Canadiens Mailbag: Domi, Kotkaniemi, Draft and More

The Montreal Canadiens enter a pivotal moment in their reset plans. They have an opportunity to gain playoff-type experience versus a true Stanley Cup contender in the Pittsburgh Penguins. At the same time, they somehow backed their way into a 12.5 percent chance of winning the first-overall selection, their best odds since 1980, the last time they had the top pick.

Related: The Worst Teams in Stanley Cup Playoff History

Somehow, general manager Marc Bergevin faces a no-lose scenario, where he can prove the team he has built is ready to make waves in the playoffs with a win versus Pittsburgh, or if they lose, he can end up with a top-10 pick or even the top pick in a year when Alexis Lafrenière, the best Quebec-born prospect in over 20 years, is projected to go No. 1.

Alexis Lafreniere Rimouski Oceanic
BOISBRIAND, QC – NOVEMBER 23: Alexis Lafrenière in action in a QMJHL game between the Rimouski Océanics and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on November 23, 2019, at the Bell Centre in Montreal, QC (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

With that as the backdrop we opened the mailbox on Twitter and will try to answer your Montreal Canadiens questions:

What if more players and/or staff test positive for COVID-19 during the training camp & they end up cancelling the season (hypothetical)? Would the draft format then be 8 to 31 or another lottery with the, say, bottom eight? And would the odds still be 12.5 percent or higher for eighth on down? From Ken

This is a very common question and it’s understandable due to the uncertainty we face during this pandemic. Ken, if the play-ins are cancelled before they can be completed, the Phase 2 Draft will still occur. Even if the playoffs don’t happen, the Habs will still be in the Phase 2 Draft Lottery based on their points percentage.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly announces draft positions during Phase 1 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on June 26, 2020. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/NHLI via Getty Images)

The draft format will be the eight teams ranked from 24th overall to 15th overall based on their points percentage and would be involved in the Phase 2 lottery. Each of these teams, including Montreal, would have an equal one-in-eight (12.5 percent each) chance of winning first overall. If Montreal doesn’t win the Phase 2 lottery, they would choose ninth overall based on the points percentage. So, there would be no real change for the Habs other than this scenario has provided the Canadiens better odds at a top pick than if they had been placed eighth in a normal NHL draft lottery. 

Jesperi Kotkaniemi has seemingly bulked up during quarantine. Could he be a surprise key performer for the Habs against Pittsburgh? Question From Eddy

Hi Eddy, yes, Jesperi Kotkaniemi does look like he’s growing into his frame as noted by Eric Engels of Sportsnet.

The issue for Kotkaniemi right now isn’t so much his size as it is his health. He suffered a serious spleen injury in March, which as all reports state now is that he will be ready to compete for a role in the Phase 3 training camp. He was progressing very well for Laval Rocket head coach Joel Bouchard in Laval prior to his spleen injury. Bouchard stated:

He was dominant in certain areas of the game. I saw that he was invested in what we wanted him to learn and that’s very encouraging. He was 100% on board with what we wanted to do.

Joel Bouchard 

It makes the series versus Pittsburgh a potential stepping stone for the young Finnish center. If he earns a role and Claude Julien gives him the chance to play, it would allow Kotkaniemi to put his new approach and newfound confidence into use during a playoff-type atmosphere.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It would also give him the opportunity to end the season playing well and put a nightmarish season behind him. If he can provide quality play as a third-line center, he could become a bright spot in the series for the Canadiens. More importantly, it would give the young center who turned 20 on July 6 more experience that can help his long term development.

Will the Habs trade Max Domi? And if so, what would they want in return and which clubs could they target? Question from Lyle

Thanks for the question Lyle. For now, I believe it is unlikely the Habs trade Max Domi. Despite a downturn in production this season, the Canadiens center depth is still very young. Phillip Danault at 27 years old is the elder statesman of the group and their top defensive center. Domi, at 25 is still third on the team in scoring and their next most experienced center. Domi is more likely to be signed to a one-year deal so that he can prove he is truly a center, or would better serve the team on the wing.

Related: Subban-Weber Trade Revisited

If however the Canadiens do beat the odds and are able to pick Lafrenière first overall, adding that level of offensive threat may prompt Bergevin to dangle Domi as trade bait in a package. The other glaring need for Montreal is a puck-moving left-handed defenceman who can quarterback a power play and pair with Shea Weber. Teams such as the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars are two teams that would benefit from Domi’s style and have defensemen that could help the Canadiens fill their need on defence.

Max Domi, David Schlemko, Paul Byron
Montreal Canadiens left wing Max Domi, center, celebrates with teammates David Schlemko and Paul Byron after scoring. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

Thanks for reading The Hockey Writers Habs Mailbag! I love this interaction and want to make this a regular occurrence. If ever you have questions, feel free to reach out to me at @BlainPotvin_THW on Twitter or @Potsy_70 on Instagram. Also, feel free to comment here or in any other article of mine.