The Montreal Canadiens are entering the 2021 NHL Entry Draft with the latest first-round pick in their history after a run to the Stanley Cup Final. All told, general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin has 11 picks, five of which are in the top 90 of this draft class.
The Canadiens will enter the draft with a plan to help their current retooling through the draft, and based on the pool of prospects they’ve added in the last three years, 29 prospects in total, they will need a plan of attack to ensure they retain the rights for as long as possible.
In past drafts, the Canadiens added defence, size and depth; however, skilled scoring is at a premium. Their 2019 first-round pick, Cole Caufield is the top-scoring prospect, and judging by his debut in Montreal, he is not a prospect any longer. So, the expectation is for assistant GM Trevor Timmins and his scouting staff to focus on offence and, if possible, players heading to the NCAA so as to take advantage of the four-year window to sign a prospect college provides instead of the two years before an NHL team loses the rights to a drafted prospect if not signed.
Here are a few players that could fit in the Canadiens’ prospect system
Sasha Pastujov (LW)
The six-foot, 183-pound left winger is ranked by the majority of the scouting services to be available when the Canadiens pick in the late first. Being committed to the University of Notre Dame commit is an adept offensive player, having scored 45 goals in 64 games playing for the US National Training Development Program and Team USA.
Pastujov is adept at using his high hockey IQ to always be in a favorable offensive position to generate passing lanes and to deploy his deceptively powerful shot. He is also highly capable defensively as he fills passing lanes and supports his defence well, which leads to him generating offence in transition.
His goal per game performance in the WJC U18 this year in Texas may have bumped him up on some draft lists. Also, being an NCAA commit means that anyone who selects Pastujov would have four years to allow him to develop before he needs to be signed, which could be beneficial as for any team near the 50 contract limit.
Tyler Boucher is the son of former NHL player Brian Boucher, the six-foot one inch 201-pound winger is expected to go in the middle of the second round according to the majority of draft lists, but for the Canadiens, it wouldn’t be a stretch to select him with their first pick. The USNTDP product was nearly a point per game, 11 points in 12 games played as part of their under 18 program. He was able to do so, in large part, thanks to his effective use of his size and ability to play a physical style.
It is evident the Philadelphia native grew up watching the Broad Street Bullies style hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers as he loves to finish his hits, mix it up along the boards and engage in physical posturing between whistles. He plays a traditional power forward game.
Offensively he is aggressive on the forecheck, using his excellent skating and speed to apply pressure on the defender, as his physical finish allows him to separate pucks as well. Once he has control of the puck, he is able to create offensive opportunities with accurate passing. He also boasts an excellent shot and a willingness to get into the front of the net to score on rebounds and tip-ins.
As a Boston University commit, where he will join Canadiens power forward prospect Luke Tuch, Boucher will have time to work on refining his defensive game and controlling his aggressive tendencies on the ice as he can over-commit at times physically.
Zach Dean may be an exception to the NCAA plan in this article, but there is a reason for that. He would be a good fit for the Habs as he is projected to be a second-round selection in this draft, as the Canadiens have two second-round picks this draft, and that he is a QMJHL product of the Gatineau Olympiques.
The main aspect that would entice the Canadiens to select the six-foot 176-pound centerman is his style of play.
“Comparable to Ridley Greig in that they both come from NHL bloodlines, both play a hard-nosed, old-school style of game and both have undercover skill.”– Sam Cosentino/Sportsnet
The Canadiens have been building an identity based on a system where they play at speed, make decisions quickly, and execute quickly. That type of system fits Dean’s style of play perfectly.
He plays with an insatiable work ethic, consistently attacking the puck when playing on the defensive side, and if in support, finding areas of support for the puck carrier. When he has control, he is able to play at top speed, creating plays with what seems like a 360-degree vision. He is quick, mobile and can read plays as they happen, allowing him to get shots on net or, to find an open man for a scoring chance.
He will need more time to work on his defensive play, and adding size, however, he already holds a leadership role with Gatineau as an assistant captain, so it will be no surprise for him to elevate his play as he is provided more ice time in all situations.
The Canadiens may have had a deep playoff push this past season, but the retool isn’t complete yet. To ensure the window to be a Stanley Cup contender is truly open and remains that way for several years, they still need to rely on drafting and developing. With eleven more picks in a draft year with few players getting enough playing time due to a pandemic, there is a possibility several gems land in the Canadiens lap, and they will need that so as to add to an already impressive stable of young players who are beginning to take over as the core of this historic franchise.
Blain is a regular contributor as a THW Writer. For over 7 years he has been a part time journalist and podcaster covering the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens and its affiliates. He has made appearances on various television and radio stations as well as podcasts to discuss the Canadiens, and the NHL. Blain has taken the lessons on integrity, ethics, values and honesty that he has learned as a 28 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist to guide him in informing his readers and his goal of being a trusted source of information and entertainment.