft both on talent and numbers. As it stands right now, the Canadiens are set to speak 11 times at this year’s Draft.

5- UFA market

There are people out there who strongly believe that this rebuild will last a couple more seasons after this one. That always makes me chuckle as those people are basing this on what THEY would like to see and not on what KENT HUGHES is actually saying. Every time Habs’ management is asked, they don’t use “rebuild”. They talk about progression. And every time, they talk about getting players who are closer to making an impact at the NHL level, ahead of getting more draft picks.

Hughes even mentioned, last year, that he was wanting to improve the right side of his defense through free agency. He was said to be after John Klingberg back then. There is another very good pending UFA who fits the bill this upcoming summer in New Jersey Devils’ Damon Severson. He would be a huge improvement over David Savard whom, bless his heart, has played all season in a chair that’s not his, as the top right-handed defenseman on the team.

Whether it’s Severson or someone else, rest assured that Hughes will be looking at the free agents’ pool, or at teams looking at shedding salary as he did with Monahan last summer.

BONUS: Caufield’s contract

I didn’t put this one in the top-5 simply because it’s not a need, but rather a want. But obviously, extending Cole Caufield, who will be entering the final year of his Entry Level Contract next season, will have to be a must. Personally, I have no concern about this being done. Cole loves Montreal and Montreal loves him.

Prospect Rankings – Goaltenders

By Bob Trask – With a bushel of draft picks and growing uncertainty about the goaltending prospects within the organization, the Montreal Canadiens could take a hard look at choosing a goaltender in the early rounds of this year’s draft. You can count me as one of those who has been disappointed in most of the goaltending prospects – Jakub Dobes has been the main exception. With than in mind, if Kent Hughes manages to acquire a late first round pick in a pre-deadline trade it wouldn’t be surprising to see him selecting a goaltender with that pick. We can take a look at some of the possibilities.

NHL Central Scouting came out with their mid-season rankings and their lists differ from other scouting services in that they break down prospects into four categories – North American skaters, European skaters, North American goaltenders and European goaltenders. What their list doesn’t do is give you an idea of where they rank a player overall without regard to position or origin, but it is a starting point.

North American Goaltenders

1Carson Bjarnason6’318117.6WHL
2Michael Hrabal6’620918.0USHL
3Trey Augustine6’117917.9NTDP
4Adam Gajan6’417618.7NAHL
5Carsen Musser6’421517.7NTDP
6Scott Ratzlaff6’117217.9WHL
7Jacob Fowler6’220118.2USHL
8Tomas Suchanek6’218119.7WHL

Player stats courtesy Elite Prospects. Age is as of December 31st, 2022

Michael Hrabal stands out because of his size and Carson Bjarnason has received a great many accolades for his play so far this season. But a couple of others merit a closer look. Trey Augustine is ranked #3 but when I saw him play in the WJC, he didn’t look like a high draft pick to me. Adam Gajan, on the other hand, came out of nowhere to have a solid tournament. The Slovakian goaltender is unlikely to be a high draft pick but Montreal had success with another Slovakian long shot when they drafted Jaroslav Halak. The final name is Tomas Suchanek who also had a strong WJC tournament but he is almost 20 years old and the oldest goaltender in the top eight rankings – he could slip down in the draft.

One thing to keep in mind is that goaltenders can take a long time to develop. As such, players drafted from the CHL may be at a disadvantage because teams need to make a contract decision within two years of drafting the player.

Most likely targets:
➙ Early round pick: Michael Hrabal
➙ Mid to late round pick: Adam Gajan

European Goaltenders

1Alexander Hellnemo6’218319.0Swe – Jr
2Juha Jatkola6’117620.4Finland
3Ian Blomquist6’218519.6Swe – 2
4Adam Dybal6’016517.4Cze – Jr
5Aksels Ozols6’115417.9Latvia

From this group there seems to be few candidates that would tempt the Habs in the first three rounds but with lots of later round picks, Kent Hughes may take a flyer on one of them. The team has made a practice of drafting goaltenders that are off the board and it could happen again. If it does, one of these players could see their name called by the Habs on the 2nd day of the draft.

Other Rankings

This table illustrates how many scouting services rank a goaltender in each round of the draft. A “2” under round 1 indicates that 2 scouting services rank the goaltender as a 1st round pick. I’ve cut it off at the 4th round.

PLAYER1st rd2nd rd3rd rd4th rd
Carson Bjarnason22
Michael Hrabal32
Trey Augustine2
Adam Gajan
Carsen Musser
Scott Ratzlaff2
Jacob Fowler1
Tomas Suchanek
Alexander Hellnemo
Juha Jatkola
Ian Blomquist
Adam Dybal
Aksels Ozols

What is absolutely stunning about this table is the lack of coverage given to goaltenders among many of the scouting services. Given the importance that is often attached to the position, you might expect to see more goaltenders rated. While that leaves casual followers in the dark, it does create opportunity for surprises at the draft table.

There are a lot of questions about whether or not the Habs may pick a goaltender but chances are very high that they will. It may be someone listed in this article but the team has shown a tendency to go with under-the-radar picks. We’ll have to see if that trend continues. With 11 picks already on the docket and maybe more to come, Kent Hughes could surprise and choose two goaltenders if he feels the talent is there – one in the early rounds and one in the mid to later rounds.

As the rebuild continues, goaltending will be an important element. Stay tuned and see if more scouting services begin to add goaltenders to their rankings.

Editor’s note: The Canadiens’ prospects in net are all 5th-7th round picks. Here is the table taken from the feature “In the Systems“, showing how they are doing this season.

Jakub DobesOhio State Univ.NCAA242.20.920⬇️
Emmett CroteauWaterloo Black HawksUSHL132.87.897➡️
Cayden PrimeauLaval RocketAHL133.65.890➡️
Joe VrbeticTrois-Rivières LionsECHL113.77.872➡️
Laval RocketAHL44.05.871⬇️
Frederik DichowFrölunda HCSHL92.91.897➡️

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