With the 2022 NHL Draft rapidly approaching, the Eyes On The Prize crew most involved in watching prospects — myself, European correspondent Patrik Bexell, editor Matt Drake, Deputy Managing Editor Jared Book, and writer Anton Rasegård — got together on the Habsent Minded podcast to discuss who the Montreal Canadiens would or should be taking in the first round.
The Habs have 13 picks beyond first overall to mull over. With the 2022 NHL Draft being held in Montreal, and with the placement of their first three rounds of picks, it’s more likely than ever that the Habs will try to gather some local talent to develop.
One name that has come up often, specifically in regard to the 26th overall selection they obtained in the trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to Calgary, is Tristan Luneau.
Birthplace: Trois-Rivières, Quebec
Date of birth: January 12, 2004
Weight: 190 lbs.
Team: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
He checks a lot of boxes for the Habs. He’s a right-handed defender, sports a large frame, is a local product, plays a defensively responsible game, and doesn’t shy away from physical contact. His 12 goals and 43 points in 63 games this season for the Gatineau Olympiques placed him second among draft-eligible QMJHL defencemen, and 19th overall.
In a historically high-scoring league (98 draft-eligible defencemen have had higher point-per-game rates than Luneau’s in the Q), and especially as the primary power-play option for Gatineau and a first overall pick in the QMJHL Draft, these numbers are lacklustre.
The main reason Luneau didn’t absolutely dominate offensively this year is his breakout game. Although his playmaking in the offensive zone is a strength, he struggles heavily with his back to the play, which makes his ability to retrieve pucks behind his netminder, especially under pressure, a weakness. Once he has the puck and looks for options on zone exits, he doesn’t seem to have the know-how to manipulate lanes and free up a teammate.
This issue is exacerbated by a sub-par forward stride. Although the prospect’s lateral mobility and general agility are among the best in this year’s draft, he doesn’t have that all-important separation gear to escape back-pressure and set up properly for an exit or stretch pass. It’s not as much of an issue at the QMJHL level, but will definitely become a problem in the AHL or NHL if it isn’t rectified.
Defensively, Luneau is solid and active. He clears the net-front, picks up on cycling threats, and uses his sideways mobility well to funnel opponents toward the boards on the rush. He finishes his checks well and often, while retaining a good impression of his surroundings to avoid taking himself out of the play uselessly.
His offensive tools are well-rounded and polished, although he doesn’t possess a particular standout tool in that regard. He uses head fakes and shoulder dips to misdirect opponents into committing to a lane before hitting another, has a heavy shot, and can stickhandle himself out of trouble decently enough at his current level. He could potentially man a power-play unit at the NHL level, but some added deception and offensive awareness would further materialize that possibility.
Luneau is also quite streaky. He’ll have games where he dominates on all fronts, followed by dry spells that make you doubt his effort level and small-area skills. Although strong defensive showings are a near guarantee from Luneau on a nightly basis, he can fade in and out of games in terms of involvement and intensity, and especially in terms of the efficiency of his ideas offensively.
Elite Prospects: #69
Smaht Scouting: #71
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #21
NHL Central Scouting: #24 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #37
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #31
Luneau’s profile screams “safe pick” — he is all but a lock to play in the NHL eventually. His high floor is a result of his solid and refined defensive game, his large frame, and his well-rounded offensive toolkit. The question is whether the right-handed defenceman can manage to be more than a bottom-pair defender with fringe value on both special-teams units.
The issues in his game aren’t the kind to keep a prospect out of the NHL altogether, but definitely are the kind to keep him in the lower echelons of any given professional lineup. This is precisely what makes Luneau’s draft outlook drop from 21st on Bob McKenzie’s preliminary list all the way down to around 70th. It all depends on a team’s needs, and its current situation.
A contending team with a dearth of right-handed blue-liners in their system could very well look at Luneau in the 20s and see a perfect fit. His certainty as a prospect makes the pickup worthwhile for a team with their fair share of stars — think Tampa Bay, Toronto, Calgary, and more.
The Habs, however, are not in as favorable a position as those organizations. The team is in a rebuild, and a successful rebuild requires stars. The sheer number of high-risk, high-reward prospects available in the range of the Habs’ 26th-overall pick makes selecting Luneau counterproductive to the team’s primary objective of restocking the club with high-end talent. The prospect pool is filled to the brim of high-floor, low-ceiling prospects, and with 14 picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Habs should consider swinging for the fences this year.
If the matter of adding a right-handed defenceman is at hand, all three of Mattias Hävelid, Sam Rinzel and Christian Kyrou should be available in that range, and all three have ceilings that could result in a top-three blue-liner with the right development. If Luneau falls into the 50s, then he might be worth the selection, but odds are that a contender will draft him shortly after the Habs’ 26th overall selection.