The Montreal Canadiens have once again found themselves looking at a possible top 15 draft spot in the first round and fans are starting to wonder who Marc Bergevin will opt to select. That shouldn’t be the question, though. The better question fans should be asking is who will they trade their first-round pick to.
Yes, that’s right. I’m suggesting that they should trade their first-round pick now. Before you call me crazy, let me break it down for you and the reasons why this needs to happen.
The Time Is Now
Montreal has not made it past the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2014-15 season when they had a 50 win season. A lot of the key pieces for the Habs are currently in their prime. Brendan Gallagher, who has established himself as a 30 goal scorer when he’s been healthy, has been Montreal’s biggest asset upfront. Gallagher may only be 27-years-old, but the Habs can’t expect him to put up these kinds of numbers in three or four years from now.
The defence for the Habs is getting younger and there’s no doubt about that as Cale Fleury, Otto Leskinen and Gustav Olofsson have all seen time in the NHL even though for some of those guys, it may have only been three or four games they’ve gotten a taste of the action in. Even with these young pieces, the blue-line right now is led by Shea Weber who has seven years left on his deal, but who knows if he’ll be around for all seven and even if he is, he won’t be the guy who will be playing top minutes. Let’s not forget about Victor Mete who is going to be a top-pairing guy sooner rather than later.
At 32-years-old, Carey Price is not getting any younger and if the Habs are going to make a Stanley Cup run, it’s going to be with Carey Price in net. Price hasn’t had amazing numbers over the past few seasons, but he also hasn’t had a great defence in front of him. Last season, Price had faced 1,952 shots which is the most shots he’s seen since the 2014-15 season where he walked away with the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy and Ted Lindsay award.
Cayden Primeau is expected to be Price’s successor, but we’ve only seen a small sample size of him in the NHL. He’s played two games this season, putting up a 1-1 record with a 2.52 goals-against average and .931 save percentage. In Laval, he’s put up a 12-7-3 record with a 2.71 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. I’d like to see him as the backup in Montreal soon, just so that he can get some more NHL action under his belt.
They Have Plenty Of Prospects
Montreal is loaded with prospects, some of which are NHL ready and some of them who are not. Ryan Poehling, Cole Caufield, Cale Fleury, Nick Suzuki, Cayden Primeau and Alexander Romanov, just to name a few. We have already seen that Suzuki is gonna be a stud and has shown that this season, putting up 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points in 57 games this season.
Cole Caufield is putting up crazy numbers in Wisconsin as he has 18 goals and 14 assists for 32 points in 28 games this season. He’s got a ton of speed which will help the Habs on the wing and could be making the jump to the AHL, if not, the NHL as soon as next season. The Habs selected Caufield 15th overall in last year’s draft.
The Value of Trading A First-Round Pick
Montreal has been acquiring a lot of draft picks in recent years which gives them 11 picks overall in this year’s draft, including two picks in the second and fifth rounds along with three picks in the fourth round. However, the second-round pick that Montreal acquired is from Chicago who isn’t having a great year which will lead to a higher slot.
Now, we all know the value of a first-round pick which could land another top-six defensemen for the Canadiens which they have been needing of ever since acquiring Weber. This comes after Montreal was looking at Jake Gardiner in the offseason who ended up going to Carolina and signing a four-year, $16.2 million deal. Montreal is also lacking a backup goaltender after the Keith Kinkaid signing ended up being a bust. The Habs are 2-5-3 in games in which Carey Price has not started and this is another spot that needs to be filled desperately.
The Washington Capitals traded their first-round pick in 2017 to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Kevin Shattenkirk and goaltender Pheonix Copley. Minnesota did the same thing in 2017, trading their first-round pick to acquire Martin Hanzal from the Arizona Coyotes. So expect the Habs to get a decent return in they decide to trade their first-round draft pick.
More Picks Coming
Montreal is going to be a team that will look to be very active at the trade deadline in the coming weeks and will certainly be acquiring more draft picks. Guys like Jeff Petry and Ilya Kovalchuk will certainly draw a lot of attention and Montreal will be selling high on them. According to Pierre LeBrun of TSN, the Habs will be looking for at least a second-round pick if they are going to trade Kovalchuk.
However, I don’t think the Habs should move Kovalchuk at the deadline and try to re-sign him in the offseason. The price for Jeff Petry should be the same, if not, more considering how much he’s done for the Habs and has shown himself to be a top-pairing defensemen.
Nate Thompson and Tomas Tatar are two other names that have been thrown around in trade talks. I expect Thompson to have a better chance at being dealt as the Habs are on a hot streak and will want to have all their key pieces for a possible push to the playoffs.
What Happens If They Decide To Hold On To The Pick?
Now, if Montreal decides to keep the pick and they are in the middle of the pack in the draft order, I’m selecting defensemen Braden Schneider from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Schneider is a 6’2, right-handed defensemen who comes in at 209lbs. As of February 12th, he’s put up five goals and 27 assists for 32 points in 48 games, surpassing his point total of 24 in 58 games last season. He’s still a year away from NHL or AHL action and will probably spend another year in Juniors after he’s drafted.
He has everything Montreal needs. He adds size on the blueline and isn’t afraid to throw his body around. Montreal has a ton of young guys up front and year after year, that always seems to be their problem. If they do have a higher selection, they can trade down and maybe pick up an extra pick or player in the process.
The 18-year-old defensemen would join Noah Juulsen, Josh Brook and Cale Fleury on the left side. Even if they don’t take Schneider, they should be targeting defensemen in the opening round.
Additionally, Juulsen hasn’t seen action in the NHL since December 17th, 2018 and has been dealing with concussion-like symptoms which have limited him to only 12 games in the American Hockey League this season. There is no timetable for his return and it’s unknown if he even will return to the NHL.