I was honored to be able to attend the 2018 NHL Entry Draft as part of the Rocket Sports Media team. Contributors from our publications like All Habs Hockey Magazine and AHL Report along with our readers were treated to reserved tickets through a partnership between Rocket Sports and the NHL.
Being able to see all of the action from only a few rows off of the draft floor was incredible. Starting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman honoring the fallen Humboldt Bronco players right through to Eric Florchuk, the 217th selection of the draft, the experience was unforgettable for me.
The Habs went into the draft with nine picks (including four in the second round). After a few minor deals, Montreal left the draft with 11 selections. In my eyes, it looks to be a bright future for the Canadiens.
With the third overall pick, the Canadiens surprised many by bypassing better talent on the draft board to fill a positional need. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is an 18-year-old centre played on the wing in the Finnish Elite League last season for Assat. Kotkaniemi rose on most prospect charts over the course of the year slotting in at number 8 on Hockey Prospect and number 16 by ISS Hockey. With this pick, the Habs were looking for a solid one-two punch down the middle with last year’s first round pick Ryan Poehling.
If the Canadiens first round selection left fans a little puzzled then bigger surprises were to come in the second round. The Habs drafted Jesse Ylonen (RW), Alexander Romanov (D), and Jacob Olofsson (C). While Ylonen and Olofsson were projected to be taken in the the second round, Romanov is the pick that left everyone scratching their heads.
No doubt that Trevor Timmins and company liked what they saw in Romanov. The three players met Montreal’s emphasis on quick skaters who can move the puck. By the end of the weekend, the Canadiens ended up with seven centres, two wingers and two defensemen.
Overall, I think that it was a successful draft for the Habs. They may have picked a number one centre for the future. The Canadiens wasted no time signing Kotkaniemi to a three-year entry level contract.
They also added quality young players later in the draft such as Jordan Harris (D) and Allan McShane (C) picked in the third and fourth rounds respectfully. It goes without saying that not all players will make it to the NHL lineup. But I’ll go out on a limb in saying that this is the most successful drafts the Habs have had in a long time.
With their drafted centres still an unknown time away from the NHL, it’s obvious that Montreal needed to add two top-six centres in the off-season. As it stands now, a winger in Jonathan Drouin and and a third line centre (at best) in Phillip Danault, are the best the team has up the middle. While Drouin made marginal improvements as the season went on last year, it was quite obvious that he is not a top line centre and should be deployed on the wing.
So far, Marc Bergevin has failed to acquire the players they need. The list of needs also includes a puck-moving, left-handed defenseman to play alongside Shea Weber.
The Canadiens were never in on John Tavares. He wasn’t interested in meeting with Bergevin, instead deciding to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bergevin pursued Paul Stastny as his top line centre, but after speaking to Max Pacioretty (and learning about his uncertain future with the club), Stastny signed with Vegas.
TheHabs didn’t come close to getting the top defenseman either, as John Carlson remained in Washington. The top left-handed defenseman available was Calvin De Haan. He signed with Carolina.
The Habs did, however, sign some players, the biggest being Tomas Plekanec. They also signed two other centres in Matthew Peca and Michael Chaput. Plekanec will likely be the third line centre with Danault on the second line. Chaput will try to make up for some of the scoring lost in Laval with the departures of Chris Terry and Adam Cracknell.
Peca was well down the depth chart on a deep Tampa Bay team but added energy and effort for the Syracuse Crunch. He seems to fit with the type of player liked by Claude Julien. At 25-years-old, Peca has only 20 games experience in the NHL and could be near the make or break point of his career.
Other notable signings were winger Kenny Agostino and defenseman Xavier Ouellet. Agostino is more of a depth player who will spend most of his time in Laval while Ouellet is hoping to make the Canadiens and turn his career around.
I think that Marc Bergevin deserves credit for the free agent signings hedid not make. Bergevin didn’t sign anyone to an albatross deal like he did with Karl Alzner last year. He set his conditions for the free agents that he was targeting and didn’t budge. To me, the Habs seem to have an eye to the future.
The Canadiens say they are not in a rebuild. Media says they are, and fans are divided. I can say that I believe the team is generally moving in the right direction.
With the news of Weber’s injury and his expected return time of early December, a lot of wind was taken from the sails of Planet Habs. With half of that star power gone for what could be around twenty games or more, it could be a long first half of the season. Carey Price can steal a few games for the team if he plays to his career average.
I expect the team to be faster and more motivated this upcoming season. Call me an optimist but I think that the future looks bright.
Edited by Cate Racher, All Habs Hockey Magazine