Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin has repeatedly stated that he is building through the draft. Since the 2017 NHL Draft, his amateur scouting staff led by assistant GM Trevor Timmins and head of amateur scouting Shane Churla have added 28 prospects, and the organization has 14 picks in the 2020 Draft, currently scheduled to be held in Montreal in June.
With COVID-19 closing down sports leagues in Europe and North America, and putting draft combines in jeopardy, we can’t predict how teams, including the Canadiens, will react and plan their draft strategies.
Bergevin will go into this draft ready to take the next step of his rebuilding plan, and armed with the tools to add skill using his eighth overall pick and three more in the second round. With the anticipation of an eventful draft weekend, what can we expect the Habs to get from these picks?
The Top 10 Pick
If the standings remain the same and the 2020 Draft happens as planned, the Canadiens have the eighth overall pick.
This means, the Canadiens hold a top-10 selection for only the sixth time in the last 20 years, and their second in three seasons. Fans know to temper their expectations, but, that said, players selected in the top 10 are expected to have an impact in the NHL.
The Canadiens’ prospect pool is ranked in the top five of the NHL by multiple publications including The Hockey Writers, so adding more quality prospects will help in the future, but a top-10 selection should help them take a step forward soon. Here are a few options that should be available when the eighth pick is on the clock.
If the Canadiens are looking for scoring upfront, one option is Swedish forward Alexander Holtz of Djurgarden of the SHL. The 6-foot, 182-pound winger has all the tools to become a top-line forward in the NHL. He has received quality scouting reviews for some time. His shot, speed, and work ethic all point to a player who will eventually grow into a quality NHL point producer.
Holtz has produced well versus players in his age group and he’s played professionally for a full season already, giving him a leg up on his development. He may be ready to take a step forward playing in Europe for one more season or make the jump to North America as soon as next season to develop in the AHL. Read THW’s draft profile on Holtz.
If the Canadiens want to add a smooth-skating defenceman, Jake Sanderson should be their target, after Grant McCagg of Recrutes.ca ranked him ninth overall among 2020 draft prospects.
The 6-foot-2, 186-pound, left-shot defender has an NHL bloodline; the son of 16-year NHL forward Geoff Sanderson. Jake also fits the new prototype for a top NHL defenceman with elite skating ability which he uses to get into position quickly and allows him to play a physical style of defence; a style he will need to refine and improve on to become a quality NHL defender.
He also uses his skating ability as a weapon to create plays in transition and generate offence. His skill set has him projected to be a possible top-pairing defender who can quarterback a power play.
“A poised, smooth, built-for-the-modern-game defenseman whose defensive zone coverage needs some work,”Scott Wheeler, The Athletic, Preseason look at the top 31 prospects for the 2020 NHL draft, Aug 19 2019.
With the remainder of the season and the scouting combine in doubt, there might be a surprise selection in the top 10. The Canadiens have been known to go off the board and if do so again this year, an excellent candidate for a surprise pick is Ottawa 67s right-winger, Jack Quinn.
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound winger has strong shooting skills, scoring 52 goals in 62 games for the OHL’s top team in 2019-20. He was four days too young to be eligible for last year’s draft, and he is now ranked in the mid-teens on most mock draft lists. However, the extra year of physical maturity, as well as his work ethic and defensive acumen, could make him a desirable commodity for a team looking for a two-way forward with scoring ability who is almost NHL-ready.
“A late 2001-born, Quinn has improved significantly this year thanks to gains in his skating and strength on the puck. While his ticket to the league may be his shot and scoring ability, Quinn is an underrated two-way player who competes hard.”McKeen’s Hockey
The Second Round
The Canadiens have three picks in the second round, and while most mock drafts focus on the first round, the added value of depth skill players, sometimes even star players like Patrice Bergeron or Shea Weber, are found in the second round. With so many picks recently, the Canadiens can afford to swing for the fences with these picks in the hopes that one becomes a home run. This is not an exhaustive list, but these names provide that high-skill, high-reward option.
The 6-foot, 185-pound center from Gatineau, Quebec is a very skilled player. His vision and hockey IQ are high and he doesn’t shy away from the physical side of the game, going into the corners and driving hard to the net. He uses these skills to create offensive opportunities for his linemates or he can put his excellent skating and edge-work to use and generate a scoring opportunity for himself, making him dangerous every time he is on the ice.
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Lapierre is ranked by all major scouting services to be a late first-round selection. However, his unfortunate history of concussions (he’s had three in two years), coupled with a lack of international play, playoffs and possibly a scouting combine, making him likely to slide down the draft board.
The former QMJHL first-overall pick has all the tools to become a very good NHL player. If the Quebec product slides down to the Canadiens’ first second-round selection, it would be difficult for Timmins to overlook him, especially in front of the hometown crowd.
The 6-foot-3, 201-pound, left-handed Russian defender boasts NHL size and style of play already. He is a big-bodied, physical defender who has an all-around skill set with excellent skating abilities. NHL executives have been hesitant to select Russian born players in recent drafts however, Kuznetsov chose to join the University of Connecticut at 17.
In his rookie NCAA season, he showed he is defensively responsible with excellent positioning and an active stick that he uses to cut off passing lanes. He also loves the physical side of the game, punishing opposition forwards that try to cycle the puck or go to the net.
Offensively, he is still raw. He has a hard shot from the point, but it is more likely to generate rebounds than goals. His transition game is still a work in progress on the smaller North American ice, but as he gains confidence, he will take control of the game more often. Any team that selects him will be happy to let him mature in the NCAA for another season or two. His international play with Team Russia has earned him high praise as well. He has the potential to be a second-pairing defenceman who can play the new style of NHL defence.
Tuch is a 6-foot-2, 203-pound winger who loves to play physical. The brother of the Vegas Golden Knights’ Alex Tuch, fans can expect a similar style of play. Currently with the US National Training and Development Program (USNTDP), he is committed to Boston University for next season. While Tuch doesn’t need time to develop physically, as he is already NHL size, he will need time to refine his skills.
Tuch has a hard shot that sometimes has trouble hitting the target when taken from outside the slot. He does show excellent offensive awareness as he positions himself well to receive passes, and he can make quick passes to teammates in tight areas in the offensive zone.
Tuch is not afraid of playing physical or taking punishment to get to the front of the net. His ability to be a consistent net-front presence, where he has quick hands and scores most of his goals, as well as control the boards when cycling the puck, make him an excellent choice for a team like the Canadiens who need large-bodied, physical forwards.
The Canadiens have four top-60 picks in this draft, one that will be deep in wingers and defensemen, two of the team’s biggest needs. If they can translate their recent draft success and this draft class into two or more quality players per draft year, it would go a long way into finally becoming a contending team.