Takeaways from the Habs Draft Window

Eggs Bennett 22-15

July 10, 2022

The Montreal Canadiens select Juraj Slavkovsky with the first overall pick at the 2022 draft.

The 2022 NHL Amateur Draft came and went, and with it the second major window of change for the Montreal Canadiens and the management duo of Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton (HuGo). We went into the draft with conflicting opinions about who the Habs should draft first overall but knowing some things they needed to accomplish. They needed help at centre, but also to add elite level talent at any position. Going into the draft, the Canadiens had great prospect depth and some very good pieces. The big need in Montreal was for game-changers.  

With the draft behind us, here are my takeaways from the second HuGo window of change, the draft window.

The Habs used their best asset on a game-changer.

TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzie, when naming Juraj Slafkovsky as the top prospect on his final ranking, referred to his size, competitiveness, and his ability to deliver on big stages.

Is there any bigger stage in the NHL than the one at ice level at the Bell Centre in Montreal?

Hughes told the media that even if a deal was not in place for a centre, they would have drafted Slafkovsky. That means they saw him as the best player available, at least for the Habs. Being the best in Montreal requires more than skill. Consistency and reliability are good, but they won’t necessarily save you from the ravages of this market.

Suzuki and Caufield will thrive in Montreal because they bring their unique brand of cocky. Different as they are, both know who they are and won’t be convinced otherwise by a loose-lipped radio host.

Slavkovsky was booed by some “fans” at a moment that should have been the best of his life. When asked about that, he explained it as the passion for hockey that Habs fans have, a passion that he shares. “And maybe some of them didn’t like me, but I will do everything that I will play good for this team, and they will actually maybe like me one day.”

That’s a young man who understands the market and understands himself. You can see what appealed to Hughes.

Slavkovsky arrives at the Bell Centre on draft night.

The Habs left the draft with a top 6 centre.

Before the draft, my take was this: if the Habs choose to pick the big winger, we must assume that HuGo has another plan to address the hole at centre. I also asserted that the complete HuGo picture may not come into focus immediately after that first pick, and that a trade may materialize that would bring clarity to the plan.

We didn’t have to wait long. Fans were still stunned about the first overall pick when Bettman took to the stage to announce the trade for Kirby Dach. The third overall pick of the 2019 draft has not yet developed into the top 6 centre that Montreal needs, but Kent Hughes was adamant with the press that they expect Dach to grow into the player they need.

Dach is big and strong, a skilled playmaker who can play a 200-foot game, and has good hands and hockey sense. The kid is 21, and the Habs have the luxury of being patient with his development. Some fans were upset that he’s not more of a sure thing with the Price the Canadiens paid, but sure things don’t hit the trade market.

With this deal, the Habs are counting on their improved development program and the coaching of Martin St. Louis to mold Dach into one-half of a 1-2-punch with Nick Suzuki.

The consolidated collection of picks reveals some things about HuGo.

After selecting and then trading for giants, HuGo selected several small, skilled players to demonstrate he’s not part of the truculence club. Size is important when combined with skill, but nothing is more important than skill. Filip Mesar is the skilled childhood friend of Slavkovsky. Lane Hutson is the swing for the fences offensive defenceman. Vincenz Rohrer is the guy who plays bigger than his size. Miguel Tourigny fills the need for a local player, while also being a high-risk, high-reward pick. All small players.

Hughes used a quantity of picks on the toughest position to fill – centreman. He burned some pick to land Dach. Then he selected Owen pick with the first pick of the second round. Owen Beck demonstrates to us that Hughes understands the concept of having a high floor, even if the Habs weren’t prepared to use the first overall pick on that. Beck may be the third-line centre of the future. Cedric Guindon is a small, skilled centre. Rohrer, Cedric Guindon, and Jared Davidson are all pivots who can play wing.

HuGo is not timid about giving to get.

Before the draft I asked this question: Would the Senators covet a player like Alexander Romanov for that seventh overall pick, and would it be worth it for the Habs? Ottawa had different plans for that pic but, ultimately, the cost of a top-6 centre was moving Romanov. That one hurt. Fans at the draft were very torn about this call.

A fan watches Romanov get traded on the draft floor.

The Habs have a long history of giving up on young defencemen too early… but this wasn’t that. Hughes said it was very difficult to concede to moving Romanov. That’s the price of a young centre with potential to play top-6, and the Habs have a lot more developing at left side defence than they do at centre.

Hughes knows that standing before the media and saying that trades are hard, or that getting a top centre requires giving away players you love, might appease the media but won’t do a thing to improve their lot on the ice.

We would be wise to keep this in mind in the weeks ahead. The draft floor was abuzz with rumours of multiple teams after Josh Anderson, and those teams needing a goalie checking in on Jake Allen. We know Hughes is not eager to move on from the unicorn that is Anderson, and we also know that the future of Carey Price dictates what they can do in net. But if the get is good enough, we can expect Hughes to have the courage to give and figure out the rest later.

Nick Suzuki has taken another step towards the captaincy.

There he was, taking the stage with the Montreal executives to make the first overall selection, and he looked great doing it. Nick Suzuki carries himself in a way befitting the captaincy and the new team is being rebuilt with him at the core. Just give him the C.

HuGo’s view of veteran leadership may look a little different than yours.

And there he was, signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans. Chris Wideman. Of course, any player under contract is subject to taking a turn in that role. But his presence at the draft, as well as the rumours circulating on the draft floor about Jeff Petry, Josh Anderson, Christian Dvorak, Mike Hoffman, and… led me to this conclusion. You can have veteran support for the young core without blowing your budget on them.

Chris Wideman signing autographs at Day 2 of the draft.

My prediction for the next 12 months is that Kent Hughes will find a way to move some veterans in big contracts and try to be thriftier where vet support is concerned.

The draft window of change has now closed, and we have entered the free agency window, the third window of change for HuGo since assuming leadership of the Montreal Canadiens. I will be watching for the additions and the trades, and veteran support is one lens I will be looking through.

It’s a very exciting time to be a Habs fan.

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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