The Montreal Canadiens not only have the first overall selection at the 2022 NHL Draft but also hold the Calgary Flames’ first-round pick too. This pick will be at 25th overall or later, depending on the Flames’ playoff success.
The debate over whether they should select Shane Wright or not rages on, but an overlooked asset is that later first-round pick. There will likely be several players that have been ranked highly on several draft boards that will slide down the draft standings. With 37 prospects selected over the last three entry drafts, and now with 14 picks in 2022, general manager (GM) Kent Hughes has the assets needed to trade up for a prospect that is high on their list.
Related: Should the Montreal Canadiens Trade the First Overall Pick
This may seem like a foreign concept to those who follow the Canadiens, as they have not made a trade to move up in the first round since 2010 when they traded up to select Jarred Tinordi. The question to ask this year is, would it be worthwhile to do so, and what needs could that player fill?
Canadiens Could Trade-Up for Skill
The Canadiens haven’t had two picks in a first-round since 2007 when they selected Ryan McDonagh at 12th and Max Pacioretty at 22nd. They also used a second-round pick on a little-known Norris Trophy-winning defenceman named PK Subban. This year, GM Kent Hughes has similar draft assets that could make 2022 as impactful as the 2007 Draft was.
Hughes’ vision for the Canadiens includes speed and skill.
“In a perfect world, we’d be an offensive-minded club, I envision a team that plays fast, and plays fast with the puck that’s a possession hockey team. But I also understand that you have to build a team around the players you have and that’ll be part of the process as we move ahead. We’re going to create a modern organization that players want to be a part of.” – Kent Hughes
With that in mind, this season is the perfect time to trade up to add a player that fits that style of hockey. With the rebuild in full swing, instead of adding quantity, it can be accelerated by adding quality.
Noah Östlund, C
Noah Östlund is an undersized 5-foot-11, 165-pound centerman from Sweden. He has been rising up the draft rankings all season long, climbing to 18th on Peter Baracchini’s latest rankings at The Hockey Writers. Östlund’s performance at the 2022 U18 World Junior Championship where he scored 10 points in six games, including four goals while playing as Team Sweden’s top center, will likely cement him as a middle to a late first-round selection.
His hockey IQ and ability to play at top speed are the attributes that would draw Hughes into trading up for him.
“The first thing that stands out about Östlund is his high-end skating ability and the pace at which he plays the game. He is a technically sound skater who can carve up the opposition as a puck carrier, weaving through checks in transition and dicing in and out of traffic off the cycle. Östlund has fantastic hands and is able to quickly string pass receptions into slick dekes which he layers on top of his agile skating stride, giving him an explosive element to his game.” – Nick Richard, Dobber Prospects
The downside is, that Östlund isn’t projected to become a top-line center, and with the depth at that position the Habs have begun to acquire, it may not matter. There is a need for skill on the wing in the Canadiens’ prospect pipeline, and his high-end playmaking skills could make him a top-six weapon. Also, being a natural center, he could provide the franchise with another flexible forward that provides lineup options for his coaches.
Luca Del Bel Belluz, C
Luca Del Bel Belluz is another center prospect that would fit with the new philosophy for the Canadiens. He is offensively gifted, but not without flaws, which is why he could be available close to the Habs’ second first-round pick, but worth trading up to acquire as well.
At 6-foot-1, 176 pounds, Del Bel Belluz has the size the Canadiens need. He needs to add strength to his frame as well as improve his first step, but what the young forward does extremely well is use his size and excellent puck handling skills to control the play. In turn, this allows him to enter the zone with control, a similar style to that of former Canadiens winger, Tyler Toffoli.
Like Östlund, Del Bel Belluz would be better suited to play wing in the Canadiens’ system. The move to the wing would ease the defensive burden he would need to carry if he remained at center, and mitigates any skating issues. Also, with his shot, he could eventually thrive in a secondary scoring role. It would be worth the assets for the Canadiens to move up five to seven positions to add a potential second-line sniper like him.
Bonus: Canadiens 33rd Overall Pick
The Canadiens also own the first pick of the second round. This pick could be a very interesting option for Hughes and his staff as he could potentially add a first-round talent that slipped out of the first round for some reason. One player that could slide there is Russian winger Ivan Miroshnichenko.
Prior to this season, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger was touted as a potential top-10 draft pick. Miroshnichenko fits with Hughes’ vision of a skillful, offensive brand of hockey as he has elite skating ability. His long and powerful stride makes him a real danger of beating defenders wide with speed, and his ability to change directions at top speed also allows him to attack the center of the ice. His shot is elite, as he can score from anywhere on the ice and needs very little space to release it. He also plays a North American style of hockey as he enjoys the physical play, finishing checks, and using his size and speed to be a pest on the forecheck.
The reasons he would slide out of the first round are the “Russian Factor” due to global affairs impacting transfer agreements between leagues, but more importantly, due to his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The good news is that they diagnosed it early, and it is the most curable form of the disease. Miroshnichenko is likely to miss the entire 2022-23 season as well. That being said, he is still worth taking the risk of using a second-round pick on him. With his top-10 talent as well as his status as an unsigned Russian player, the Canadiens would be able to hold his draft rights indefinitely, which would make it palatable to be patient.
With multiple first-round picks for the first time in 15 years as well as several top 60 picks, Hughes is set to accelerate his rebuild. This draft class could help to reshape the Canadiens’ forward core group in the long term. By using the 2022 Draft to select players that fit in with the desired style of speed, skill, and puck possession, he could make his first draft at the helm of the franchise one that would lay the foundation for his future plans.