The Montreal Canadiens hosted the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and had the first overall pick. The team also had 14 total picks to start the draft. With general manager Kent Hughes looking to free up cap space and the pressure of picking number one in the team’s home city, he knew he would need to make a big splash to win over the Montreal crowd. Hughes did not disappoint and walked away from his first NHL draft as a huge winner. With all the action at the draft, they could make some more moves over the summer too.
Canadiens Draft Slafkovsky First Overall
To the shock of some, the Canadiens drafted Juraj Slafkovsky from Slovakia, a big winger who excelled in international play this season, instead of the consensus number one pick and center, Shane Wright. The Habs needed a center to help relieve some pressure from Nick Suzuki, who became the team’s number one center last season, but Hughes didn’t pick the center he needed; instead, he went for an enormous power forward winger. He went with Slafkovsky because he wanted to be a difference-maker and was confident in his abilities without being arrogant.
Slafkovsky is a huge forward who can skate, shoot and has a winning attitude, everything the Habs were looking for in a player. Hughes wants to sign him immediately and wants Slafkovsky to play in North America this season. If he is ready to play in Montreal, he will; if not, he will start the season in the American Hockey League with the Laval Rocket. The Canadiens also feel he can progress quickly with their help and be a star player for their organization. With the Habs needing to create cap space, this opens up the door to move a winger or two like long rumoured Josh Anderson or Mike Hoffman. To consider moving one of these players, they must be comfortable knowing that Slafkovsky can play with the big club to start the season.
Canadiens Find Center Through a Trade, Not By Drafting One
The Canadiens’ big move at the draft was trading fan favourite Alexander Romanov to the New York Islanders for the 13th overall pick and then flipping that selection to the Chicago Blackhawks for center Kirby Dach. Now the Habs have a 6-foot-4 speedy center with all the makings to become a star. At 21, he has room to grow, and the Habs feel they can work with him to improve his overall play. He had significant wrist surgery and struggled on the ice after his recovery, but the third-overall selection in the 2019 Draft has all the potential to be the number two center in Montreal.
With the acquisition of Dach, the Canadiens find themselves with an overabundance of centers as Suzuki, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling, and Christian Dvorak make up the center depth going into next season. Montreal is now in a position to possibly move one to improve in other areas and free up cap space in the process. The most logical one to be traded would be Dvorak as he has been linked to several trade rumours and has the best value and highest cap space of the movable assets at the center position. If they move Dvorak, Montreal will have $4.45 million added to their cap but could be weaker down the middle. Another option would be to trade Evans or Poehling and sign a cheap free agent to play on the fourth line or move Poehling to the wing.
Canadiens Trade Romanov
To acquire Dach from the Blackhawks, the Canadiens had to give up something to get a high enough pick. The Islanders required defencemen, and Romanov was the price they asked for that 13th pick. Habs fans might be disappointed in losing Romanov; Hughes was adamant that they didn’t want to give any players up in a trade, but he had no choice. The Canadiens, however, made the trade from a position of strength, as they have an abundance of left-handed defencemen, with most of them being under 26. With Kaiden Ghule and Arber Xhekaj close to being NHL ready and Jordan Harris already with NHL experience, they could quickly fill the hole left by Romanov.
Related: Canadiens’ Top 5 Defensive Prospects
It wouldn’t be wise for the Canadiens to play three or more rookies in their lineup on defence for the season. It would hurt player development and put head coach Martin St-Louis in a tough position night after night. The veteran presence is good so far, with Jeff Petry, David Savard and Chris Wideman on the right and Joel Edmundson on the left. That still leaves two holes to fill on the left side. Harris will be in one of them, and Corey Schueneman could fill out the rest with Ghule, Xhekaj and maybe Mattias Norlinder rotating in with Schueneman. Right-hander Justin Barron also will factor into the defence corps, leaving the Canadiens with tough decisions to make at training camp. The Habs defence will be very young and inexperienced unless another move is coming or they sign someone in free agency.
It was a wild draft for the Canadiens; they got an enormous power forward winger and a colossal center and opened space for some top prospect defencemen to try and make their mark in the NHL. The Habs will make more moves this summer, and Hughes still wants to free up cap space. If Petry gets traded, expect another free agent defenceman to sign in Montreal.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.