There had been a lot of discussion surrounding Montreal’s first pick in the draft, the number three pick overall, and there was a little bit of disbelief and shock when Jesperi Kotkaniemi was selected; however it proved to be the right choice.
I have spoken with coaches, GM’s and scouts throughout the year after the draft have said things that supported the surprise with picking the Finnish centre. One European coach’s immediate reaction on draft night was simple.
“He isn’t the best player available, but he is the the best centre,” he said last year. The coach has since commented with a smile, and hindsight. “There are many ways you can be wrong, I was wrong then.”
The big change in Kotkaniemi’s game was his skating, and it was pointed out that he must have worked on it over the summer.
In the second round, Montreal picked Jesse Ylönen from Finland, Alexander Romanov from Russia and Jacob Olofsson from Sweden, clearly benefitting from their own European combine.
Their respective seasons have been graded previously: Jesse Ylönen receiving a B- and Jacob Olofsson received a D after a tough first season in SHL. However it was the pick of Alexander Romanov that was a head scratcher, for most of the fans, insiders, and journalists. A year later there is nothing but an exclamation mark left from the initial reactions from June last year. Romanov played very well in KHL, World Juniors, and got a look at the Russian National development squad for one tournament. The defender finished off the season by hoisting the Gagarin Cup as a member of the Red Army team, where he will look to make an even bigger impact next season.
Third round picks Cam Hillis and Jordan Harris were picks that have yet to shine the way Montreal thought they would, but still have the potential they had on draft day. Unfortunately Hillis dealt with injuries, the worst being an MCL injury that kept him out of the lineup and then his season ended after undergoing surgery for a collarbone injury. With many of the Storm players leaving, including Nick Suzuki, Hillis will look to get more ice time and rebound with a vengeance. Harris had a good first year with Northeastern University, adjusting well to a new league, system, and bigger players. He only scored one goal but added 13 assists over 39 games. He was a part of the team that won the NCAA Hockey East title.
The fourth round additions Allan McShane and Jack Gorniak stood out for different reasons; McShane benefitted from a strong Oshawa Generals team and scored 69 (34G-35A) points in 62 games. He certainly looks like a potential steal for a fourth rounder, especially considering his second half of the season. It was a nice surprise. Jack Gorniak had a bit of a disappointing season, and while the jury is out on his progression getting a 50-50 split with your fourth round picks will be considered a good return for any GM.
In the fifth round the Montreal Canadiens picked Cole Fonstad and Samuel Houde. The QMJHL centre didn’t stand out, positive or negative and his stat line was similar to a year ago, which didn’t show the progress you would like to see. Fonstad, on the other hand, became a WHL champion with his Prince Albert Raiders. While being a force during the regular season, he was limited in the playoffs. He showed progress as he shifted from a passer to more of a shooter and he improved his defensive assignments.
With their last pick of the draft, the team choose Brett Stapley. While it’s usually a long shot with seventh round picks, no one could have foreseen Stapley’s season. The playmaker was a significant part of a University of Denver team that fell in the Frozen Four Final, and made key plays throughout the tournament in a successful freshman season.
Looking at the the prospects all through the draft only two had somewhat disappointing seasons; Olofsson and Gorniak, who were both adjusting to a new level of play. Houde and Hillis had average seasons, but both look to build on them. The rest of the 2018 Draft Class were impressive to say the least, and performed above the expectations from last June and that will make grading the work done by Trevor Timmins and his scouting staff easy.