Canadiens’ First-Round Draft Targets

With the 2019-20 NHL season in a state of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we now look to the future. The Montreal Canadiens have a staggering 14 picks in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft! That’s enough to draft two lines, two defensive pairs, and two goalies, plus a couple of extras. This article will talk about who they should take with the most important pick of those 14 – their first choice.

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We’ll make the assumption that the draft lottery won’t shift the picks around very much. This means the Canadiens would draft eighth overall if the season doesn’t continue. The players that will be looked at won’t just be based on the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings, but also the needs of the team, and where other experts have the players ranked.

Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67’s

NHL Central Scouting: 6th (NA skaters)
Future Considerations: 8th 8th
Bell’s Top 124 for February: 5th
Forbes’ Top 217 for March: 7th
Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 8th

The first priority of the Canadiens needs to be drafting a No. 1 center. As things currently sit, Montreal only has one proven top-six centerman in Max Domi, and he struggled this season. It’s also too early to tell if Nick Suzuki will be able to make the jump so Montreal needs to look at someone who has the potential to step into that role in two years.

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That’s why the best choice for the Canadiens should be Marco Rossi of the Ottawa 67’s. Rossi led the entire CHL in points this season with a staggering 120 in 56 games played! His short stature may keep him from being picked higher which is why the Canadiens have a realistic chance of acquiring him. Getting physically stronger is something he can definitely do in a short amount of time. The offensive prowess he would bring is way harder to find. Not only is Rossi a very dangerous scoring threat but he’s also very good at backchecking and playing on the defensive side of the puck.

MArco Rossi Ottawa 67s
Marco Rossi of the Ottawa 67’s (Credit: CHL Images)

Rossi is very confident in his ability to excel at the highest level. He is the kind of player who would fill the void at center that the Habs desperately need. It’s for those reasons that Marco Rossi is the absolute best pick the Canadiens can realistically go for in the 2020 draft. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he could be in the Habs lineup either next season, or after one more year of polishing.

Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters

NHL Central Scouting: 3rd (NA Skaters)
Future Considerations: 7th 7th
Bell’s Top 124 for February: 7th
Forbes’ Top 217 for March: 5th
Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 5th

If the Habs cannot get that No. 1 center in the draft, the next biggest hole is on defence. Shea Weber is a great defenceman, but he’s had injury problems of late. Jeff Petry’s contract is also due to expire this season, so a replacement will be needed. This is a void that Erie Otters defenceman Jamie Drysdale could definitely fill.

Jamie Drysdale, OHL, Erie Otters
Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Regarded by many as the best defenceman in the entire draft, Drysdale is certainly an elite-level talent. He’s put up 47 points in 49 games played so he’s close to a point per game, which means he has offensive chops. Yet he’s regarded as a guy who can seemingly recover no matter how bad he seems to be out of position. This speaks volumes as to how exceptional a skater he is, as well as the drive to keep the puck out of the net.

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Montreal is in desperate need of people who can turn their negative goal differential around. Not only can Drysdale play defence exceptionally well, but he can also score. He’s a winner as well, as Drysdale was an instrumental part in a World Junior Championship win with Team Canada. There are no glaring holes in his game, as such any nit-picks can be fixed in an offseason.

Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgardens

NHL Central Scouting: 2nd (EU Skaters)
Future Considerations: 5th 9th
Bell’s Top 124 for February: 8th
Forbes’ Top 217 for March: 6th
Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 6th

One really interesting thing that one may have noticed about Montreal this season is that they only dressed three right-wingers. Cole Caufield could be close to ready, but aside from that, there are not many players in the system Montreal can move to their roster. Now arguably the most difficult prospect to acquire on this list is right-winger Alexander Holtz.

Alexander Holtz Djurgarden
Alexander Holtz, Djurgardens (Photo by ERIK SIMANDER/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)

His 16 points in 35 games played were the best in the Swedish Hockey League by a player under 18 this season. He’s a pretty big guy as well at 6-foot and 192 pounds, which would lend itself well to Montreal’s overall smaller roster. Holtz is a tough one to place as he’s ranked as high as fifth overall and as low as ninth, and the rankings are almost split 50/50 on when he’ll go.

If there is a spot he could work on the most it’s his speed, but once he’s in the offensive zone he knows what to do. Holtz has a deadly shot, both wrister and clapper, he’s also got very good vision. I’d give him another year to see how he improves over a season, and after that he may be ready to crack the Habs lineup.

Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit

NHL Central Scouting: 5th (NA Skaters)
Future Considerations: 9th 4th
Bell’s Top 124 for February: 9th
Forbes’ Top 217 for March: 8th
Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 7th

In the event Marco Rossi is chosen earlier, the Montreal center void can still be filled. Enter Cole Perfetti of the Saginaw Spirit, who was second in the CHL in points. Perfetti managed to get 111 points in 61 games played, which is the first time a Saginaw player has hit the 100-point plateau since Jack Combs did it in the 2007-08 season.

Cole Perfetti, OHL, Saginaw Spirit
Cole Perfetti (Photo courtesy CHL Images)

Don’t let his short stature fool you, this kid is unbelievably skilled. He led the Gretzky Cup in scoring with 12 points in just 5 games! He excels under pressure, and has the confidence in his game to know he can be the guy. His hockey IQ is also highly praised as he’s listed as one of the smartest players in the draft.

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The only potential weakness for the young center is his size. He’s 5-foot-10, which isn’t so bad, but he’s only 177 pounds. Thankfully, through training, he can easily fix this minor weakness. Combine his IQ with his stellar offensive capabilities and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him in the NHL after just one year.

Yaroslav Askarov, G, Neva St. Petersburg

NHL Central Scouting: 1st (EU Goalies)
Future Considerations: 11th 5th
Bell’s Top 124 for February: 10th
Forbes’ Top 217 for March: 10th
Fisher’s Top 350 for April: 10th

Perhaps an interesting wildcard pick for the Habs would be Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov. Carey Price will turn 33 this year, and though he’s certainly not on the decline, he’s also not in his prime anymore. Montreal’s goaltender depth is basically Cayden Primeau at this point, and because goalies typically take longer to develop, the timing with Askarov could line up.

Yaroslav Askarov Team Russia
Team Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov (Russia Hockey/FHR.RU)

Askarov is the top-ranked goaltender in this year’s draft, slated to be chosen in the earlier half of the first round. In 18 games played with Neva St. Petersburg, he’s posted a .920 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average with one shutout. It can certainly be tempting to take a first-round projected goaltender – after all, Price was one of those goaltenders taken in the first round (fifth overall).

A potential shortcoming of his game as it sits is his patience. He has been known to go into the butterfly too early, however, his freakish athleticism can help remedy a mistake. If he develops at the rate of the first round goalie he is, he could be Carey Price’s back-up in two to three years.

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What do you think? Who would you like to see the Montreal Canadiens draft in the first round this year? Let us know in the comments below.