Barring any trades, the Montreal Canadiens will go to the podium at the 2015 NHL draft with the 26th overall pick and announce their selection. The 2015 draft has a lot of depth but it’s tough to find consensus on draft rankings. Other than Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel ranked at one and two respectively, everyone else is ranked differently depending on the scouting outlet so any mock draft made will likely be turned upside down on draft day. Despite drafting near the end of the first round, the Habs will walk away with a very good prospect but who will the team target?
The Montreal Canadiens Need Scoring Forwards
Up front, it’s no secret that the Habs are desperate for scoring and considering that forwards tend to develop the fastest, it’s certainly possible you can see a first round forward prospect in the next two-four years. In terms of draft tendencies, the Habs seem to like drafting American-born players often in the first round with Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, Jarred Tinordi, Alex Galchenyuk and Michael McCarron all being drafted since 2007.
With the draft being so unpredictable, it’s near impossible to guess who will be in the Habs’ range. A top offensive talent like Travis Konecny or Evgeny Svechnikov could fall into Montreal’s lap. Konecny is a smaller player but has high end skills and an excellent compete level. Svechnikov is a big right winger who can score and even played a little bit at centre. Montreal is weak at the centre position in their prospect pool so a player like Joel Eriksson Ek, Jansen Harkins, Colin White and Thomas Novak would all be solid options.
Montreal could also use more goal scoring wingers and that’s where the Habs could be looking at the likes of Brock Boeser, Jake DeBrusk, Daniel Sprong and Paul Bittner. One player whose name has been tossed around as a first round dark horse is Russian Denis Guryanov. He has size, is strong on his skates and has high end offensive talent but is still a little raw in comparison to his peers. However, his ceiling is pretty high and with the KHL struggling financially, “The Russian Factor” may not be as much of a barrier anymore. A player like Guryanov is what the Habs need and they have proven in the past they are not afraid to draft Russians.
Defense for later
With the re-signing of Jeff Petry to a six-year contract, Montreal has a solid top four defence corps for the next few years. However, the team would be wise to start developing a top four defence prospect for the future, especially with Andrei Markov showing his age and no other sure things in the organization. The draft features a lot of intriguing defence prospects with varying skill-sets.
The Saint John SeaDogs duo of Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot could be in the Habs’ range but they could easily be gone before the 26th pick. Zboril is a solid two-way player with an edge while Chabot is a smooth skating offensive defenceman. Jeremy Roy is undersized and plays in Sherbrooke with Habs prospect Daniel Audette. Roy has all the tools including offense, skating and intelligence but his size could drop him down in the draft.
Defencemen Noah Juulsen, Brandon Carlo, Gabriel Carlsson and Jacob Larsson will likely still be on the board at number 26 but they don’t have the same upside as the others. The X-factor on defense is Oliver Kylington of Sweden. He was projected as a top ten pick going into the season but an uneven season has seen him drop. Kylington has the blend of size, skill and mobility but his on-ice decision making has some scouts concerned. The question is whether Montreal is willing to gamble on him. The Habs can afford to be patient with a player like Kylington. The upside is clearly there but the risk could be too much.
In terms of goalies, it is very unlikely the Habs would take a goaltender in the first round. It is not a particularly strong year for goaltenders and the most talented one of the bunch, Ilya Samsonov, will likely drop.
Other options and best case scenario
There is also the possibility that the Habs decide to trade the pick. Perhaps Bergevin wants to make a splash and include that pick in a trade to get a scorer. The Habs could also trade up if they have a player they really like. The more realistic option would be to move the pick for a couple of second round picks. In a draft that is so unpredictable, teams could be more willing to move up to get the player they are targeting. The second round will feature a lot of good players as well so the Habs could pick up another prospect.
Considering how the players are ranked, the Habs will likely aim for best player available based on their internal list. With it being a deep draft, the Habs will still pick up a very good prospect. The team got lucky last year when they also picked 26th overall and Nikita Scherbak dropped into their laps. Team needs and preferences for certain players will see good players drop where the Habs could swoop in. Whether it’s a forward or defenceman, the Habs could use a forward in the short term while a top four defenceman would be an excellent asset for down the road.