This year’s NHL Draft in Dallas features a Canadiens management team holding six picks in the top 66. This rightfully excites the fan base in Montreal, as it will be the first time in over 30 years that the Habs are so loaded with selections in the first three rounds.
While fans and media scour draft lists for prospects they believe will be a fit in the Canadiens system, there is one thing that is being overlooked. The Canadiens hold four more picks in the draft: three in the fourth round, as well as a fifth round selection.
Trevor Timmins is known for diligent work to mine the later rounds. At this stage of the draft, there will always be questions regarding a player’s game. At times, due diligence pays off and a team finds unpolished gems.
One has to look no further than the Canadiens’ lineup this past season to see two examples of this. Brendan Gallagher, a fifth round selection, and Victor Mete, a fourth round pick, both filled key roles last season. Gallagher was the top goal scorer and engine that never quit, and Mete filled a top-four role on defence, providing quality puck moving skills that were in short supply to start the season.
In this draft, will there be a diamond in the rough? There is almost always one to be found if no stone is left unturned.
One possible gem projected to be available in the late third or early fourth round is Xavier Bouchard. The 18-year-old, right-handed defenceman with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar is a player who may be able to fill a need in the system for puck-moving defencemen.
CSB: No. 74 (NA Skaters) | ISS: No. | THN: No. 90 | HP: No. 80 | FC: No. 91
The son of QMJHL GM/Head Coach Gilles Bouchard, Xavier is a smooth-skating, puck-moving defenceman with some size. He plays a very solid defensive game, albeit more passive than scouts would want to see from someone of his size. The larger downside to his game is on the offensive side. He has excellent vision and offensive instincts, however he is rushing his reads and plays.
If he is a Canadiens late round selection, it is clear he will need coaching and time to become more comfortable with his style and learn the patience required to take advantage of his skill set. As one of several young right handed defencemen, the Habs can see him as a long-term project and patiently guide him over the next several seasons to polish him into an NHL player.
Another possible late round gem is center Matthew Struthers.
Matthew Struthers, C, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
December 26, 1999 | Milton, ON, Canada
6-2, 192 lbs. | Shoots Left | @struthers_15
2017-’18: 32 GP, 9 G, 9 A, 18 PTS (Owen Sound Attack)
30 GP, 14 G, 13 A, 27 PTS (North Bay Battalion)
CSB: No. 124 (NA Skaters) | ISS: | THN: NR | HP: NR | FC:
The six-foot-two inch, 192-pound left-handed centre has the size NHL scouts love in a center prospect. He plays a physical game and at times can dominate. Defensively, he is able to read a play and position himself well. He provides the physicality needed to assist his defence down low and along the boards to win battles.
Offensively Struthers has all the tools necessary to be a great NHL player. He is a solid skater with good lateral mobility which allows him to cut into the high-risk areas of the ice. Struthers has good vision and a heavy shot that he can release quickly. He is also a player who relishes the physicality of the game.
However, Struthers is rated low on the draft boards because he lacks consistency. He can disappear for long stretches of time, and didn’t really show his potential until he was traded to North Bay. The trade provided Owen Sound with an over-ager to help their playoff hopes. North Bay saw a centre who can play in their top six for another season or two as they build their team towards contention.
If Struthers can continue to grow into his new role, and solid coaching can help him find consistency, he could become a late pick gem for Timmins to add to his stable. With a franchise starved for talent at centre, there will be a heavy focus on development at that position which can only help any possible late-bloomer along.
Habs fans are hoping this will be the draft class that finally gets the Canadiens over the hump. If the players selected can provide solid future NHL players in the top 66 selections, as well as add a later round gem or two, the team will finally have the depth required to take that step. But it is a step that these prospects will not see for several seasons. Patience among Habs fans is not in abundance right now for a management team that hasn’t successfully executed their plan.
Edited by Cate Racher, All Habs Hockey Magazine