The groundwork for Hughes’ plan could be laid this week

BROSSARD, Que. — The draft kicks off this Thursday in Montreal, with the Canadiens currently holding the first overall pick, seven more selections to be made before the fifth round, six picks between rounds 5 and 7, and players on the list, future choices and prospects for action.

Given all of this, CEO Kent Hughes is looking at his best chance to kick-start his long-term plan for the organization.

He approaches it with eyes – and mind – wide open.

In his preliminary meeting with the media on Monday, the GM said all the things you would expect to hear from someone in his position. He started with, “If the draft was tonight, we’d be first overall,” but he also declined to take the opportunity to trade the pick if the right offer came.

Hughes said there’s an equally good chance of the Canadiens getting the second overall pick in the draft as he is trading the first and not owning a top-3 pick at all, that there’s currently a better chance of getting some of Montreal’s other picks in the draft. the draft rise from 26e generally then that there is first choice, and the Canadiens are open to anything and not committed to any specific plan. It all sounded quite generic.

But it was also real.

The potential for the Canadiens to make big, bold moves — and take on much more of the spotlight already on them as best-choice hosts — is huge, and Hughes spoke like a man who was all for it. .

Design Choices

Round 1: (1st, 26th), Round 2: (33rd, 62nd), Round 3: (66th, 75th) Round 4 (127th, 128th), Round 5: (130th), Round 6: (162nd), Round 7 (194th)

Potential Goals for Round 1

There was nothing general about Hughes’ answer to a question about which players the Canadiens consider making the best choice. He could have declined to answer, as most would have, but he confirmed it will be one of Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky or Logan Cooley.

Wright is a brain center. He has been the consensus pick for analysts since joining the OHL as one of the few 15-year-old players in CHL history to achieve exceptional status. He arrived with the Kingston Frontenacs under immense pressure and has thrived with 39 goals and 66 points in his first 58 games.

Then the world as we knew it stopped because of the pandemic, forcing Wright and most CHL players to sit on the sidelines for an entire season.

If the 6-foot 191-pounder faced opponents this season, producing 32 goals and 94 points in 63 regular-season games and three goals and 11 points in 11 playoff games, there is concern about what happened during development has been lost. The 2020-21 season hit by COVID played a major role.

But another reason Wright’s position atop most design boards became precarious was that both Slafkovsky and Cooley narrowed the gap in their own ways.

Slafkovsky, who weighs six feet and plays like that, may not have lined up against the best players in the world at the Beijing Olympics in February, but he dominated against the best men available and led the tournament in goals (7) and points (7). He then represented Slovakia at the World Championships in May, scoring three goals and nine points in eight games.

It was performances that gave credence to the idea that Slafkovsky appears to be the most physically prepared player in this draft to step into the NHL and make an immediate impact. Had they not been compensated for by a disappointing five goals and ten points season in the Finnish top men’s league, he probably would have overtaken Wright as the consensus pick.

But would anyone really be surprised if Cooley jumps over both players on Thursday night?

Scouts we’ve reached base with suggest he has the highest attacking ceiling of the three players, and he showed it this season with 40 goals and 111 points in 75 games he played with the United States National Development Team. .

“I think Cooley has an advantage of being a top center and I see him as a player like (New York Islanders star) Mat Barzal,” said a top NHL manager we spoke to two weeks ago.

But the same director wondered if certain habits wouldn’t stop Cooley from seizing the opportunity to prove he can achieve that advantage, and more people would consider Cooley the most likely player if they disagreed.

Still, there seems to be no doubt about the quality of all three players the Canadiens are considering.

As Hughes special adviser — and a former Tampa Bay Lightning first overall pick — Vincent Lecavalier said on Monday, “It’s three different players, but they’re three very, very good players.”

Deciding which of them is best for the Canadiens will be based on much more than how they performed from September to now.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to predict a player’s future — where they are right now and what they can become as a player in the NHL,” Hughes said. “That’s really how our evaluations are made. It’s not to find out who the best player is at 18, but who can be the best at 22, 23, 24 so they can help us on the path we’re taking to become a team that is able to win year after year.”

Hughes said it’s a decision that’s being made with a particular emphasis on character because, as he put it, “it’s probably almost harder to be the first overall pick in Montreal,” and “we’re trying their ability to handle that.” going to evaluate. kind of pressure on a consistent basis.”

The Canadiens will need as much time as they need before making their final decision.

“It is not a matter of hesitation; it’s about making sure we do all our homework,” Hughes said when pressured for not finding a solution three days into the design. “We want to speak to all our scouts. We’re starting to have meetings tonight, and we want them all to have a voice. We certainly have some scouts in Europe who may not have seen the games in Ontario in person. But nowadays, with (scouting technology) and (analysis provider) Sportlogiq, it makes it easy to do all our homework. †

Top picks from last year: Logan Mailloux

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound right-handed defenseman who was controversially taken 31st overall by the Canadiens last summer after he relinquished the draft after being charged with a crime in Sweden. He played just 12 games for the OHL’s London Knights last season.

Mailloux was banned for the first half and made his debut in January with three goals and nine points before suffering a shoulder injury at the end of the season.

He has since spent time in Montreal, where he was recovering from surgery and was introduced to the Canadiens’ front office. He is expected to join the team’s development camp next week, although a contract with the club is anything but close.

“It is not our intention to negotiate with him,” Hughes said on May 31. “Logan is still being evaluated – less as a player and a lot more as a person and community member – and we are going to monitor. He did everything he promised to do to be a better person and a better teammate and member of the London community.” to be.”

Organizational Needs

You’d have a much easier time listing what the Canadiens don’t need. After finishing last in the NHL, it’s hard to even prioritize what they need.

They haven’t had elite centermen for the better part of three decades, and it’s questionable whether they’d get that in Wright or Cooley. It’s also unlikely to be available to them through barter unless a team calls this week with a Godfather first-choice offer.

Is anyone willing to give up a power/scoring winger? Because the Canadiens probably won’t get one if they don’t draft Slafkovsky.

That may not seem like a big deal to some who see Josh Anderson signing six more seasons in Montreal and Cole Caufield brimming with star potential, but to suggest the Canadiens don’t have much of a need for that kind of player would be utterly inaccurate.

If you were to make a list of Montreal’s top prospects, it would start with some good defenders.

But it’s a stretch to suggest that one of them will develop into a star, and the Canadiens don’t have one on their current roster to fit the bill either. They also want to trade their best defender in Jeff Petry.

So that need could be a lot bigger by the end of this week.

Oh, and then there’s what happens in the net.

Cayden Primeau and Jakub Dobes are prospects who have shown they have the potential to become NHL starting goalkeepers one day, but that day isn’t necessarily around the corner and the Canadiens are going into the draft not knowing if the superstar who is under contract whether or not to occupy their net will actually stand for it someday again.

As Hughes said Monday, whenever he has news about Carey Price’s health and future, he will convene a special press conference to speak exclusively on that topic.

In the meantime, with so many choices at his disposal for Friday’s portion of the draft, he might want to start filling the Canadiens cabinet with goalkeepers.

At the same time, there’s an organizational need – perhaps the most pressing – to create the cap flexibility to attract Alex Romanov, Caufield and others who can help down the line, and Hughes will spend a lot of his energy over the next week getting exactly to do that. This means that Petry may not be the only member of the current roster who is elsewhere.

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