The Montreal Canadiens sat 24th in the NHL at the time of The Pause. This was good enough to earn them a position in the best-of-five play-in round versus the fifth seed Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canadiens aren’t exactly the favorites — they’re currently seen as serious underdogs with little chance of winning the series, according to the Vegas odds makers. Regardless of the outcome, the Canadiens’ prospect pool is restocked in each position, so the clear winning bet is to pick for best player available. However, who could be that choice for assistant general manager Trevor Timmins?
There are some that think the Canadiens could win; even Don Cherry believes the Habs have a chance to win because of Carey Price. Perhaps others on the roster can step up to help Price become the hero. What happens if the Canadiens actually win the series — where would their pick lie?
After pouring over the convoluted draft rules, if they pulled out a series win, the draft pick would drop from its current position of 8th overall to 16th.
Canadiens Draft at 16
Many fans would rather lose and draft in the top 10. Picking in the middle of the round sometimes does provide draft gems such as Mathew Barzal who was picked at 15th in the 2015 draft, but their argument bears weight as the odds of an impact player improve the higher up in the draft a team selects. But, who could be available for Montreal if they choose at 16?
Sault Ste. Marie has a reputation as a program that churns out pro-ready hockey players. This season, they have seven players ranked by NHL Central Scouting for the 2020 NHL Draft. At 6-foot-2 and 181 pounds, O’Rourke, a left-handed defenceman, has an NHL-projectable frame and could be the steal of the 2020 draft.
He is also a highly mobile defender. He can play at a high pace and is extremely agile — this allows him to doggedly pursue any attacking forward entering into his defensive zone. He uses his edges effectively to maintain his speed to keep a tight gap on the puck carrier. O’Rourke also uses his stick effectively to challenge forwards and deny them the time and space they need to make plays. If that fails, he is well known for his physical play. Once he adds muscle to his lean frame, his aggressive style could be an NHL-projectable skill set.
Offensively, O’Rourke is capable of playing with finesse. He’s able to make a quick first pass in transition, and he can also carry the puck up to the offensive zone quite well using his size, skating and stick skills. Once there, he’s adept at getting involved in the play by taking a quick shot to get the puck on net, making a pass in deep or pressuring the defenders along the boards to restart a cycle game.
O’Rourke displays a nice set of stick skills, agility and physicality. His feet allow nice forward push and his edging gets him quickly to the areas he wants to inhabit. He gets involved on the attack and is more than willing to apply pressure in the attack zone by cycling in. He has a frame that can add more girth and muscle, and he will play physical to make things more difficult on the opposition. Typecast as a finesse offenceman, he has shown he can play a solid defensive game with increased assertiveness. He will start to fill out his lean frame and that will aid in an uptick of his physicality.
The Canadiens are in need of a sniper in the system, but last year’s addition of Cole Caufield at the 2019 draft was a good start. If Mercer were selected, he would become only the second Newfoundland-born player chosen by the Canadiens in the first round, the last one being Terry Ryan at 8th overall in 1995.
Mercer, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens right winger, has a good frame at 6-foot and 179 pounds. He’s also projected to be one of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s (QMJHL) top prospects. He was nominated for the Michael Bossy Award this past season, which is given to the league’s top professional prospect. Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus top pick in the upcoming draft, eventually took home that award.
Mercer’s style of play is tenacious in puck pursuit. He doesn’t shy away from contact or from going to the dirty areas on the ice, the corners, along the boards and the front of the net. This style allows him to be used reliably by his coaches in all situations. He’s capable of playing a physical style to create offence. His weapon of choice is his heavy, accurate shot. He is able to get it off quickly in traffic making it harder for goaltenders to track. If he has no lane for a shot, he can find a passing lane for a teammate in a favorable shooting position. His physical style and lack of fear allows him to be a consistent net-front presence, a skill that is in desperate need on the Canadiens’ roster and its power play.
“Mercer plays a lot bigger than his 6’0″ frame, excelling below the hash marks and around the crease. Equal parts playmaker and goal scorer, he looks to have the makings of a strong complementary piece on a scoring line.”Brock Otten – McKeen’s Hockey
This style makes him an excellent defensive player as well, used in a shutdown role in key moments of a game and matching up with other teams’ top players. This makes him a player that can impact a game even if he can’t produce offensively on a given night. He can take away the time and space from the opposition’s puck carriers, always putting in a full effort as a defensive contributor and not a passenger.
His skating needs some improvement on his first step and overall speed to be able to translate his style at the NHL level, but that should come with time and practice. An in-depth draft profile on Dawson Mercer can be found here.
The 2020 NHL Draft is unpredictable, especially this year as there are no combines to help scouting staffs finalize their lists. There are several names currently ranked to be available in the middle of the first round. No doubt others may slide down and many could become a draft gem. With 14 picks in hand, the Canadiens’ plan of building through the draft will have to continue and hope that general manager Marc Bergevin and his staff are able to pluck a gem from the 2020 draft class.