Barrett Hayton (Photo by CHL)

by Trege Wilson, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine 

The Habs management has created a terrible situation when it comes to NHL-ready centres within the organization. If the season were to start tomorrow and assuming that the team was injury-free, the Canadiens forward lines would look like this:

Pacioretty – Drouin – Gallagher
Galchenyuk – Danault – Byron
Lehkonen – De La Rose – Scherbak
Hudon – A. Shaw – Carr
Deslauriers  – McCarron / Froese – L. Shaw

With Marc Bergevin having a winger and a third-line centre playing as his top two centres is a frightening situation that he must address during the off-season.

So far, Bergevin has signed young free agent centres in Hayden Verbeek and Alexandre Alain, along with centres drafted by the Canadiens like Jake Evans, Will Bitten, Michael Pezzetta, and Lukas Vejdemo. It is far to soon to predict how effective these players can be at the NHL level, if at all. They will need to spend time in the AHL developing their talents.

Bergevin has signed depth players for the future but has not addressed the current need for multiple centres. Habs fans focus on the team signing a number one centre, which has been a desperate need for the entire tenure of Bergevin. But it should be acknowledged that the team doesn’t have a number two centre either. 

Recently, All Habs Hockey Magazine published a piece titled “Habs Centre of Attention” outlining a variety of ways that Bergevin could solve the problem. In this article, I’m going to focus on the draft and what moves the Habs need to make to acquire the centres they so desperately need.

Draft a Centre

The Habs moved up one spot in the draft and ended up with the third overall pick. This a great position to be in. The top four prospects in this year’s draft all have the potential to immediately be a factor in the NHL as soon as next season. Let’s hope that Trevor Timmins will have full control over the selection this year, as he has hit a home run every time he has picked within the top ten.

2016 – Mikhail Sergachev (9th overall)

2012 – Alex Galchenyuk (3rd overall)

2005 – Carey Price (5th overall)

The issue with this year is that there is no true centre ranked in the top five. The ranking agencies are in agreement that the top three picks are Rasmus Dahlin (D), Andrei Svechnikov (RW), and Filip Zadina (LW).

So what should the Canadiens do when none of the top prospects positionally meets their  primary need? They could choose the best player available regardless of position and solve the problem at centre a different way. Or they could drop down in the draft and choose a centre. 

The top centres in the draft are as follows:

Oliver Wahlstrom, C/RW, US National Development Team (USDP)
June 13th, 2000 | Yarmouth, Maine, USA
6-1, 205 lbs. | Shoots Right | @WahlstromOliver
2017-’18: 62 GP, 48 G, 46 A, 94 PTS

CSB: No. 7 (NA Skaters) | ISS: No. 5 | HP: No. 6 | FC: No. 5 | McKeen’s: No. 7

While Wahlstrom isn’t a natural centre, he has had success playing the position. His skill, size and shot as well as his potential to be an impact player down the middle, may entice the Canadiens to take a chance.

Joseph Veleno, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
January 13, 2000 | Montreal, Quebec, CAN
6-1, 194 lbs. | Shoots Left | @jveleno91
2017-’18: 33 GP, 16 G, 32 A, 48 PTS

CSB: No. 8 (NA Skaters) | ISS: No. 10 | HP: No. 23 | FC: No. 14 | McKeen’s: No. 9

Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
June 9, 2000 | Kitchener, Ontario, CAN
6-1, 185 lbs. | Shoots Left | @barretthayton27
2017-’18: 63 GP, 21 G, 39 A, 60 PTS

CSB: No. 9 (NA Skaters)| ISS: No. 12 | HP: No. 27 | FC: No. 11 | McKeen’s: No. 13

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Ässät (Liiga)
July 6, 2000 | Pori, FIN
6-2, 190 lbs. | Shoots Left | @taikinajalka
2017-’18: 57 GP, 10 G, 19 A, 29 PTS

CSB: No. 6 (EU Skaters) | ISS: No. 16 | HP: No. 10 | FC: No. 13| McKeen’s: No. 14

Rasmus Kupari, C, Kärpät (Liiga)
March 15, 2000 | Kotka, FIN
5-11, 163 lbs. | Shoots Right | @rasmuskupari
2017-’18: 39 GP, 6 G, 8 A, 14 PTS

CSB: No. 11 (EU Skaters) | ISS: No. 15 | HP: No. 12 | FC: No. 16 | McKeen’s: No. 22

Although many of these prospects have potential to be top-six centres, does that make them worth the gamble on passing up Filip Zadina or Andrei Svechnikov? Both players are highlight reel snipers with potential to be an offensive force, as the Habs are not only in desperate need of centres but scorers as well.

It would be surprising to see the Canadiens going off the grid given that they have such a high pick. With the average draft position of all four of these players being 13 or 14, the risk is probably too high for the Canadiens to pass up on their pick of the top three.

But trading down to get a centre could have positive benefits. The Canadiens do have options with their third overall pick. Trading down could help them be in a better spot to draft a center and add additional assets. But unless something significant is coming back, I don’t see this happening.

Making a Trade at the Draft

Of course the Canadiens can use their third overall pick to add scoring and separately, make a trade for the centre they need. With nine picks after the first round, and some teams having an interest in Max Pacioretty, the Habs have options to swing a trade to fill a major hole.