Montreal Canadiens and the Implications of the Draft Lottery

After a long layoff of news, the NHL Draft Lottery was held on Friday and gave the league exactly what they had hoped for, drama. Fans re-engaged in full-throated hockey debates and placed the attention of the sporting world on the NHL, even if it was for only one night. It also set the stage for a second draft lottery now that one of the eight placeholder positions held for the teams that lose the play-in series will have a chance to win the first-overall selection.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announces draft positions during Phase 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on June 26, 2020. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images)

This draft lottery has created multiple scenarios for la Sainte-Flanelle but many are still unsure what those could mean for a franchise that is still in the midst of a reset. Even if the playoffs don’t happen, the Habs will still be in the Phase 2 Draft Lottery based on their points percentage.

The Play-In

The Canadiens, and the rest of the NHL, are in Phase 2 of the NHL Return to Play plan. Meaning, players are skating and using facilities again, albeit, on their own. Tentatively, Phase 3 is to begin around 10 July which would allow teams to begin a three-week training camp, including full practices, scrimmages, and whatever plan the coaching staff believes will prepare the team for their upcoming play-in series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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The Habs, sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, drew the Sidney Crosby led Pittsburgh Penguins, and much has been written at The Hockey Writers about the matchup and who could play the hero. The odds of a Canadiens victory are slim, however, if they win, the Penguins will move into the placeholder lottery, while the Canadiens’ draft pick would fall to 16th overall.

Sidney Crosby, Vince Dunn
Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Crosby and a healthy Penguins team that made significant additions at the trade deadline, including Patrick Marleau, Jason Zucker and the return of Connor Sheary, are a much more formidable playoff opponent. What this means for the Habs is a series in which they perform admirably, gain experience, yet ultimately fall short.

Losing the play-in series would mean the Canadiens are guaranteed a top-10 pick in the 2020 Draft, a selection a team in a reset desperately needs to add talent. There are two scenarios here: The Habs have a one in eight chance to draft Alexis Lafrenière first overall or an 87.5% chance for the ninth-overall pick. Had the season finished with Montreal in eighth, the chances of a first-overall selection were only approximately 6%. So, this scenario should excite Habs fans.

Alexis Lafrenière Rimouski Oceanic
Alexis Lafrenière of the Rimouski Oceanic (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

That being said, the likeliest scenario, based on the odds, is that the Canadiens pick ninth. A top-10 selection gives them the possibility of drafting any of the following players:  A smooth-skating, two-way defenceman like Jake Sanderson; a pure sniper in Alexander Holtz; a developing scoring threat in Jack Quinn; possibly even the undersized Ottawa 67s star center Marco Rossi. All players would add high-end skills to the Habs’ lineup in two years.

What If?

Yet, what if the unlikely scenario occurs and the Canadiens somehow gain the first-overall selection for the first time since the 1980 Draft? Without a doubt, conspiracy theories would circulate about how the draft was rigged for the Canadiens to draft the top francophone prospect since Vincent Lecavalier was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1998. 

Vincent Lecavalier with Martin St-Louis and Steven Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning/Scott Audette)

Adding this level of talent to a team on the rise offensively would allow the franchise to take a massive leap forward in the reset plan, perhaps even on the cusp of becoming a contender. There is no denying Lafrenière’s resume. He has been the top amateur player at every level for the last few years. His heroics at the 2020 World Junior Championships earned him the nod as the top forward of the tournament, MVP, and sealed his position as the top prospect in the draft.

The Lafrenière Effect

Josh Bell of The Hockey Writers has written about this player at length. Lafrenière would instantly add top-line talent to the Canadiens. His skating is already considered among the best in the NHL. He provides speed, a powerful stride with an excellent first step, a strong base that allows him to balance and control the puck at top speed with an ability to do so while making direction changes effortlessly.

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His offensive game is immediately noticeable. His ability to think the game at high speed with his creativity makes him a highly productive player. His shot forces teams to defend him directly while his playmaking allows him to take advantage of any gaps in coverage. 

Rimouski Oceanic Alexis Lafreniere
BOISBRIAND, QC – NOVEMBER 23: Alexis Lafrenière in action in a QMJHL game between the Rimouski Océanics and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on November 23, 2019, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

At 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, he already boasts NHL size, which will allow him to translate his physical play to the NHL. He can play along the boards and win one-on-one puck battles and has a strong cycle game. He also uses his size and speed to attack the slot where he can release an accurate shot.

Defensively, Lafrenière will have some growing pains as all NHL rookies do, however, his ability to read a play, attack the puck and play a possession style will more than make up for any defensive deficiencies early in his career. He is also helped in his development by the fact he missed the cut for the 2019 NHL Draft by one month, allowing him another full season with the Rimouski Oceanic to further develop his game. 

He projects to become a franchise forward, and in a market like Montreal, that has been starved of an offensively gifted hometown hero, his addition would impact much more than games. He would become a media darling and generate a buzz for the franchise that hasn’t been seen in decades.

Alexis Lafreniere
Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Canadiens fans can consider the play-in series as a win-win scenario. They can cheer for the team knowing that the young players are gaining valuable experience. They can also look forward to their best opportunity of holding that elusive first-overall selection. While picking first overall doesn’t guarantee future success, this pick would provide the Canadiens with a franchise player, which hasn’t happened since the 2005 NHL Draft when Carey Price was selected fifth overall. The draft lottery may not have answered everyone’s questions, but it has given the Habs some hope for the future, at least for the next few weeks.