Need at centre makes Canadiens a wild card in 2018 NHL Draft

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. (CP Photo)

Here’s a scenario for you to chew on: The Buffalo Sabres take Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin with the first-overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, the Carolina Hurricanes take Russian power forward Andrei Svechnikov with the second pick, and the Montreal Canadiens trade the third pick and one of their four second-round picks to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for forward Max Domi and the fifth-overall pick.

Don’t get caught up in the tit-for-tat semantics here. This is just an example of what it might take for the Canadiens to move the third pick, which is most likely to be used on Halifax Mooseheads winger Filip Zadina—a player who appears ready to be a scorer at the NHL level as early as next season.

It’s also an example of what kind of drama the Canadiens can stir up on June 22 in Dallas, armed with nine picks in the first four rounds—and all the incentive in the world to try to fast-track their retool. It’s purely hypothetical, but something worth considering as we edge closer to draft day.

There are no guarantees the Canadiens want to do something like this with Arizona, just as there are none that the Coyotes would entertain such a deal (though it was reported prior to this year’s trade deadline that they might be looking to move the 23-year-old Domi). But if Montreal is going to pass on an NHL-ready prospect at third overall, they’re going to want to get a proven NHLer in addition to a high first-round pick in exchange for doing so.

It’s not an easy type of trade to pull off. In fact, we can’t really conjure up a similar scenario involving the Canadiens and another team slated to pick in the top 10 that would make much sense. And those are just two of the reasons it’s most likely Montreal holds onto Pick No. 3.

Here’s another, as advanced by Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin in his interview with last Tuesday.

“You pay a hefty price to get that pick,” Bergevin said. “Obviously having the season we had (finishing 28th overall), that’s what gave us the right to pick that high. It’s certainly not the goal when your season starts. But after all the pain and suffering, people will say, ‘Will you ever trade that pick?’ You know what? I learned from a comment (then-Chicago Blackhawks GM) Dale Tallon made when I was in Chicago. He said: ‘You know what? You know how much we suffered to get that pick?’ And I believe at the time it was third overall and it was (centre) Jonathan Toews. And the next year, it was Patrick Kane (with the No. 1 pick). So it’s not a fun time for our fans to suffer the way they did this year, but we’re going to get rewarded in Dallas with a pick we feel will make our team better in the long haul. That’s the price to pay.”

There’s no arguing with any of that.

But Bergevin’s comments, which have been widely heard around these parts by now, have done little to quiet speculation that the Canadiens are most interested in drafting Finnish centre Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who is projected to go anywhere between fourth and 10th overall. Speculation fuelled by the fact that the Canadiens have a longstanding and glaring need at centre, ignited by the tidbit they were one of three teams to take Kotkaniemi out for dinner at last week’s NHL combine, and set ablaze by Kotkaniemi himself, who said to reporters, “I’ve heard they’re going to draft a centre, I hope it’s me.”

Even if that speculation is accurate—Zadina seems convinced it is—it’s hard to imagine the Canadiens going off the board and ignoring the consensus best player with the third overall pick. Unless they feel Kotkaniemi is the third-best player available in this draft (they’d be just about the only ones who feel that way) they’d be drafting purely by need, which would run counter to assistant general manager and head of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins’s draft philosophy.

“The thing you need to be careful with when we start to talk about need is you can say you need to draft by need, but if you draft specifically by need and you draft a player just for need, and he’s not good enough to fulfill that need in the future, then you’ve wasted the asset,” Timmins told reporters at the combine.

The objective here is to maximize the asset, which is what makes trading down and picking a player who fills a need—and obtaining another who can play on the NHL roster next season—a realistic possibility for the Canadiens.

In the event that they can’t accomplish that, no one will consider adding the 44-goal scoring Zadina to be a waste. And the Canadiens might be able to turn some of those second-rounders—or a current roster player—into another first-round pick, giving them the opportunity to add a high-end centre or a defenceman, which is also something they need.

Possibilities like these are what make the Canadiens a wild card at this year’s draft. More of them are sure to be advanced between now and the moment they step to the podium in Dallas.


When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.