Looking at the team’s depth throughout the organization, I came to the conclusion that there are still holes at certain areas and a lack of high end depth as well.
Last year, the team made in clear that defence was important as they selected four defensemen with their first five selections, five in total. They also made it clear that they wanted to add good puck movers with high upside which they did by selecting Jayden Struble, Mattias Norlinder and Gianni Fairbrother.
Things are a bit different in 2020 and the focus now shifts to two key areas. Talent and skill on the wings and if the pick is right, an offensive minded right-shot defensemen. The Canadiens biggest organizational hole is currently on the wing.
They do have talented prospects such as Cole Caufield and Jesse Ylonen, but there isn’t much after them. The current roster does have a good set of wingers, but Jonathan Drouin and Domi, who may or may not go back to wing, are 25. They aren’t old, but their not Caufield or Ylonen young either. This, to me, means they should invest some picks on skilled wingers if the range makes sense.
The team does have some nice prospects at wing who could become dependable top six forwards with offensive production. Cole Caufield, who is regarded to be one of the best goal scorers not in the NHL, is still a couple of years away from making his mark in the league, but the potential to be an elite goal scorer is there. Jesse Ylonen, who was drafted in the second round in 2018, has great skills with quick decision making and speed which the team lacks.
He still needs time, but he’s getting there. While Joni Ikonen and Ryan Poehling are labelled as centers, they could end up being wingers and both have middle-six potential. After this group, there isn’t much offensive potential and to be frank, there is a drop off after Caufield. More talent needs to be added if it’s the right move.
The good thing is there is an abundance of skill at the winger position in this year’s draft class and the Canadiens may have more than one high end forward available to them in the top 10 should they lose to Pittsburgh in the play-in tournament.
In a previous article, I brought up the idea of Montreal going winger heavy with players like Lucas Raymond, Jack Quinn and Alexander Holtz being available to them in the first round. One of them is going to be available should they pick eighth and if Lafreniere, Byfield, Stutzle and Drysdale all go in the top four.
Regardless of what they do with their first pick, there is an abundance of wingers available in every round and with a whopping 14 picks, they could come out with multiple offensive minded forwards which is lacking throughout the depth chart.
With three picks in the second round and two in the third round, they are set to add a lot of bodies at the draft. There are a couple of high impact players who are set to go on day two such as Brendan Brisson, Thomas Bordeleau, Sam Colangelo, Ozzy Wiesblatt, Daniil Gushchin, William Dufour and many more.
All these players have good potential and would be interesting options should the Canadiens select one or more of these kids. They all bring something unique, but they have a scoring touch which the pipeline is lacking outside the NHL roster. The Canadiens need to make this a priority as they see fit, but eventually centers like Suzuki and Kotkaniemi need quality wingers to help carry the team’s offence in the near future.
Furthermore, the depth chart on the right side of the defence could certainly be bolstered for the upcoming season. The Canadiens added some bodies in 2015 and 2017 by drafting Josh Brook, Cale Fleury and Surrey-born defensemen Noah Juulsen. All three show signs of NHL potential. However, there isn’t any quality relief beyond those three as there is on the left side with prospects such as Alexander Romanov, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Mattias Norlinder, Gianni Fairbrother and Otto Leskinen who were all added in the last two years.
There isn’t as much depth in this draft, but the Canadiens are in a spot where they could possibly have a few players available to them throughout the seven rounds. Top defensive prospect Jamie Drysdale is expected to be drafted in the top five and unless the Canadiens win one of the first three lottery picks, they won’t likely get a chance to draft him. Halifax Mooseheads defender Justin Barron is a wild card in this draft as he was sidelined with blood clots this past season and could scare a couple of teams and see him fall to round two.
William Villeneuve looks to be an early day two pick and the Canadiens currently own the ninth and 10th pick, part of the trade that sent Andrew Shaw back to Chicago in round two, so they should be within range. Other than those three who figure to be gone within the top 40, there are also others who will in that range such as Helge Grans and a bit further down in Jack Thompson. There are prospects who show good upside and that’s what all teams are seeking the most.
While those two positions are the ones that need the most reinforcement, the Canadiens should continue to add bodies at center and in goal, regardless of the depth they currently have there.
We all know that Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are the planned future at that position and that Philip Danault is the current leader of that group for the time being. We also know that there is a wave of players coming in that could hold the 3C slot in Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and Cam Hillis and that Lukas Vejdemo could end up manning the 4C spot. That’s if everyone progresses properly. This doesn’t mean the team should stop drafting centers and if they were to win the second overall spot, I wouldn’t hesitate to select Quinton Byfield, but that’s a topic for a future article.
Moving on, there is always a need for goaltenders and saying the Canadiens shouldn’t draft a goalie this year because they have Carey Price for a while and the heir is already in the organization, Cayden Primeau, would be a bad way to build a contingency plan. My eyes are on Devon Levi in the later rounds. The Montreal native is heading to Northeastern to pursue academics and continue his hockey career. Potential steal.
My point in all this is that there is a clear need at wing and could potentially solidify the right side of the defence as they did last year for the left side. The stars are lining up for them to do both in one draft and they come out with a handful of quality options at those two positions, then they will be in a good situation to build their future core better than it has been in decades. At the end of the day, it is up to Trevor Timmins and his group of scouts to pick the best possible players in order to build a contender and they have done well since 2017. Let’s hope they get their guys when draft day arrives.