Canadiens Draft Preview: Montreal enters week as one of NHL’s biggest wild cards

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes. (Graham Hughes/CP)

MONTREAL — It’s the beginning of a week that could be transformational for the Montreal Canadiens, and not just because they have two first-round picks Friday and 10 other picks at their disposal for Rounds 2-7 Saturday to make their team better.

They’d love to come away from the draft having done more than just replenished their pipeline, and there’s a good chance they’ll be able to do exactly that.

The fifth-overall pick gives the Canadiens an opportunity to secure a future core piece. And every pick that follows has the potential to help their long-term plan.

But it’s no secret the Canadiens will be exploring trades that help improve the here and now to push their rebuild into its next phase.

The market is heating up and it’s safe to assume general manager Kent Hughes has at least a few irons stoking its fire. He’s got the aforementioned picks to play with, a loaded left side of his NHL defence to move from, and there may be a prospect or two he’d be willing to part with to help net the Canadiens the type of player they’re after.

A bona fide top-six forward is the target. We’ll see if Hughes hits it before week’s end.

If not, trades will continue to transpire through the off-season and free agency is around the corner.

DRAFT PICKS

POTENTIAL ROUND 1 OPTIONS

I don’t want to say they’re limitless, but part of what makes what the Canadiens might do in the first round so unpredictable is how much flexibility they have to make this go down in different ways. It makes them a total wild card.

On the day of the draft lottery, Hughes said it was probable the Canadiens would be sticking at five and, all things being equal, be choosing a forward. I’d suggest both of those things are still more likely than unlikely to occur.

Sure, if an opportunity to move up a spot presents itself and guarantees the Canadiens the forward they covet most, perhaps they’ll do it. They’d have to see enough separation between that player and the next one on their list to consider paying the steep price, but it’s possible.

I just think it’s more likely they’ll roll the dice on one of two forwards they’d want most being available at fifth.

I believe (but can’t say with 100 per cent certainty) they’d be equally happy to land either Ivan Demidov or Cayden Lindstrom. I like their chances of getting one or the other with their pick.

But if neither are available when they step to the podium, that’s where things will get interesting.

If the Canadiens don’t see another forward on their list as equal to one of the premier defencemen who may be available, then I don’t think they’ll hesitate to take a defenceman.

They could do worse than adding one of Zeev Buium, Artyom Levshunov, Anton Silayev, Sam Dickinson or Zayne Parekh to their core.

It’s also entirely possible that Hughes and the Canadiens not only see another forward as equal or better to those players but also see one as on par with Demidov or Lindstrom. If they do, then perhaps they’ll pick that player at five.

But if the Canadiens think they’ll still be able to get that player lower down the order, they could explore collecting another premium asset to move down.

Acquiring one would only feed their potential to make other big things happen over the weekend.

Whether they budge from the fifth position or not, their other first-round pick (26th overall, acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in the Sean Monahan trade) is certainly in play.

I think it’s more likely the Canadiens move it than keep it.

LAST YEAR’S FIRST PICK

It may not have been a banner year for David Reinbacher, with injuries interrupting his season and HC Kloten tanking to the bottom of the Swiss League standings, but the sub-optimal conditions he faced overseas didn’t appear to set his development back.

Reinbacher showed that through the first 11 games of his North American pro career.

Small sample, no doubt. But it was telling enough to suggest he’ll threaten to make the Canadiens out of training camp.

All the assets that saw the big Austrian chosen fifth overall — the high-end skating, the quick decision making, the poise with the puck, the maturity, the physicality and competitiveness — were on display with the Laval Rocket at the end of last season, and they could propel him to a spot on Montreal’s blue line as early as next fall.

Whether Reinbacher starts with the Canadiens or not, we think he’ll play games in the NHL over the coming months.

They should be the first ones of hundreds he’ll play in the league over his career.

ONE BOLD PREDICTION

If the Canadiens don’t find a trade for a bona fide top-six forward that makes sense to them, I think they’ll try to package the 26th pick with other assets to acquire another top-10 pick.

Under this scenario, they could select two future core players and turn to free agency to fill more immediate needs.

It’s anything but assured they’ll be able to make such a move, but that’s why they call it a bold prediction.

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