Montreal Canadiens Prospect Report: Draft picks galore

Montreal-Canadiens

Newly acquired Montreal Canadiens player Mike Reilly skates prior to an NHL hockey game. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL — The trade deadline went as you might have expected it would have for the Montreal Canadiens.

They were established sellers, but not ones necessarily looking to tear their whole team down. That’s why pending unrestricted free agents Tomas Plekanec and Jakub Jerabek and restricted free agent Joe Morrow were shipped out and no one else was.

Dealing prospects? That was the last thing GM Marc Bergevin was going to do.

"The goal is to get younger, faster, with character, and that’s what we’re going to try to do moving forward," he said after Monday’s deadline passed.

Plekanec’s trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs brought in a second-round pick and two players under age 24 with NHL potential. Jerabek, who’s a 26-year-old defenceman, went to the Washington Capitals for a 2019 fifth-round draft choice, which was flipped to Minnesota for a 24-year-old defenceman. And Morrow, who served as a depth defenceman with the Canadiens, went to Winnipeg for a 2018 fourth-round pick.

Not a bad haul — even if Bergevin left some options on the table.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

PROSPECTS IN

Kerby Rychel, LW, 23

Drafted: 2013, first round, 19th overall (Columbus Blue Jackets)

GP (Toronto Marlies): 55 | G: 10 | A: 20 | P: 30 | +/- minus-4

Rychel’s a big, physical forward, who plays on the edge and has some scoring potential.

"He can bring some grit to this team," Laval Rocket coach Sylvain Lefebvre told the Montreal Gazette this week. "He can also bring some playmaking abilities around the net. He’s got a knack … tipping in pucks and creating some screens, finding rebounds. He’s good on the power play. I think he can get under your skin. He’s a competitor, he wants to be on the ice, compete and make a difference."

Rinat Valiev, D, 22

Drafted: 2014, third round, 68th overall (Toronto Maple Leafs)

GP (Toronto Marlies): 40 | G: 5 | A: 10 | P: 15 | +/- plus-14

Valiev has all the tools to be an effective, all-around defenceman. That he’s a left-hand shot who plays the left side could see him graduate to the Canadiens in short order and have him pushing for a full-time spot at next season’s training camp.

"He’s a big body that can move, skate and make a good first pass," Lefebvre told the Gazette. "He can be physical and needs to stay physical to be effective. If he wants to play in the NHL and stay there a long time, he’s going to have to bring that intangible with him."

Mike Reilly, D, 24

Drafted: 2011, fourth round, 24th overall (Columbus Blue Jackets)

GP (Minnesota Wild): 38 | G: 2 | A: 8 | P: 10 | +/- minus-6

Reilly’s first game as a Canadien featured exactly what he’s supposed to bring to the table.

He didn’t score any points, didn’t cost them any either, and he moved the puck well, skated well and showed off his big shot when he had the chance to.

There are limitations to his game, as we covered in this profile earlier this week. If there weren’t, he would not have been traded by the Wild. But the Canadiens are giving him a chance to prove that he can be a steady player at this level.

DRAFT PICK SITUATION

2018 picks: 1st, 2nd (own), 2nd (CHI), 2nd (WSH), 2nd (TOR), 3rd, 4th, 5th (own), 5th (EDM — turns into a 4th if goaltender Al Montoya plays two more games this season), 5th (LA — turns into a 4th if the Kings make the playoffs), 7th.

DRAFT PICK OUTLOOK

The Canadiens have five of the first 62 picks in this year’s draft and their first-rounder is virtually guaranteed to be a top-10 pick.

There’s a chance they’ll be awarded first overall at this year’s draft lottery, a chance that only gets stronger with every loss they absorb over their 18 remaining games on the season. And there’s also a chance they’ll add more picks — probably another first-rounder if captain Max Pacioretty is dealt in the lead-up to the draft — by trading players.

In an ideal world, this year’s draft would be loaded with centres for the Canadiens to choose from. However, defence (another key need) is widely available, so the team would be wise to focus in that area.

We don’t see the Canadiens packaging two of their four second-round picks to move up in the draft.

"You’ve seen teams in the past that move up and the same player’s available with the pick they would have had," said Bergevin Monday. "History shows there’s less and less of that."

But we expect if Bergevin does play around with the idea of trading a pick or two, it will likely be to bring in roster players.

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REASON FOR OPTIMISM

It’s all about the future for the Canadiens and there are three prospects currently providing reasons for optimism in that regard.

Twenty-year-old defenceman Noah Juulsen, who was drafted 26th overall in 2015, has already taken steps to prove he might be prepared to graduate full-time to the NHL after debuting (in impressive fashion) with the Canadiens last week. Nikita Scherbak, 22, has two goals and two assists in 10 games with Montreal and is developing well after scoring more than a point per game in Laval this season. Charlie Lindgren, 24, was recently recalled by the Canadiens and he was exceptional in his first start back, making 33 saves and recording a shutout in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He followed that up with a 32-save performance in Friday’s 6-3 victory over the New York Islanders.

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