Canadiens 2021 NHL Draft Preview: Will Montreal trade first-round pick?

marc-bergevin

Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

We’ve got no choice but to start off with a question: What’s the 30th-overall pick worth in the most unpredictable draft in recent memory?

To the Montreal Canadiens, it could hold better value in a trade — especially considering there would be no expectation that the prospect they select would be prepared to step into the NHL any time soon. They’ve got money to burn on the cap, almost a full roster signed, and their opportunity to fill a hole by moving this pick (or some of the 10 others they have) might be too enticing to pass up.

And when the assistant general manager qualifies getting the player the Canadiens want at 30 as a cross-your-fingers-and-hope-others-screw-up proposition, as Trevor Timmins did on Thursday, it only makes that possibility more plausible.

“I always tell you guys that we’re looking for helps along the way — players that we don’t have rated as high as they go in the draft,” Timmins said. “We’re looking for a lot of helps this year picking at No. 30.”

Draft Picks:

1st, 2nd, 2nd (TBL), 3rd (CHI), 3rd (WSH), 4th, 4th (STL), 4th (VGK), 5th (PHI), 6th, 7th.

Potential targets in Round 1:

Don’t fall into the trap here. It’s easy to assume the Canadiens will be looking for a right-handed defenceman at 30 if they hang onto their pick — especially with Shea Weber too injured to continue his career and Cale Fleury gone in the expansion draft — but touching base with sources, there isn’t a sense any player of that profile is worth snatching up at that stage of the draft.

We’re expecting the Canadiens to go with a forward, and there are four of them we think would prove most attractive to them.

Zachary L’Heureux, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads
He’s a five-foot-11, 196-pound centre who’s still growing but already plays the game like he’s much bigger.

L’Heureux, who popped 19 goals and 39 points in 33 games in his sophomore season in the QMJHL, is known as a hard-checking, 200-foot centre who can also likely move to wing.

He’s been ranked everywhere from 19th to 40th by the prognosticators, and perhaps his stock dropped a bit with suspensions he took — including one for spitting on a player.

But provided L’Heureux can channel his aggression in the right way, the people we connected with over the last 48 hours suggest he’s a top-round talent.

The Montrealer is on the Canadiens’ radar. If he’s there when they step to the podium, there’s a good chance they’ll take him.

Zachary Dean, Centre, Gatineau Olympiques:
Consensus is the Grande Prairie, Alta., native is a burner with excellent playmaking ability and stick skills. That he’s already six-foot and close to 180 pounds gives him the strength to take advantage of those assets.

Dean had 10 goals and 10 assists in 23 games in the Q this past season but, with his vision and offensive acumen, there’s a sense he’s primed to produce a lot more.

Don’t be surprised if the Canadiens call his name if he’s still available at 30.

Wyatt Johnston, Centre, Windsor Spitfires:
If the Canadiens call on the six-foot-one centre, it’ll be in large part because of what they saw from him at the recent World Under-18 Championship in Dallas, where he had two goals and four points in seven games with Team Canada.

Johnston is ranked as a second-rounder by most of the draft analysts, but not having an OHL season has certainly influenced that process. He’s 16th among North American skaters on NHL central scouting’s list, and Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has him ranked 30th.

A scout we touched base with doesn’t believe Johnston will last that long in the draft, that he’ll be off the board by the time the Canadiens are picking.

Should Johnston be available, he could very well be Montreal’s pick.

Logan Stankoven, Centre/Right Wing, Kamloops Blazers:
Sleep on the five-foot-eight forward at your own peril. The Canadiens won’t.

If Stankoven’s available, they could opt for his tenacity and skill, and they won’t concern themselves with his size — even if size is at a premium currently.

“You just have to be careful with trends because they can change quickly, as we’ve all seen for the past five years,” said Timmins. “We’re looking for the best player available. If we go back and look at why did you draft Cole Caufield? We all know what he turned out to be so far. As I said, you pick the best player available and just be careful with trends because they may change.”

Last year’s first pick:

Kaiden Guhle, 16th overall
We’d imagine this was a productive year in the gym for the six-foot-three, 203-pound defencemen the Canadiens plucked out of the WHL while the pandemic was in full swing.

For Guhle’s sake, it had to have been, because it was an abbreviated one on the ice. He only played a total of five games in 2021.

That three of them were for the AHL’s Laval Rocket gave him a strong sense of what he needs to work on to become a pro. And that was valuable experience coming out of the World Junior Championship, where he was a standout in Canada’s silver-medal bid.

But Guhle suffered a hand injury two games into what proved to be a 24-game season for his Prince Albert Raiders, and that was anything but ideal for his development.

The good news for the Edmonton native is that the WHL has scheduled a full slate of games for this upcoming season and he’s eligible to return to the WJC. He’ll be healthy to start, ready to take the next step in his development.

Organizational Needs:

Whatever they are — and it’s fairly evident the Canadiens could use some immediate help on right defence—they won’t be filled with the 30th pick and late selections in virtually every other round.

That’s the price for going to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Canadiens would gladly pay it again.

At least it helps them that only the Detroit Red Wings have picked more players than they have over the last three years and that they’ve been able to build one of the better prospect pools in the league.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Cole Caufield and Alexander Romanov have already graduated to the NHL, and there’s hope that Ryan Poehling isn’t far behind. Josh Brook is a slower burn, but he’s gaining valuable experience in the AHL and still projects to be an NHL player. And Cayden Primeau is developing into a future No. 1 goaltender.

Defenceman Mattias Norlinder is signed and will audition to bring his puck-moving and offensive skills to Montreal’s blueline this coming season. And Guhle, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble have deepened the pool of talent on the left side. Up front, Raphael Harvey-Pinard and Joel Teasdale had excellent rookie seasons in Laval, and 19-year-old Jan Mysak impressed as an under-ager who’s likely going to be permitted to return to the AHL after appearing in 22 games with the Rocket in 2021.

Sean Farrell will be a player to watch at Harvard this season — especially after he tore up the USHL with 29 goals and a league-leading 101 points for the Chicago Steel.

Now, Timmins’ task will be to find a few others just like him. And if he can fill a few holes in the depth chart in the process, he’ll be happy.

“With 11 picks,” he said, “we have a lot of opportunities to do so.”

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