Montreal Canadiens: Draft Weekend Recap

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin got to work on the first day of the 2016 NHL draft weekend by trading Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals for second round picks in 2017 and 2018. His next move was acquiring Andrew Shaw from the Chicago Blackhawks for both of Montreal’s 2016 second round picks. Friday was capped off by drafting Windsor Spitfires defenceman Mikhail Sergachev ninth overall.

Goodbye Lars Eller, Hello Andrew Shaw

Before the Eller trade, the Habs had a surplus of centres going into next season. Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Phillip Danault and Torrey Mitchell were all expected to fight for the four spots at centre. With Eller now gone, either Desharnais or Danault likely slots into Eller’s old spot on the third line.

Desharnais has the upper hand being the more experienced player but Bergevin thinks highly of Danault (who is still a restricted free agent), whose NHL upside is as a bottom six centre. The move means Montreal loses a solid defensive presence in Eller and it makes them a little weaker up the middle.

However, Eller never found any offensive consistency during his time in Montreal as he only cracked 30 points in a season once. Part of it was his usage but he suffered from lengthy goalless droughts. Montreal did well in gaining two second round picks and shedding Eller’s $3.5 million cap hit.

It was Bergevin’s next move in particular that grabbed a lot of headlines. It says a lot about Bergevin, who has preached building through the draft, to trade two second round picks (the 39th and 45th picks which became Alex DeBrincat and Chad Krys) for Andrew Shaw. Bergevin scouted Shaw during his time with Chicago and is the second Blackhawk from the 2011 draft class to become a Hab with the first being the aforementioned Danault.

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During his time in Chicago, Shaw played on all four lines at both centre and wing with relentless energy and can antagonize with the best of them. In terms of offense, Shaw put up marginally better numbers than Eller but Shaw had the advantage of playing alongside Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane at times. However, to Shaw’s credit, it takes a certain skill set to be able to play with elite line mates. Shaw is better off playing on the third line but he can move up into the top six if necessary.

One thing Montreal has lacked in their lineup is playoff performers and Shaw is that kind of player. He played a big role in Chicago’s Stanley Cup championships in 2013 and 2015. Giving up two early second rounders for a glorified third liner in Shaw was a steep price to pay. However, there are no guarantees those second rounders will pan out and if they do, chances are it will be years before they sniff the NHL. In the case of Montreal, they need to start winning now and Shaw can step in right away.

2016 NHL Draft Picks

As for the actual draft, Montreal made some good selections. At ninth overall, Montreal selected Windsor Spitfires defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, who arguably has the biggest upside among this year’s group of defencemen. Sergachev had an excellent rookie year in the OHL putting up 57 points in 67 games and winning the OHL’s defenceman of the year award. The only real thing Sergachev needs to work on is his consistency. Sergachev has all the tools to be a top pairing defenceman with his size, speed, skill and smarts. Montreal needs to develop a successor to Andrei Markov and Sergachev is now the organization’s best defensive prospect.

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Montreal’s next two picks came in rounds three and four and they did well. With the 70th pick, the Habs took centre Will Bitten from the OHL’s Flint Firebirds. Flint had a drama filled season but Bitten managed a solid 65 points in 67 games despite not having a lot of talent around him. He projects more as a two-way centre than an offensive threat but considering most scouting lists had him as a second rounder, this pick could be a steal.

In the fourth round, Montreal took an undersized but skilled defenceman in Victor Mete from the OHL’s London Knights. Mete played a big role in London winning the Memorial Cup and put up similar offensive numbers to teammate and 2016 fifth overall pick Olli Juolevi. Mete isn’t as good as Juolevi but his speed and skating ability fits in well with the modern NHL landscape. The next three picks are all raw long term projects. Casey Shaum, Michael Pezzetta and Arvid Henrikson are long shots but will continue to develop.

The Next Step

With the draft now completed, free agency is next on the agenda for Montreal. The need for top six forwards still exists so perhaps going after Steven Stamkos or Kyle Okposo could remedy that. Montreal currently isn’t hurting salary cap wise but things will get tighter soon with Carey Price and Alex Galchenyuk needing new deals down the road. Bergevin has continuously tinkered with the bottom six forwards as shown by moving Eller and acquiring Shaw. It is time for Bergevin to step up and get his team something they really need.