As we enter March, it’s quite understandable that most fans are not yet focused on the NHL Entry Draft in June. At the time of writing, the Canadiens are 27th in the standings which could mean a top-five pick depending on the results of the lottery. If so, it would be the Habs highest selection since drafting Alex Galchenyuk third overall in 2012.
With the possible exception of Rasmus Dahlin, there are no generational superstars like Connor McDavid in this draft. As we all know, Montreal is in desperate need of a puck- moving first-pairing defensemen and a scoring number one center. It may be possible to address one of these needs in this year’s draft.
There is a lack of top talent centres in this draft but there are a few exciting defenceman and wingers.
Over the next few months, you will read in-depth analysis of draft-eligible players from members of the Rocket Sports Team who have diligently followed these prospects over the past few years and have interviewed many of them.
But for now, I wanted to give you my initial impressions of a select group of players who will likely have their names called early in Dallas.
At six-foot-two, 183 pounds, Rasmus Dahlin has size to go along with his skating skills, accurate shot and excellent hockey season. The 17-year-old is currently ranked No. 1 by all of the major ranking agencies and is expected to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Dahlin was named top defensemen at this year’s under-20 IIHF World Championships helping to lead Sweden to a silver medal.
While it is highly unlikely that the Canadiens will secure the first overall pick, they could win the draft lottery or could make a trade to move up. Should lightning strike, Dahlin would immediately improve the Montreal defense playing alongside Shea Weber.
This Czech-born winger is second in scoring with the Halifax Mooseheads with 39 goals, 31 assists for 70 points in 49 games. Filip Zadina is a mobile skater who uses his puck skills to make him an elite scoring threat. The 18-year-old plays a mature two-way game being defensively responsible and pursues the puck all over the ice.
The reality working against Zadina with the Canadiens is the log-jam at left-wing that includes Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Jonathan Drouin, Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon. As we know, if the Habs set their sights on a forward, they desperately need a center.
On many draft lists, Andrei Svechnikov is presently the second-ranked prospect with some having him third. TSN’s Craig Button had this to say about the Russian right-winger, “Svechnikov has a game that reminds me of Marian Hossa. He’s an excellent scorer and a strong playmaker. He’s also smart, quick to recognize opportunity and is comfortable playing in tight areas and in traffic.”
At 17-year-old, Svechnikov didn’t get a great deal of ice-time to display his talents. He has good size, elite skills and can beat you in a variety of ways either as a lethal shooter or a creative playmaker. Svechnikov is a bit more of a sniper than Zadina who plays a complete game.
Svechnikov is also a winger but plays the right side which is considerably thinner on the Canadiens with only Brendan Gallagher, Nikita Scherbak, Paul Byron and Daniel Carr in the mix.
Brady Tkachuk, the younger son of Keith and brother to Matthew, could be the most dominating player of the family. Brady’s size and skill give him a unique package allowing him to win most battles in the dirty areas of the ice. Tkachuk scored nine points in seven games for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo. Currently, Tkachuk appears as third or fourth by the ranking services.
At times, Tkachuk played on the left side of Canadiens prospect Ryan Poehling for Team USA. It would be exciting to see them together again in Montreal. However, being a left-winger, the same comments apply to Tkachuk as they do Zadina.
Adam Boqvist / Quinn Hughes
In my opinion, Adam Boqvist and Quinn Hughes are the next best defensemen in this year’s draft after Dahlin.
Boqvist is an offensive defencemen who is a mobile skater and has terrific puck-handing skills. Like Dahlin, Boqvist is from Sweden and is just 17-years-old. Consensus is that Boqvist is ranked No. 5 for the upcoming draft.
Hughes is another great puck-moving defenseman player who is a superb skater and can control a game with his playmaking ability. Currently the rankings for Hughes range from sixth to ninth overall.
Neither player offers the complete package that is Rasmus Dahlin, but they do offer a puck-moving element that is not a strength of the current Canadiens lineup.