Reading Between the Lines of the Habs First Overall Pick

June 30, 2022

TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie released his final draft ranking this week and, for the first time, Shane Wright is not at the top of his list. Juraj Slafkovsky, the giant Slovakian left winger, has overtaken Wright. Corey Pronman of the Athletic also has the big man ranked at first overall.

Chris Peters from Daily Faceoff released his ranking with Logan Cooley atop the list, stating his belief that Cooley is on a trajectory to become a first-line centre at the NHL level. While Pronman ranked Slafkovsky first overall, he also ranked players with the most upside, and Logan Cooley topped that list.

In the meanwhile, TSN Analyst and Scout Craig Button has maintained Shane Wright at first overall and asserts that while the competition is tight, no one has risen to the point of demonstrating they are the best player available over Wright. Scott Wheeler of The Athletic and The Hockey Writers concur.

The Montreal Canadiens management group has a giant decision facing them on July 7th when they take to the podium to make their selection. Each choice has its own set of implications for the Habs, and once the pick is made, we can do some reading between the lines about what the pick means for the Habs rebuild.

With the first overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens select Shane Wright.    

If this is the outcome on draft night, we can assume that Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton (HuGo), along with their scouting team, have determined that Shane Wright is a good option to be a top six centre for the Habs going forward. They have assessed the player, understand the impact of COVID-19 on his development, and believe Wright can be part of the core moving forward. He would likely play in Montreal this coming season.

Wright is a big and strong pivot who is described as a 200-foot player with a good hockey IQ who is NHL-ready. He’s been compared to Mika Zibanejad, and a lesser version of Patrice Bergeron. How badly do the Habs need a player like that?

With the first overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens select Juraj Slafkovsky.

If the Habs choose to pick the big winger on July 7th, we must assume that HuGo has another plan to address the hole at centre.

Smart minds say top picks shouldn’t be used to draft for team needs – best player available (BPA) is the only way to go. One thing the experts agree on, apart from a blowhard or two, is that all three players are very good, and the separation between them is minimal. There isn’t an obvious BPA.

The Habs have a giant hole at centre, and there are two pivots available that are consistently ranked in the top three. Whether they favour Wright or Cooley, I can be convinced of the merits. Choosing a winger that isn’t the consensus BPA seems like a foolhardy choice that doesn’t jive with my impressions of HuGo… unless there is more to the picture that we don’t see yet.

If HuGo chooses to NOT pick a centre, we can assume there is a better plan for centre than drafting one with the first overall pick.

With the first overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens select Logan Cooley.

The upside potential is tempting for a Canadiens team that has lacked star power for years. Cooley is described as an exciting skilled player with elite offensive potential. If the Habs select him, we can assume they are looking for a centre that provides something a little different than they get from Nick Suzuki. There is an argument to be made that Suzuki and Wright have a lot of similarities and the Habs should select the centre that brings a different skill set.

If the Habs take this path, we can also assume a longer rebuild process since Cooley is believed to be the least NHL-ready of the three. Certainly, Hughes has said they are looking for a player who can have the highest impact for the long term. They’re not focused on being most improved team for next season.

We have a trade to announce.     

The complete HuGo picture may not come into focus after that first pick is made. It is conceivable that a trade will materialize that brings clarity to the plan.

The Ottawa Senators have publicly stated their willingness to trade the seventh overall pick to obtain an impact player, and particularly a top-4 defenceman. The Philadelphia Flyers, currently due to pick fifth, have indicated they are exploring options to trade down. The New Jersey Devils are open to trading the second overall for an impact player. Others have been rumoured to be in discussions, and we have already seen one first-round pick moved this week.  

The Habs have 14 picks to play with, along with a deep prospect pool and a couple of veterans of interest. Dreaming up trade options is par for the course.

Would a package of Josh Anderson, Cayden Primeau and the 26th overall be enough to fetch the 2nd overall from Jersey? What if the Habs target is Pavel Zacha, with a view to making him a top-6 centre for the future?

Are the Flyers a player for Josh Anderson? Could the Habs offer a package to land that fifth overall? What if HuGo was willing to take back a salary dump like James van Riemsdyk?

Would the Senators covet a player like Alexander Romanov for that seventh overall pick, and would it be worth it for the Habs? Would the Sens prefer veteran Joel Edmundson, packaged with other assets, for that pick?

Could Jeff Petry and/or Christian Dvorak fetch picks later in the first round that could be packaged with the 26th overall to move up to the top ten?

The first overall pick is important but not a stand-alone solution.

In a week the pick will be past tense, and we’ll all be reading between the lines to assess the implications. Perhaps there will be other moves that contribute to our understanding. Ultimately, a long off-season remains, and the work ahead for the Montreal Canadiens will continue beyond. It’s one pick. One asset. An important piece of the puzzle, but just one piece. Whatever choice is made, we would be wise to keep that big picture in mind.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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