The Montreal Canadiens will now officially finish 32nd overall. They just needed to lose one of their last two games in regulation time or have the Arizona Coyotes win one of their final two games. On Wednesday, the Habs defeated the New York Rangers; however, with an Arizona victory in overtime over the Dallas Stars, Montreal’s fate was sealed. Finishing last means the Canadiens now have the best odds in the NHL Draft Lottery to select first overall. If they win, it will be the first time the franchise selects first overall since 1980 when they chose Doug Wickenhieser.
This draft will have added significance this year as it will be hosted at the Bell Center in Montreal. The outcome of the NHL Draft Lottery will be known on May 10. No matter what happens, the Habs cannot draft any lower than third overall and will have the first pick in each subsequent round no matter what.
Here’s a look at what the Canadiens need and who is available in the top three. Drafting for need is never the best plan in the long term, so general manager Kent Hughes and his amateur scouting staff, led by Nick Bobrov, will need to focus on the best player available (BPA).
Shane Wright – Possible Future Canadiens’ Center
No list of the top three would be complete without the 6-foot-1, 187-pound center Shane Wright. He is by far the consensus number one pick of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. That isn’t to say he’s guaranteed to be selected there, however, as he has had some competition for the spot as the season has worn on. While the Canadiens have a desperate need to improve the skill level and depth at center in their system, they must choose the BPA with their top pick. That being said, in this case, they would be selecting both:
“He’s not an elite skater, but he is a strong skater. His shot is excellent, and while some scouts believe he’ll have more goals than assists in any given NHL season, he’s also a very good playmaker who makes everyone he plays with better. He’s smart, but he’s also got some grit in his game. He leads by example. Outstanding work ethic and character is viewed as A+.”– Bob McKenzie, TSN
Wright has NHL size, he is highly skilled, and plays a responsible two-way center game with an offensive flair. He faced early-season criticism for his lack of production after a rookie Ontario Hockey League season that saw him score at a 1.14 points per game (PPG) pace. While Wright didn’t have the explosive start that many had hoped for, he did show the skill set and awareness of a top-line centreman, eventually ending his sophomore season by improving on his offense, scoring at a 1.5 PPG pace, and 1 PPG early on in his first OHL playoffs with 3 points in 3 games played.
He doesn’t have the flashy, high-end skill plays we see from generational talents like Connor McDavid, but what he does provide is an elite hockey IQ. He identifies plays, knows how to cut them off to create turnovers, then uses his body to protect possession, open up offensive lanes and place an accurate shot or pass.
Related: THW NHL Draft Guide 2022
His main attribute is his IQ, which allows him to play at a fast pace or control the play and slow it down, all based on the needs at the time. More often than not, his decisions tend to be the right ones, or at least the ones that present the highest percentage of success. If paired in the top-six with Nick Suzuki, the Canadiens’ center depth would become capable of competing with the top echelon of the league. While he is arguably an NHL-ready prospect, he would benefit from another season out of the spotlight to develop his game further, as he does need to polish his defensive game to have the success expected of a top pick at the NHL level.
Juraj Slafkovsky – The Next Possible Canadiens Power Forward
Not much was known about Slovakian forward Juraj Slafkovsky before his draft year. Since the start of the season, however, his draft stock has done nothing but rise. At 6-foot-4 and 218 pounds, the left-handed 18-year-old has a scorer’s touch, can play either wing and plays a power forward style. That style of player is always highly sought after, especially at his size, which provides him with the reach to be a threat in every one-on-one puck battle, create space for his teammates, and get around or go through defenders.
His draft stock was helped dramatically by the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which was essentially his coming out party. His play not only earned his nation its first-ever Olympic men’s hockey medal – bronze – but his seven goals in seven games earned the then 17-year-old a nomination as one of the top forwards in the tournament and Tournament MVP as the most valuable player.
What may be most tantalizing about him is that he’s likely not done filling out his already gargantuan frame. He has the potential to grow into a legitimate top-six, possibly even top-line, power forward. What sets him apart is his work ethic, high-end offensive skill, and his ability to physically challenge his opponents over the entire 200 feet of the ice.
Slafkovsky’s skill, coupled with his size and physicality, makes him arguably one of the most dominant players in this draft and a definite challenge to be selected first overall. Whichever team selects this young winger will be excited by the potential this man-sized teenager can provide once he reaches his potential. For the Canadiens, adding size will be important but not at the expense of skill or speed and with Slafkovsky, they wouldn’t have to.
Simon Nemec – The Next Possible Canadiens Top-Pair Defender
The Canadiens have a desperate need on their blue line. They lack right-handed puck movers that can play on the top pair. With the 6-foot-1, 187-pound Simon Nemec, they may be able to fill that need if their pick falls to third overall. He may be this draft’s Moritz Seider in that he isn’t the consensus top defenceman available but has the potential to make a large impact for whoever selects him.
With Nemec, a team is gaining a potential top-pairing defender with outstanding puck-moving qualities and two-way play. His skating is superb, and he relies on it and his hockey IQ to defend against top opposition as well as generate offence off of the transition. He can defend off the rush with his speed, and he can play on a penalty-killing unit effectively as he is adept at using his stick and body positioning to cut off passing lanes and block out most forwards. His control under pressure demonstrates a maturity in his game that surpasses most defensemen of his age group.
Offensively, his speed and mobility make him a prototypical defenceman for the NHL’s new, more modern approach to defence. He can move the puck out of danger in the defensive zone with a quick and accurate first pass, or he can carry it up ice and create controlled zone entries, making him a highly effective transitional player. In the offensive zone, he has the vision to find or create a passing lane to generate a scoring chance, or he can get an accurate shot on the net. He is also a talented power-play quarterback with the poise on the blue line to handle an aggressive defence.
Like Slafkovsky, Nemec also played a central role in winning an Olympic bronze medal for his native Slovakia, which helped to raise his draft stock. The smooth-skating defender would become the Canadiens’ top defensive prospect on the right side and could be seen as an ideal partner for either Alexander Romanov or Kaiden Guhle as his skill set and ability to play heavy minutes in all situations match up well with their similar yet more physical play.
This draft class may not be seen as elite as the 2023 class led by Connor Bedard, but 2022 does have several top-line and top-pair potential talents who can all fit the Canadiens’ needs and help Hughes get the Habs to leap back into contender status. No matter who the Canadiens staff decide upon, be it someone named here, Logan Cooley, or someone else, whoever they select will become a key asset towards that goal.
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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 29 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces and applied them to his work as a journalist with the goal to be a trusted source of information and entertainment.