The 2019 NHL entry draft is now in the past, and as expected the Montreal Canadiens picks were completely unexpected. As I mentioned in a previous article where I tried to scope out some players the Canadiens could be targeting, things change very quickly in the draft and this was prominent this year.
By the third pick of the draft, teams’ watchlists quickly started to change. This resulted in a player being available at pick 15 that the Canadiens didn’t expect to be available. After the first round, the Canadiens were selecting players to address a major need (mobile, left-shot defensemen) on their current roster. In total, the Canadiens selected 10 players in this year’s draft and many of these picks were quite captivating. So, let’s take a look at the Canadiens’ 2019 draft picks.
Round 1, Pick #15: Cole Caufield, RW
No one has ever scored more goals in the U.S National Development Program than Cole Caufield. The 5-foot-7 winger scored 72 goals in 64 games with the USNTDP this past season and he also tied Alexander Ovechkin’s goal record at the U18 World Championships. The 18-year-old goal scoring phenom has committed to the University of Wisconsin for next season but has stated he wants to make the NHL as fast as possible.
As I was watching the draft unfold, it became clear the Canadiens were going to have a chance on a player most scouts had ranked higher. Players like Moritz Seider and Philip Broberg went earlier than expected, and Caufield, a player most had going in the top 10, was still available. Despite thinking the Canadiens should address their lack of size this offseason, I thought to myself: no way you can pass on arguably the best goal scorer in the draft.
The Canadiens missed the playoffs this past season. We can argue as to why that was, but at the end of the day the sport of hockey is won by scoring more goals than your opponent, and Caufield is a player that scores goals. I think it is crazy he was passed over by so many teams only because of his size. Size might matter in today’s game, but skill and scoring are still the most valuable assets a player can have, and Caufield has tons of it.
Round 2, Pick #46: Jayden Struble, D
The 6-feet, 194-pound left-shot defenseman picked up 40 points in 28 games last season for St. Sebastian’s School of the USHS (high school). Because of his performance, Struble was awarded the USHR 2018-19 Prep Player of the Year and the USHR 2018-19 Defenseman of the Year. He is seen as a smooth skating defenseman who likes to play physical.
I really like this pick. It is always fun watching a player who can rack up points but also play physical, and thus far in his career, Struble has done just this. The big question regarding him will be, can he transfer his performance to the next level (Junior A, then university)? If he is still able to be an offensively-gifted defenseman who plays with an edge at the next level, the Canadiens might have found a gem in the second round.
Round 3, Pick #64: Mattias Norlinder, D
Norlinder stands at 6-feet and is a strong skating left shot defenseman who can produce offense from the point. Norlinder played most of last season with Modo’s junior team, where he picked up 21 points in 30 games. He also played 14 games with Modo (Sweden’s second-tier league) and picked up six points.
This is not player that I knew much about, and after doing some digging it would seem I wasn’t alone. The Canadiens put a lot of pride into their private European combine and obviously liked something they saw in Norlinder. He is a left-shot, smooth-skating defenseman, something they are in need of. Like Struble, I want to see how Norlinder will do in the next step of his development (presumably Sweden’s top men’s league).
Round 3, Pick #77: Gianni Fairbrother, D
Another 6-feet left-shot mobile defenseman taken by the Canadiens in this draft (are you seeing the trend yet?). Gianni Fairbrother had a solid 2018-19 season for Everett Silvertips in the WHL, picking up 36 points in 64 games. The solid two-way defenseman was also a plus-23 this past season and had 83 penalty minutes.
It seems Fairbrother brings a bit more of a two-way game than Norlinder but doesn’t have the same offensive upside as him. Fairbrother isn’t flashy but can jump up in the play and contribute offensively. It would be nice to see Fairbrother continue to improve points-wise in the WHL and add on to his offensive numbers from this past season.
Round 5, Pick #126: Jacob LeGuerrier, D
LeGuerrier is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound (you guessed it) left-shot defenseman. The solid sized blueliner picked up 16 points in 68 games last season with
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) but isn’t known for his offensive game. He is more of a “stay-at-home” defenseman with a hard shot from the point.
Not many scouting reports on LeGuerrier. From what I read/heard, the Canadiens staff admired his defensive game and his hard shot.
Round 5, Pick #136: Rhett Pitlick, LW
Pitlick, like Caufield is another small American forward. The 5-foot-9 scoring winger put up solid offensive numbers everywhere he played this past season, including 61 points in 25 games for his high school team.
It seems like a common theme regarding the Canadiens draft picks this year will be what their progression will look like when they take the next step in terms of better competition. Pitlick is in the same boat. He has proven he is a dominant high school player, but let’s see if the undersized winger can translate his skills to university next season.
Round 5, Pick #138: Frederik Nissen Dichow, G
Dichow is a 6-foot-5 goaltender who was named top goaltender in the U18 Championships for Denmark. He spent most of this past season playing with Vojens IK (a team in Denmark’s second-tier league). Dichow is expected to be in Sweden next season to play in the Malmö U20 program.
Anytime a goalie is named “top goalie” in a national tournament it is a good thing. His solid play at the U18s, along with his size makes Dichow an interesting prospect moving forward. I get the sense that in the next few years we will hear his name come up at the World Juniors.
Round 6, Pick #170th Overall: Arsen Khisamutdinov, C
Khisamutdinov is a 6-foot-3 Russian center who played most of last season in the top Russian junior league. There the 21-year-old center scored 55 points in 41 games and added 99 penalty minutes. He also picked up five points in nine games in the KHL.
Out of all the Canadiens picks in this year’s draft, to me this is the most intriguing one. Skilled center with size and plays aggressively is how you describe Khisamutdinov. It is also what the Canadiens have been missing on their roster for a long time. Canadiens assistant general manager Trever Timmins said that this pick was to prevent a bidding war in the next couple seasons when teams would be more familiar with Khisamutdinov.
Round 7, Pick #201: Rafael Harvey-Pinard, LW
Harvey-Pinard is a 5-foot-9 left winger who notched 85 points (40 goals and 45 assist) in 66 regular season games for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season. The 20-year-old Quebec Native was also a key contributor to the Huskies winning the Memorial Cup and was the captain for his team.
A small, overaged winger from Quebec who plays in the QMJHL. I love the pick. Similar to the previous pick, Timmins said this pick was to avoid a bidding war next season as many teams would be interested in the overage skilled winger. Harvey-Pinard can play one more season in the QMJHL or potentially in Laval next season.
Round 7, Pick #206: Kieran Ruscheinski, D
A 6-foot-6 blueliner who played with Calgary Northstars Midget AAA (AMHL). Ruscheinski is seen as a stay-at-home defenseman and plays a mean game.
In the later rounds of the draft, teams are just trying to hit a home run. By Round 7, the safe picks or sure future NHLers are long gone. So, if you are trying to hit a home run, you might as well take the swing with a 6-foot-6 nasty blueliner. It is not often a player is drafted to the NHL out of midget hockey, so the Canadiens obviously like something about him. He will play Junior A next season, which is still not as high as playing in the CHL. Hopefully he dominates Junior A, then the following season joins a CHL or university team.
For the second consecutive year, the Canadiens went “off the board” for a lot of their picks. Even though scouts had players ranked near the Canadiens selections, it doesn’t mean the Canadiens were ever interested in those players. Every NHL team’s list of targeted players is unique to one another’s and teams only listen to their own scouts. Personally, after years of the Canadiens picking players that were projected to go near their picks (Louis Leblanc, Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Michael McCarron, Zachary Fucale, Alex Galchenyuk, Nikita Scherbak to name a few), I am completely fine with the teams change of strategy.