When the THW team got together a couple of weeks ago to put together a mock draft of the 2021-eligibles to be picked on July 23 and 24, the Montreal Canadiens had still not confirmed the rank of their selections due to the Stanley Cup Final being underway. Being 2-0 down in their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time of the exercise, it was rightfully assumed by our scouting team that the Habs would be picking 30th (officially 31st when counting Arizona’s forfeited pick due to scouting combine violations), with the Columbus Blue Jackets picking right after them using Tampa’s first-rounder acquired in the David Savard three-team trade at the deadline.
Having correctly assumed the outcome of the Canadiens-Lightning series, our scouting team’s first two rounds have been locked in successfully, and we can look back on the selections made on behalf of the Canadiens and how this sets them up for the future. Keep in mind that our scouting staff, who all have preferences regarding the players they covet, made their mock draft selections for every team; the final outcome of the draft will, therefore, almost never equate to our predictions. Nonetheless, these picks were made with the team’s ideologies and preferences in mind, and they should still retain some level of accuracy in a year where team needs will play a much bigger role than before.
First Round, 31st Overall: Scott Morrow, RD – Shattuck St. Mary’s, USHS-Prep
An outstanding offensive facilitator from the back end, Scott Morrow fits right into the Canadiens’ needs as their top-two blueliners, Shea Weber and Jeff Petry, are both right-handed shots in the midst of the ever-prominent age of decline in an NHL that is becoming quicker with each passing year. He might just have the highest offensive ceiling of the 2021 NHL Draft’s blueliners, and the Canadiens would be well-served to have him in their pipeline as a long-term prospect with immense dividends given the right tools and environment.
Standing at 6-foot-2, he is far from the prototypical fluid offensive defenseman — his size and reach are tools he uses efficiently on both sides of the puck, disrupting plays with his active stick and using his wingspan to dance around pressure. On top of his size, Morrow boasts one of the best skating bases in the draft, with fluid crossovers, a narrow stride recovery and very agile feet to navigate tight spaces and dominate small-ice races with his first three steps.
On the offensive side, what sets Morrow apart is his outstanding stickhandling ability. Although we could break down exactly what makes his stickhandling so exceptional, a better use of all of our time is to simply show a clip of this specific shift:
Two main aspects show up in this clip that could very well be the reason Morrow eventually succeeds as an offensive defenseman: breaking through checks (on the initial zone entry) and manipulation through the head, shoulders and feet (all throughout the clip). These are small details that make a world of difference when going up a level or two as Morrow faces tighter coverage systems and bigger, smarter defenders.
His ability to not only find seams but also create them with regularity is a tool that will likely set him apart from most defensemen in the 2021 NHL Draft — only Luke Hughes has been as efficient in this essential aspect of an offensive defenseman’s game. As a result, Morrow led all players in his high school prep league for points per game among skaters with more than 15 games played, forwards included (via EliteProspects Premium).
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
On the defensive side of the puck, Morrow still seems lost at times in his zone, scanning regularly but not immediately identifying and stifling threats. This seems like a correction that will be easy, as he clearly has the brain to understand dangerous offense — it is likely a matter of working on activating earlier and positioning himself in the right spots to avoid chasing the play on opposing cycle attempts. On the rush, however, there is little to criticize about Morrow’s defense. All in all, he is a player with immense potential that the Canadiens can take their time with as Weber and Petry play out the remaining years of their long-term contracts.
Second Round, 62nd Overall: Dmitri Kuzmin, LD – Dinamo-Molochedno, Belarus
There are few defensemen in the 2021 NHL Draft that ooze offensive skill, and Dmitri Kuzmin is one of those defensemen. His ability to take over a game with his outstanding stickhandling and his involvement in the offensive zone makes him a constant threat when activating from the point, as he will often find himself carrying the puck behind his net and around to the other side of the blue line. This has led him to score not one, not two, but three lacrosse goals as a defenseman this year. Here was his latest successful attempt at the U18 Worlds against Switzerland:
The combination of confidence, skills and aggressiveness required for a defenseman to end up behind the net with the puck on his stick to begin with, let alone to perform that move mid-stride, is what makes Kuzmin a smart pickup for the Canadiens at the end of the second round as high-end talent thins out. With an already-stocked cupboard of prospects in the pipeline, the team can afford to take a flyer on a player with a sky-high ceiling and an equally low floor. He outright gets bullied in front of the net at the men’s level in Belarus, but he will not be drafted for his grit. Instead, the Habs would lean on Kuzmin’s play with the puck on his stick as a differentiating factor in his development and hope to build blocks around that aspect of his game to make him more complete and pro-ready. He is another long-term project with immense dividends if the Canadiens play their cards right.
Second Round, 63rd Overall: Tristan Broz, C/LW – Fargo Force, USHL
With the final pick of the THW two-round mock draft, using a selection taken in a trade with Tampa Bay at last year’s table, the Canadiens select the Fargo Force’s top producer in Tristan Broz. His 51 points in 54 games led his United States Hockey League (USHL) team by 12 points, and for good reason. His offensive game is refined and intelligent, as he regularly makes the right play in the offensive zone to create tons of chances for his teammates, but can also shoot the puck quite well. Standing at 6-foot and weighing 190 pounds, you would expect him to be a slightly better skater than he is, but he makes up for his average mechanics with a high-end motor and proactive positioning, often having to work less hard than his opponents to gather loose pucks and play them out of trouble.
Broz is not the flashiest of players, as he will rarely be seen taking risks with behind-the-back passes, outlandish skill moves or forced passes through pinhole-sized seams, but he definitely gets the job done with efficiency and smarts on both sides of the puck. His ability to draw in players to open space, as well as his small-area game such as board passes and one-touch plays, make for a promising package of translatable skills that will follow him throughout his career.
Broz adds a two-way, dual-threat element to the Canadiens’ already-packed pipeline of talent at the forward position, and he will likely continue building off his current skillset. His commitment to the University of Minnesota for the 2021-22 season will put him in the best position to work on his skating and hopefully turn into an all-around, top-six forward with defensive responsibilities and a surprising amount of offensive punch to his game.
What did you think of this mock draft? Any players outside the top-63 that you’d have in the first two rounds? Who are your picks for the Habs? Let us know down below!
Lebanese-Canadian hockey writer/Scout. I follow the draft very closely, working with both The Hockey Writers and DobberProspects to provide draft coverage and continue furthering my knowledge of hockey.