Habs Draft Preview and News & Notes
Every year, Montreal Canadiens fans and media personalities alike enter the NHL Entry Draft with high hopes that their team will actually do something worth discussing. No matter what team you root for, frankly, it's the one time of the year you actually want to see Gary Bettman stand on a stool behind a podium and utter the words "we have a trade to announce".
Last year saw a fair amount of wheeling and dealing over the two days that the draft took place, and was highlighted by a Flyers deal that saw the team acquire the rights to defenseman Dan Hamhuis (who would refuse to sign with the team, opting instead to become a Canuck), the Flames trading for Henrik Karlsson who is now a staple of their line-up as a backup goaltender, and a big deal between the Panthers and Canucks that would see Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner move south, with Keith Ballard and Victor Oreskovich becoming inevitable Stanley Cup runners-up.
Your Montreal Canadiens also made a move on the first night of the draft, as Pierre Gauthier traded the 27th and 57th overall picks to move up to spot number 22, where he picked big defenseman Jarred Tinordi. Not to brag, but prior to last year's draft, I predicted that the Canadiens would draft Tinordi - albeit not that they would move up to do so - so I'm hoping to go two for two this year.
But before we get into that prediction, there is a little bit to be said about what the Canadiens might do tomorrow night in Minnesota. And we're not talking about who they're going to pick, but rather, whether Pierre Gauthier is going to be active on the trade market.
Simply put, the free agency market is kind of bare bones this year. The Habs likely have all they need on defense in-house, or at least, all they can muster, so if they're going to improve anything, it's going to be up front. This year's free agent forwards are highlighted by Brad Richards, who will most definitely be moving out of Dallas, Simon Gagne, Jason Arnott, Michael Handzus, Tomas Fleischman, Ville Leino and Brooks Laich, among others. Not exactly ripe pickings for any general manager, yet alone for Pierre Gauthier. And while Habs fans will likely be crossing their fingers hoping that Gauthier either manages to somehow lure Brad Richards to Montreal, getting rid of Scott Gomez in the process (a guy can dream, can't he?) and that he DOESN'T sign Simon Gagne, the Habs manager can supress this anxiety by being active at the draft.
The Canadiens haven't shied away from being active on draft day in the past, and they definitely have the cap space and the momentum to get something done now, but it's useless to speculate what Gauthier might do, who he might do it with and for what, because when Gauthier trades, he usually tends to be kind of unpredictable with it. So we'll leave that up to him.
But let this serve as a warning. The Canadiens are coming off two seasons that were riddled with injuries and controversy. But despite this, they still managed to have some semblance of success, making the playoffs twice while other teams in their position just gave up. Two years ago, they made the Eastern Conference finals against all adds. Two months ago, they took the eventual Stanley Cup champions to the brink of elimination. Things aren't all that bad for the Montreal Canadiens, despite the way people like me might sometimes like to put it.
Are the Habs a player or two away from winning the cup? Probably not. There are still plenty of holes in their prospect ranks, and their line-up is older than a contending team's probably should be. But with a couple of key additions, mainly in the scoring department, the Canadiens could probably do some damage if they manage to finally stay healthy. And I'm sure that Gauthier sees this. That's why tomorrow is so important. They have the cap space, they have a few assets, and they have the need. Whether it's for an established NHL forward, or to move up to the top 10 in the draft, Pierre Gauthier is likely to do something big tomorrow. So stay tuned for that!
I'd be remissed if I tried to do a thorough analysis of what kind of player the Canadiens are likely to draft in the first round tomorrow night. The draft pool isn't as interesting as it was a year ago, and frankly, considering their lingering lack of depth on defense and the inexistence of too many top flight scoring forwards, it's really anyone's guess what direction Pierre Gauthier and Trevor Timmins might decide to go in tomorrow night.
If I were in Pierre Gauthier's shoes, I'd make a push to try and get into the top five. I believe that the fact the cap is going up to $65 million - meaning the floor will be at nearly $50 million - will cause a lot of GMs to panic and pull the trigger on deals to get to the cap floor and acquire some established NHL players. Teams like the Oilers, Islanders and maybe even the Panthers might be in the market to trade their picks. And if I was Pierre Gauthier, I'd be eyeing one of those picks in order to acquire Sean Couturier of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
He's not a technically a Quebecer, born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in Bathurst, New Brunswick, but I'd venture a guess that he speaks the language thanks to his father Sylvain, former NHLer and native of Greenflied Park. But it's not only a matter of getting the "French superstar" that the team has been lacking for years. Couturier is a center, he's 6'4" and 200 lbs at the age of 18, and is described as an imposing two-way center who can play in any situation. And most importantly, he's underrated. A battle with mononucleosis last summer hindered his pre-draft year. Couturier was expected to be a top prospect at this draft, but in final rankings he's slipped down to the 5th position. If he stays there, he will be drafted by the New York Islanders. Simply put, they don't need him, and Gauthier should make every effort to trade with Garth Snow for that pick.
But of course, Couturier to the Habs might be a pipe dream, so you might have to look a little further down the rankings to find what the Canadiens will end up with. Ryan Stone of the Niagara Ice Dogs is ranked 7th and could very well be a top line center. Mika Zibanejad from the Swedish Elite League is ranked 9th and has been described as somewhere in between a Nick Backstrom and a Mike Fisher. Nathan Beaulieu was a Memorial Cup All-Star with the Saint John Sea Dogs, and could fill a nice gap for the Canadiens as a puck-carrying defenseman. Joel Armia is a big, Finnish winger who seems to be the type of player the Habs have gone with in the past - the risky type with plenty of upside. Tyler Biggs has been already been described as one of the most "rugged" players to come out of the US system, and at 6'2" 210lbs, the winger could be a perfect addition to an eventual third line for the Habs next to Louis Leblanc.
Closer to the Habs pole position, the two players that may be the Habs best choices if they choose to stay at 17th might be Brandon Saad or Zack Phillips. TSN predicted that the Canadiens would draft Saad, and it would make sense to go with the big Saginaw winger, who seems to be a good raw offensive talent that can be molded by the organization. Phillips is ranked 28th, but he showed heart and grit by playing through a memorial cup with an injured shoulder (and of course winning), which should bump him up. He's also who TCL's Kyle Busch predicted predicted for the Habs in our Mock Draft.
Whatever direction the Habs go, you can bet there's plenty of potential. I'm sure Gauthier and Timmins have someone specific in mind to draft, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the 10 or so named above. I won't go as far as to predict that the Habs will move up to get Couturier, but keep it mind. Instead, I'll take a guess and predict that the Canadiens will draft Brandon Saad of the Saginaw Spirit, if they keep that 17th spot.
Who do you think the Canadiens will draft? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
NEWS AND NOTES
- The Montreal Canadiens and Bell Media announced yesterday that the Team 990, Montreal's English-language sports talk station, have acquired the rights to broadcast every Canadiens game on the radio for the next seven years. The deal is rather unprecedented as the right have belonged to CJAD News Radio for as long as I can remember. If you're a sports fan in Montreal, odds are you turn on the Team at least once in a while. While I've had my fair share of differences with some of their opinions and hosts, I'm really happy for everyone at the station and while it's sad to see an institution leave its longtime home, I have no doubt in my mind that the Team is going to do an incredible job with the broadcasts, with a plethora of talent in house to cover the games, and likely a few outside hires.The play-by-play man hasn't been confirmed, but Pat Hickey thinks it's down to either the Team's Elliotte Price or Hamilton's Derek Wills, and both would be great choices. My prediction for the color commentary job? Chris Nilan.
- The Montreal Canadiens will be the road team to play at the MTS Center, as it has been revealed that Winnipeg's first home game will be against the Habs on October 9th at 5PM. Montreal opens its season three days earler in Toronto against the Leafs, as per tradition, and their home opener will be on the 13th against the Calgary Flames. Other highlights on the schedule include the annual six-game road trip over Christmas with stops in Boston, Chicago, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Tampa Bay and Florida, Winnipeg's return to Montreal on January 12th and February 5th. Finally, the Habs will see their rival Stanley Cup Champs for the first time in a home-and-home back-to-back October 26th and 27th. Full schedule available at NHL.com.
- La Presse is reporting that the Canadiens are set to make a contract offer to Roman Hamrlik, which really screws up everything I thought the Habs would do this summer. Thanks, Gauthier. In reality though, it makes sense. Roman's been an important part of the team for four years and with a reduced price and less ice time he can still be effective. Question is, what does this mean for Jaroslav Spacek, Alexsei Yemelin and Yannick Weber?
He'll have more as it develops tomorrow in Minnesota, so don't forget to join us for our liveblog!