With the NHL entry draft less than a month away, fans of the Montreal Canadiens are beginning to speculate who their team will select in the first round. The Canadiens find themselves holding the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft. Instead of dwelling on how they missed the playoffs or did not win the draft lottery, why don’t we go with a glass half-full approach and look at some potential players that the Canadiens could pick in this in the first round who would help the team reach their ultimate goal (la Coupe Stanley).
Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Size, skill, and a power play specialist. 6-foot-3, left shot Thomas Harley is exactly the type of player the Habs are missing on the left side of their defense. The skilled defenseman had a successful second season in the OHL, notching 58 points in 68 games played. The knock on Harley is his defensive game. Harley is known for coughing up the puck or making a weak play in his own end. Still, Harley has plenty of time to work on his defensive game, and it is more difficult to develop offensive skills at the pro level compared to defensive skills.
Harley has been compared to Ottawa Senators star defenceman Thomas Chabot. The question is, will Harley develop into a player like Chabot, or a player like Nathan Beaulieu, someone Canadiens fans are much too familiar with.
Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie Colts (OHL)
Yes, the fact that his brother Nick is a Canadiens prospect gives Habs fans some extra incentive for possibly drafting Ryan Suzuki, and I think it should. Ryan stands at 6-foot, is pushing 180 pounds, and had a strong season in the OHL. In his second season in the OHL, Ryan picked up 25 goals (G) and 50 assists (A) for a total of 75 points. Like his brother, Ryan is sought out as one of the smartest players in the OHL.
He possesses elite offensive skill, but can sometimes be hesitant to go to the “dirty” areas on the ice. Even though Ryan needs to continue to build up strength and play more aggressive (like most players his age), his skillset is something NHL teams will be drawn to.
There is also something worth pointing out in regards to Ryan’s brother’s progress in the OHL. Nick, like Ryan, had a similar growth in points from his first two seasons. Nick was dominant during the 2018-19 season in the OHL, notching 94 points in just 59 games in the regular season, and in the 2019 Playoffs he finished with 42 points in just 24 games. If Ryan continues on the same path as his brother, he could be a potential steal if the Canadiens selected him at 15.
Raphael Lavoie, C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Big, Francophone, and plays center. Say no more! Should the Canadiens ever draft a player simply because they are from Quebec? No, just look at the Louis Leblanc pick in the 2009 Draft. However, Raphael Lavoie is much more than just a player from Quebec. He is a dominant skilled center with size (currently marked at 6-foot-4), something the Habs have been missing since what feels like a lifetime.
Lavoie is coming off a 73-point season in the QMJHL (10 more points than the season prior in six fewer games) and had a dominant playoff performance with Halifax in the Memorial Cup. Lavoie finished with 20 goals and 32 points in just 23 games. The knock on the big skilled center is his consistency, but with his recent playoff performance he is certainly silencing some of his critiques. Will the Canadiens take a chance on the big skilled center from their backyard? Or take the risk in letting another Quebec-born player slip by them?
Dark Horse Picks
Cam York and Ville Heinola are both left-shot defensemen who have offensive upside. If the Canadiens are set in taking a defenseman, these two players, along with Harley, will likely be on their watch list. The reason I give Harley the edge over York and Heinola is because of Harley’s size and elite skating ability. Out of the two, York is the player who can give Harley a run for his money.
The 5-foot-11, 172-pound American defender put up strong offensive numbers everywhere he played last season. If the Canadiens did take York over Harley, they would be adding a undersized prospect to a team already lacking in size.
Plenty Of Talent Available at Pick 15
Although picking at 15th is not as good as let’s say picking in the top three, there have been plenty of elite players picked at this exact spot in the past (Al MacInnis, Joe Sakic, Alex Kovalev, Alex Radulov, Erik Karlsson, and Dylan Larkin to name a few).
The Canadiens will certainly have many interesting options at pick number 15. I see the Habs looking for skilled forwards with some size, or an offensive defenseman who can play the left side. Remember, things change at the draft very quickly. Every team has different rankings and needs, which often results in players sliding. If the Canadiens have the opportunity to pick a player they had ranked much higher than 15th, they are going to pick that player. If not, Harley, Suzuki, or Lavoie would all be solid choices for the Canadiens to select.