Who should the Montreal Canadiens select in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft? Here’s a look at my annual wishlist.
by Dan Kramer
In Timmins We Trust.
The National Hockey League Entry Draft is no science. No team bats 1.000, no scouting staff finds a diamond in the late round rough every single year. A trade up to nab a particular player or a trade down to score an extra selection can look as brilliant as it can idiotic years later.
Look at fresh-faced 18-year olds in any profession. But consider only the best of the best. Can you immediately guarantee which are in line to take over as President someday, and which will lack in some areas, keeping them a step behind their peers? Maybe you’ll have some inclination; can pick out a group you think to be “first rounders.” But what happens when these individuals are faced with no situations and responsibilities they’ve never encountered before? How accurate can you be in assessing their future performance? What about their intangibles – are they just really good at “faking it” in an interview? And what if the task at hand also counts on their still-developing body continuing to fill-out at some anticipated-yet-uncertain rate?
Over the years, Trevor Timmins has shown he is as good as any in the world at assessing the hockey futures of such young men. He has done all he can to keep the Canadiens’ prospect cupboards full. Have all of his picks been perfect? Hardly. But he and his staff have continued to identify professional-calibre talents in every round of the draft, combining some impact first rounders with mid-late round steals, despite typically having a draft position in the second half of the rounds.
I don’t profess to be Trevor Timmins – or a professional scout of any kind – but the draft is always one of my favourite days of the year. And thus, over the course of the season, I take the time to watch many of the eligible players. A year ago, I was championing Jacob De La Rose for Montreal’s first round selection, and was displeased when they selected Mike McCarron over him in the first round, only to rejoice when he fell in to the Habs’ lap in round two.
Going back to that 2013 draft, at the time, looking ahead to 2014 and without knowing where Montreal would be drafting a year in the future, I had visions of Michael Dal Colle someday wearing the blue-blanc-rouge. Unfortunately, Dal Colle has risen to become essentially a consensus top 5 pick, and more fortunately, the Habs had a productive season that seems them picking 26th overall in round one, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of interesting names available.
And the important point is that draft days can build teams. The draft is the “easy” way to add premiere young talent to your roster without sacrificing anything off of it… if you choose wisely. True that most taken this weekend won’t crack an NHL roster for years – if ever – but when you’re a committed lifelong follower of an organization, what’s a little waiting time?
As I’ve done the past few seasons, below I’ve outlined my short list for each of Montreal’s selections in the coming draft. Just because a guy isn’t on my list for a later round, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be happy should the Canadiens select him, but there are so many players to consider with those later selections and I couldn’t very well list all of them, so I’ve given a top 3 or 5 per choice. I’m an advocate of taking the best player available, as it’s extremely hard to predict where your team’s needs will be a few years down the road, let alone how quickly the players you pick will develop, and if they will ever reach their full potential. Thus, I can see the team unbiasedly selecting a mix of forwards and defensemen this year, with a possible later round flyer on a netminder if there’s someone they think could be underrated.
FIRST ROUND – 26TH OVERALL
1. Brendan Perlini – LW – Niagara IceDogs
2013-14 (OHL): 58 GP, 34-37-71
Perlini has a dangerous mix of offensive skills, combining a big 6’2” frame with top five skating and shooting ability in the entire draft class. Despite these assets, many have him in the early teens of the first round, indicating he could conceivably be in range of a Marc Bergevin-orchestrated trade up (for example, if Perlini slides because teams opt for d-men earlier than projected), and would be worth the sacrifice. Not a prototypical power forward in that he could stand to engage physically more, but a strong stickhandler who plays a full 200 feet game, and doesn’t hesitate to charge the net.
Future Considerations: 11 / McKeen’s: 13 / McKenzie: 13 / HockeyProspect: 20 / THN: 12
2. Alex Tuch – RW – USNTDP
2013-14 (USHL): 26 GP, 13-19-32
2013-14 (USDP): 61 GP, 29-35-64
If Perlini is more of a speedy skilled forward, Tuch does bring a power game to go with his filled out, 215 lbs 6’3” body. The American is committed to Boston College for the coming season, and has shown in the past that despite his simple straight-line game, he can compliment skilled players well on a scoring line. He already shows great awareness in how to use his size and strength to protect the puck and pressure defenders aggressively on the forecheck. While the NCAA route affords players more time to develop, at least physically, Tuch could be closer to the pro ranks than much of this year’s crop. And if he could add some consistency to his game, he could be a steal in the second half of the opening round, worth trading up a few spots to nab.
Future Considerations: 19 / McKeen’s: 19 / McKenzie: 17 / HockeyProspect: 11 / THN: 17
3. Jakub Vrana – LW – Linkoping
2013-14 (SHL): 24 GP, 2-1-3
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 24 GP, 14-11-25
I like Vrana for his pure offensive upside, and that he is the first on this list who could realistically (if a little wishful thinking) be available when Montreal is called to the podium. Despite his average size at 6’0”, 170 lbs, he isn’t afraid to mix it up in the more dangerous spots on the ice, can play either wing, and is strong at carrying the puck into the offensive zone with good skating ability and shiftiness. He could stand to add confidence to his game, as he can at times hesitate with the puck, and struggle to use teammates effectively, but when he’s on, can be a scoring force. He also needs to work on his defensive play, but for a team that tends to focus on well-rounded two-way forwards, a guy with this much offensive potential shouldn’t be overlooked.
Future Considerations: 25 / McKeen’s: 21 / McKenzie: 19 / HockeyProspect: 30 / THN: 19
4. Nikita Scherbak – RW – Saskatoon Blades
2013-14 (WHL): 65 GP, 28-50-78
Not unlike Vrana, Scherbak oozes scoring upside, while the flaws in his play without the puck may scare some teams off. A bigger man at 6’2”, 175 lbs, he has power forward tendencies when the puck is on his stick, strong on his skates, but rarely engages otherwise. What sets him apart are his hands, with a heavy shot and strong offensive awareness, creatively making room for himself and spotting teammates on the attack, even in high pressure situations.
Future Considerations: 34 / McKeen’s: 16 / McKenzie: 21 / HockeyProspect: 14 / THN: 18
5. David Pastrnak – RW – Sodertalje
2013-14 (Allsvenskan): 36 GP, 8-16-24
Pastrnak isn’t the biggest (5’11”, 170 lbs), but has shown he can compete vs. much older men with 36 games in the Swedish men’s tier 2 league already under his belt. His greatest assets are his tremendous speed and a lethal arsenal of shots, while much like the other offensive prospects with potential to still be on the board late in the first round, his defensive game needs improving.
Future Considerations: 18 / McKeen’s: 25 / McKenzie: 22 / HockeyProspect: 17 / THN: 23
6. Adrian Kempe – LW – MODO
2013-14 (SHL): 45 GP, 5-6-11
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 20 GP, 3-16-19
This is the guy I’m championing for Montreal’s selection, like De La Rose last year, based on the belief that the above five are likely to have already been taken by pick 26. In fact, Kempe has quite a bit in common with De La Rose: good size (6’1”, 185 lbs), a powerful and aggressive skating style, and a quick and hard shot. Unlike Montreal’s 2013 second rounder, Kempe’s physical game isn’t where most would like it to be, but he has significantly improved his defensive play, spending most of the past season on a fourth line in Sweden’s top men’s league, and producing 11 points despite his young age. There is question as to Kempe’s upside offensively due to limited creativity and vision, but Montreal would do well to start developing younger, bigger versatile second/third line forwards with picks like this.
Future Considerations: 27 / McKeen’s: 26 / McKenzie: 28 / HockeyProspect: 21 / THN: 29
7. Ivan Barbashev – LW – Moncton Wildcats
2013-14 (QMJHL): 48 GP, 25-43-68
Some people believe the Russian factor is the only thing that may cause Barbashev to slip into the final third of the opening round, as the 6’0”, 190 lbs forward plays a very North American style complete game, competing in all three zones and never shy to take the body. Mitigating character concerns stereotypically associated with non-North American skaters, Barbashev was named an assistant captain in Moncton, and took his game to another level when it mattered most, producing 10 points in 6 playoff games. Barbashev plays a straightline, simple game, which he has rounded out this season by improving play in his own end.
Future Considerations: 16 / McKeen’s: 23 / McKenzie: 23 / HockeyProspect: 13 / THN: 22
8. Josh Ho-Sang – RW – Windsor Spitfires
2013-14 (OHL): 67 GP, 32-53-85
Ho-Sang is a name on everyone’s lips these days. I was first introduced to the player from watching his teammate and eventual linemate Brady Vail in Windsor, and was immediately impressed. While he lacks in the size department (5’11”, 170 lbs), his other raw abilities – skating, stickhandling, shooting – are among the best of the draft class. His on-ice vision and playmaking skills are elite in the Ontario Hockey League, and he seemed to only get better as his draft year wore on, helping to carry the Spitfires into the post-season even after the team had dealt away some of their more veteran stars. So what is keeping his rankings so low? Despite his natural offensive potential, teams will criticize his effort level, consistency, and commitment to the game. This article does a phenomenal job of summing up the winger’s mindset: http://www.torontosun.com/2014/06/24/the-curious-case-of-controversial-nhl-prospect-joshua-ho-sang. If any player’s “it’s all about me” attitude reads “not a Montreal Canadiens target,” it’d be Ho-Sang, but at 26th overall, perhaps you can afford to take a gamble on a prospect who still needs to mature on and off the ice, as alluded to by Trevor Timmins on Thursday, suggesting it’s a prime spot for taking a “home run swing.”
Future Considerations: 20 / McKeen’s: 33 / McKenzie: 30 / HockeyProspect: 61 / THN: 27
9. Connor Bleackley – C – Red Deer Rebels
2013-14 (WHL): 71 GP, 29-39-68
This was a toss-up for me between Bleackley and Nick Schmaltz, as the two come with quite similar profiles. In the end, Bleackley’s proven scoring ability against tougher CHL competition (vs. Schmaltz in the USHL) and his leadership qualities (wearing a letter in multiple international competitions) have him edging out his American counterpart. Bleackley his more consistent in his efforts than Schmaltz, bringing a gritty, warrior-style game to a team, which also makes him a safer pick; even if his offense doesn’t translate as he moves on to higher levels, his game would fit well on a third or fourth line. His offense, as of now, comes primarily from a quick release and a willingness to take pucks to the net, using his 6’1”, 195 lbs frame to fend off defenders effectively.
Future Considerations: 21 / McKeen’s: 32 / McKenzie: 29 / HockeyProspect: 22 / THN: 30
10. Nikolay Goldobin – RW – Sarnia Sting
2013-14 (OHL): 67 GP, 38-56-94
In an ideal world, if the Canadiens were eying Goldobin, they would feel out the possibility of trading down and picking up a 2nd rounder to compensate for the pick they gave up in the Thomas Vanek trade, perhaps able to add the likes of a Nicolas Aube-Kubel along with the Sarnia Sting winger. Goldobin spent the first half of 2012-13 playing with Montreal’s Alex Galchenyuk in Sarnia, and the two developed a nice chemistry when united on a scoring line. Generously listed at 6’0”, 180 lbs, the Russian winger seems to elevate his game when paired with other skill players, which could someday make him an ideal linemate for Galchenyuk at the NHL level, once the latter is moved to the centre position. Offensively, Goldobin is a shifty, quick skater with a pass-first mentality and uncanny ability to find open teammates. His offensive skill set is well-rounded, though, as he is also fully capable of threading the needle with an accurate wrister.
Future Considerations: 23 / McKeen’s: 41 / McKenzie: 37 / HockeyProspect: 29 / THN: 34
HM. Jack Dougherty – D – USNTDP
2013-14 (USHL): 23 GP, 4-8-12
2013-14 (USDP): 55 GP, 6-16-22
Dougherty is one of a few d-men that various scouting services have in different places, even just among his rearguard peer group. The top of this year’s draft class is dominated by forwards, so at 26, unless teams ahead of them start drafting by need, Montreal may still have a chance to get one of the best d-men available this year. Doughtery strikes me as a higher-end version of Greg Pateryn. A responsible, safe, defense-first game, an evident willingness to be physical, and the potential for developing his offensive game, backed by a solid 6’1”, 185 lbs frame. Also similar to Pateryn, the knock is his skating, which while not a serious handicap, is something he’ll need to improve to reach the game’s highest levels.
Future Considerations: 24 / McKeen’s: 22 / McKenzie: 35 / HockeyProspect: 27 / THN: 25
THIRD ROUND – 87TH OVERALL
1. Anton Karlsson – LW – Frolunda J20
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 28 GP, 12-10-22
2013-14 (Allsvenskan): 9 GP, 0-0-0
Future Considerations: 35 / McKeen’s: 86
2. Nick Magyar – RW – Kitchener Rangers
2013-14 (OHL): 66 GP, 20-26-46
Future Considerations: 70 / McKeen’s: 98
3. Alexis Vanier – D – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2013-14 (QMJHL): 61 GP, 15-21-36
Future Considerations: 51 / McKeen’s: 115 / McKenzie: HM (>60) / HockeyProspect: 75 / THN: 96
4. William Lagesson – D – Frolunda J20
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 44 GP, 8-12-20
Future Considerations: 164 / McKeen’s: 90
5. Waltteri Hopponen – RW – Sioux City Musketeers
2013-14 (USHL): 54 GP, 17-14-31
2013-14 (WHL): 1 GP, 0-0-0
Future Considerations: 73 / McKeen’s: NR
FOURTH ROUND – 117TH OVERALL
1. Shane Eiserman – LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints
2013-14 (USHL): 53 GP, 16-24-40
Future Considerations: 57 / McKeen’s: 110
2. Julien Nantel – LW – Rouyn Noranda Huskies
2013-14 (QMJHL): 68 GP, 14-20-34
Future Considerations: 97 / McKeen’s: 87
3. Kelly Summers – D – Carleton Place Canadians
2013-14 (CCHL): 56 GP, 17-43-60
Future Considerations: 66 / McKeen’s: 109
4. Alexis Pepin – LW – Gatineau Olympiques
2013-14 (QMJHL): 60 GP, 17-17-34
Future Considerations: 117 / McKeen’s: HM
5. Daniel Audette – C – Sherbrooke Phoenix
2013-14 (QMJHL): 68 GP, 21-55-76
Future Considerations: 82 / McKeen’s: 114
FIFTH ROUND – 125TH OVERALL
1. Oskar Lindblom – RW – Brynas J20
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 43 GP, 13-20-33
2013-14 (SHL): 4 GP, 0-0-0
Future Considerations: 118 / McKeen’s: NR
2. Juho Lammikko – LW – Assat
2013-14 (Jr. A SM-Liiga): 37 GP, 17-25-42
2013-14 (Liiga): 20 GP, 0-1-1
Future Considerations: 120 / McKeen’s: 80
3. Matthew Berkovitz – D – Ashwaubenon High
2013-14 (USHS): 24 GP, 11-26-37
Future Considerations: 67 / McKeen’s: 120
4. Pierre Engvall – LW – Frolunda J20
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 39 GP, 17-18-35
2013-14 (Allsvenskan): 1 GP, 0-0-0
Future Considerations: 108 / McKeen’s: NR
5. Adam Ollas Mattsson – D – Djurgarden J20
2013-14 (SuperElit J20): 33 GP, 1-8-9
2013-14 (Allsvenskan): 6 GP, 0-2-2
Future Considerations: 195 / McKeen’s: 116
FIFTH ROUND – 147TH OVERALL
1. Maxim Letunov – C – Youngstown Phantoms
2013-14 (USHL): 60 GP, 19-24-43
Future Considerations: 139 / McKeen’s: HM
2. Nikita Tryamkin – D – Yekaterinburg Automobilist
2013-14 (KHL): 45 GP, 1-6-7
Future Considerations: 135 / McKeen’s: NR
3. Keegan Iverson – C – Portland Winterhawks
2013-14 (WHL): 67 GP, 22-20-42
Future Considerations: 143 / McKeen’s: 94
SIXTH ROUND – 177TH OVERALL
1. Lucas Wallmark – C – Lulea
2013-14 (SHL): 41 GP, 3-7-10
Future Considerations: 168 / McKeen’s: NR
2. Ryan Verbeek – LW – Kingston Frontenacs
2013-14 (OHL): 43 GP, 12-12-24
Future Considerations: 167 / McKeen’s: NR
3. Chase Perry – G – Wenatchee Wild
2013-14 (NAHL): 35 GP, 2.34, .905
Future Considerations: 179 / McKeen’s: NR
SEVENTH ROUND – 207TH OVERALL
1. Mads Eller – RW – Edmonton Oil Kings
2013-14 (WHL): 54 GP, 8-15-23
Future Considerations: NR / McKeen’s: NR
2. Christian Jaros – D – Lulea J20
2013-14 (SuperElit U20): 3 GP, 1-3-4
Future Considerations: 204 / McKeen’s: NR
3. Ryan Mantha – D – Indiana Ice
2013-14 (USHL): 24 GP, 2-7-9
Future Considerations: 206 / McKeen’s: NR