Canadiens Set to Solve Center Issues and Draft Wright with Lottery Win

Let’s be clear: The Montreal Canadiens aren’t 100% guaranteed to draft center Shane Wright. However, by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, they earned the right to, pun intended. And it would most certainly be a privilege.

Shane Wright Kingston Frontenacs
Shane Wright, Kingston Frontenacs (Photo by Robert Lefebvre/OHL Images)

As far as puns go, Wright himself didn’t seem to shy away from them on the pre-game show on Sportsnet. Talking to Kevin Weekes, Wright responded to the general consensus that he’s a complete player, by describing his game as being 200-foot in nature.

Sign up for our regular 'Habs Newsletter' for all the latest.

“I think I do a lot of things right,” he added, before knowing the outcome of the lottery. Clearly he’s in on it.

Hughes Has Easy Decision with First Pick

Joking somewhat aside, it’s practically Carey “Jesus” Price all over again. The only difference is the Canadiens still technically had Jose Theodore in net back in 2005, even if he was on his way out of the organization soon thereafter. Coincidentally, goaltending has become another question mark facing the franchise, with Price’s career in jeopardy. The initial jokes from the point in time at which he was drafted, though? Groaners. Every last one of them.

Carey Price
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz)

That having been said, the Canadiens would be wrong to go any other way but to draft a center. First off, there aren’t any goaltending prospects projected to go at the top of the draft and picking one there is considered voodoo anyway. Plus, their depth at center took a hit last summer after Phillip Danault left for the Los Angeles Kings and Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes. It just so happens Wright is the best center available. The best projected player overall, actually.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe

So, this should be a gimme for Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes.

Talking to the media after the Lottery, Hughes responded to comparisons between Hughes an his ex-client, Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. He said he agrees with the assessment Hughes plays a 200-foot game, also saying, if the Canadiens are lucky enough to draft a player who has had as much of an impact on the Bruins as Bergeron, they’ll be very happy. Sometimes when you put two and two together and you get four. This is one of those times.

Wright Set to Be Picked #1 by Habs in Montreal?

Of course, officially speaking, Hughes refused to confirm the identity of the player he’ll end up picking first overall, July 7 in Montreal at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Hughes said he will of course listen to offers for the pick, but, assuming everything goes according to his plan and he keeps the pick, it marks the first time since 1985 that the host owns the top selection (Wendel Clark to the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Wendel Clark Toronto Maple Leafs Rick Wamsley St. Louis Blues
Ex-Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wendel Clark – (Photo by Graig Abel)

It meanwhile marks the first time since 1980 that the Canadiens are poised to pick first overall. Back then the Canadiens went with Doug Wickenheiser, when Denis Savard (No. 3 overall, to the Chicago Black Hawks) was probably the logical choice, but arguably just in retrospect. Wickenheiser, had been the clear top prospect, just like Wright is now.

Is there a chance the Canadiens end up regretting their selection? Of course, but that’s true of anyone. There’s no reason to overthink this. The Canadiens need a center. While Logan Cooley could similarly fill that role, he’s the projected No.2 pick, behind you-know-who.

Sure, there’s an argument that Hughes might feel pressure to go against his instincts (and maybe pick Cooley or someone else) based on Wright being the consensus best prospect. However, there would be no reason for Hughes to go against the recommendations of his scouts, and, when practically every scouting report says Wright is the best player available, there should be no doubt.

With or Without Wright

Wright is the pick the Habs need to make to set themselves back on the path back to respectability, after a last-place finish in 2021-22. The Canadiens undeniably have other holes to fill, but center is the biggest one they’ve got by far, with Nick Suzuki, Christian Dvorak and Jake Evans playing down the middle on the top three lines.

Related: Canadiens 5 Moves Away from 2025 Stanley Cup

Ideally, Dvorak is a third-liner and Evans a fourth, though. Wright makes so much sense as the second-line pivot for the future that the only debate is whether or not he makes the lineup right away. There is of course a chance he doesn’t, but it doesn’t really matter.

The Canadiens realistically aren’t competing next season with or without Wright, but he most certainly should be in their plans one way or another. In other words, if the question as to who the Canadiens end up picking were a race and you had money to put on it, he’d be the Wright horse on which to bet. Bank on it.