The Montreal Canadiens have had a shocking last few weeks. Between Martin St. Louis replacing Dominique Ducharme as head coach and Tyler Toffoli getting pre-emptively traded over a month before the trade deadline, reports the Habs are interested in New York Rangers’ prospects rank right up there… between Ben Chiarot getting injured (because of course) and them going 1-5-1 in their last seven.
Really, just consider executive vice president Jeff Gorton’s history with the Rangers. Add to that former-Rangers director of European scouting Nick Bobrov getting hired, and the only real surprise is it’s taken this long for rumors to swirl.
There’s also the fact the Rangers have got a pretty jam-packed pipeline. All in all, anybody in the Canadiens’ position (dead-last in the NHL, for the record) would at the very least be making phone calls. Things seem much more advanced between the two teams at this juncture, though.
It’s just a matter of general manager Kent Hughes finding the right fit (and the Rangers agreeing of course). Here are the top five:
5. Alexis Lafreniere (LW)
No, Alexis Lafreniere probably isn’t a prospect anymore (as a grizzled veteran of 1.5 NHL seasons), which might be a disqualifying factor based on Pierre LeBrun’s reporting above. However, the 2020 first-overall pick probably isn’t as untouchable as he once was.
Lafreniere’s production hasn’t blown anyone’s mind, but there’s still no denying his potential as a just-turned 20-year-old. Plus, considering his last name, there’s little concern he’ll face the same level of blowback as one Jesperi Kotkaniemi… probably more, in all honesty if you take Jonathan Drouin’s experience with the Habs as an example.
Lafreniere wouldn’t come cheap, but at the very least having Lafreniere on the roster would shut up any critics who still lament the fact the Canadiens missed out on a high draft pick in 2020 by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in the play-in round. Forget the fact that mini-playoff run is what indirectly led then-GM Marc Bergevin to put together the team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but I digress.
Circumstances have obviously changed, in that the Canadiens are rebuilding. They wouldn’t necessarily need Lafreniere to be all-world right away. Granted, they probably don’t absolutely need a top-line French-Canadian player, but what are you going to do? Certainly not pass up the opportunity to acquire a player of Lafreniere’s caliber, if he’s at all available.
4. Vitali Kravtsov (RW)
On the subject of Drouin, the Canadiens certainly have a history of acquiring players who have refused American Hockey League assignments. There’s a school of thought that, in part because of Drouin’s reputation at the time, the Canadiens would not have traded Mikhail Sergachev away for him if their last names were reversed (i.e., had Sergachev been French-Canadian and Drouin Russian instead).
Now we get to find out! At least in principle, with Vitali Kravtsov having followed in Drouin’s footsteps.
In all honesty, it’s hard to figure out for sure, especially with a new managerial group in place. However, with Kravtsov having said he’ll report if he’s traded, all bets are off, even if he had signed a one-year deal to play in the Kontinental Hockey League on loan from the Rangers.
Related: Reason No. 92 Not to Trust Canadiens Management
In the grand scheme of things, Kravtsov is a huge talent. The ninth-overall selection from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft would in theory be a great get for Hughes and Gorton, if in fact they truly do get him to come over and stay.
Kravtsov only places as low as he does on this list, because, just like going on five years ago now, the wing isn’t as pressing a concern as other positions on the roster. Unlike five years ago though, the Canadiens would be acquiring the prospect instead of the (quasi-)established player. Who knows? Maybe they right a wrong in the process.
3. Dylan Garand (G)
As the centerpiece of a trade with the Rangers, Dylan Garand probably wouldn’t work. The 2020 fourth-round pick probably isn’t the big-name, blue-chip prospect on whom Canadiens fans have their eyes. However, as just a piece of a bigger deal? Garand fits the bill. More than that, he would fill an arguable hole in net.
Sure, you’ve got Carey Price (kind of), but what about three years from now in 2025? He’ll still technically be under contract and all, but will he still be the team’s No. 1 goalie (or a No. 1-caliber goalie in general)? Cayden Primeau is the Habs’ goalie of the future, but his development so far unfortunately hasn’t instilled confidence he’s going to be the guy. Maybe the Canadiens need a new guy?
A stand-out in the Western Hockey League with the Kamloops Blazers, Garand does project as a starter. Plus his inclusion in a trade probably wouldn’t be a non-starter for the Rangers, which can’t necessarily be said of the top two names on the list.
2. Braden Schneider (D)
Arguably more than anything else, the Canadiens need right-handed defensemen, plural. Shea Weber’s “retired,” and Jeff Petry’s potentially on his way out. Enter (possibly) Braden Schneider.
The 2020 19th overall pick may not have the same offensive skill set, but there is potential there. However, where Schneider shines is his defense and physicality. Sound familiar?
It’s unlikely Schneider becomes the next Weber. At least you just can’t reasonably expect the 6-foot-2, 202-pound defenseman to grow into a so-called Man Mountain overnight (Weber’s 6-foot-4, 230 pounds). Nevertheless, Schneider’s a top Rangers prospect for a reason. He’s just not the top Rangers prospect.
1. Nils Lundkvist (D)
Almost universally, Nils Lundkvist is seen as the Ranger’s biggest prospect. Which is funny, considering his size at 5-foot-11, 187 pounds. He may not be too undersized, but he definitely plays a different game than Schneider, above.
Seen as a comparable to Adam Fox (but faster), Lundkvist is a projected offensive dynamo on the back end, which the Canadiens sorely lack. After years of emphasizing size over speed on the blue line, the Canadiens are in a position to tilt the scales in the opposite direction. The right-handed Lundkvist would solve many of their issues in one fell swoop. Gorton having effectively built the Rangers’ defense (and drafted Lundkvist 28th overall in 2018), he likely already knows this.
For the record, while it may seem inconceivable for the Rangers to part with a player with the last name “Lundkvist,” it’s spelled differently than Henrik Lundqvist’s last name. Also, don’t forget, the Rangers did buy out their franchise goalie’s contract back in 2020, which is a stark reminder how much of a business this all really is.
In the here and now, the Rangers are within striking distance of top spot in the Metropolitan Division, maybe the entire Eastern Conference. Like their chances or not, they’re for all intents and purposes Stanley Cup contenders. They’re no longer rebuilding. As a result Lundkvist doesn’t really factor into their immediate plans. He likely would with the Canadiens (with a trade). Dare to dream.