TORONTO — All in all, it was a good day for the Montreal Canadiens.
It was pretty close to being a glorious one — with the Canadiens securing a spot in the top three of the 2018 NHL Draft after the first 12 picks had been announced just past 7:30 p.m. ET.
But the opportunity to walk out of CBC Studios with a generational talent in Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin eventually in tow fell by the wayside when NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly flipped over a place card at 10:13 and revealed that the Canadiens had fallen behind the Carolina Hurricanes at No. 2 and the Buffalo Sabres at No. 1.
Not that Montreal GM Marc Bergevin was overly disappointed. He had come to Toronto with the fourth-best odds of nabbing the first-overall pick, and the most likely scenario had the Canadiens dropping down to sixth overall.
In the end, Carolina jumped all the way up to two from 11, while the Arizona Coyotes dropped from three to five and the Senators fell from two to four.
The Canadiens were the only other team to improve their position.
“Overall it’s a good day, we move up one spot,” Bergevin said. “At three you get a player who’s probably going to play sooner than later… .”
We have no reason to doubt it.
After Dahlin, the names of Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk have appeared on virtually every prognosticator’s list — chiefly in that order — as the most-likely players to graduate to the NHL as early as next season. They’re all big wingers who can score.
Svechnikov, a lefty who plays right wing, might be the most compelling of the three. He missed seven weeks from mid-October to early December with a broken hand and returned to the OHL’s Barrie Colts to score 40 goals and add 32 assists in 44 games. He also had five goals and 11 points in eight playoff games.
Zadina is a left-hand shot who plays his strong side, and he showed in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads that he’s a dynamic player, scoring 44 goals and 82 points. He added five goals and 12 points in nine playoff games.
Then there’s Tkachuk, a 6-foot-3, left-shooting rookie out of Boston University who’s known as much for his grit as he is for his scoring ability. The son of former NHL All-Star Keith and the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward Matthew.
And it’s not out of the question that a defenceman — one of Sweden’s Adam Boqvist or Canada’s Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard — could climb up the ladder and entice the Canadiens, even if none of them prove to be ready for the NHL by fall.
“I think the strength of this draft is defence,” Canadiens assistant GM and director of amateur scouting Trevor Timmins told Sportsnet in March. And Bergevin said on Saturday that the position of a given player will be considered in the mandate to pick the best player available.
“It’s going to be a good player,” Bergevin said.
But in all likelihood it won’t be one who can step right in and fill the hole on the left side next to Shea Weber on the Canadiens’ defence. It won’t be the franchise centreman they have coveted for the better part of three decades. And barring an offering of one of those two pieces from a rival GM, Bergevin said he’s disinclined to move out of the three-spot.
“[Florida Panthers GM and former Chicago Blackhawks GM] Dale Tallon told me a long time ago picking top picks, ‘You suffered to get that pick, make sure you get the player you want.’
“It’s a fair assessment.”
Whether it’s by drafting third overall or by trading the pick, on Saturday Bergevin was given a better opportunity to improve the Canadiens than the one a 53-loss season had set him up for.
“It’s not a good feeling because you went through the pain of a season I guess to be able to pick a lottery pick,” he said. “So it’s not a fun season, but you gotta look ahead [and] not behind.”
Meetings with the amateur scouting staff are scheduled for next week, the NHL combine swings around in the first week of June, and then final meetings will be entertained before locking a player in.
“We’ll be able to retool and move forward,” Bergevin said.
It was a good day, indeed.