The NHL Draft is inherently a gamble on the part of the teams selecting teeangers from all over the world. There’s no guarantee that your first overall selection will light up the NHL and enter the Hall of Fame, and it’s always a shock to look back and see that a seventh-round pick played over a thousand games. Risk is all part of the draft, and for the Montreal Canadiens, a team going through a full-scale rebuild, taking risks is part of that process.
At the end of the first round, where the Canadiens will select for a second time, there’s a number of safe bets. Players like Owen Beck or Noah Õstlund will potentially be there, and they represent well-established, “safer” picks. For Montreal, however, there’s the chance to go for a higher-risk pick in the form of Filip Mešár and take the chance on his very high ceiling.
Birthplace: Spišská Belá, Slovakia
Date of birth: January 3, 2004
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: HK Poprad (Slovak Extraliga)
Mešár enters the draft with plenty of praise for his agility on the ice; there are few in this class who can match his ability to work on his edges. His quick feet and fantastic ability to gain speed quickly through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone make him a hard target to keep pace with when he gets the puck. It isn’t just straight-line speed that makes him a threat either, though that is a huge portion of his transition game.
He dips and dodges through opposing players with grace, avoiding contact and easily changing his direction to keep the flow of play going in the right direction. While he is quite savvy at avoiding defenders with his skating alone, it’s not the only tool he has in his arsenal to make opponents look foolish. His hands and his puck-handling ability are extremely impressive, and when combined with his ability to play a high-speed game it makes him hard to contain.
Every move is done with a purpose. He wants to get around opponents and he wants to do so quickly. He doesn’t hesitate and commits to his attack with authority to create opportunities inside the offensive zone. Even without the puck, he has developed solid instincts on where to be in the offensive zone to make himself an available option, or to open space for his teammates. While the offensive numbers are not overwhelming at the Extraliga level, the processing and play selection are, especially for barely 18-year-old player.
There are drawbacks to the Slovak’s game. They are correctable, but they currently are setting a cap on how much he can improve. As it stands, the biggest flaw is that with his frame he tends to be easily battled off of pucks, to the point that he tends to disengage from even entering those situations in the first place. If he isn’t able to beat a defender with his speed to the inside lane toward the net, he is typically dispossessed of the puck and forced to the outside.
Therein lies a problem as well: he has a tendency to hang out on the periphery of the offensive zone when he isn’t controlling the puck. He doesn’t do overly well holding the net-front area for himself, and will instead shift away from the traffic to try to operate. While he understands his limitations, and tries to put himself into positions to thrive in the offensive zone, adding some strength to his game will be necessary for him to succeed at the NHL level.
There are also some questions about how much of his playmaking ability can translate to the next level. He is more than capable of making high-risk plays work, squeezing passes into high-danger areas for his teammates. A lot like Seamus Casey though, much of Mešár’s passing game relies on his teammates making an extra effort on a pass he threw into an area and hoped for the best. It’s a bit odd for someone with such fantastic skating talent, and the hands to match, that he struggles with scanning the zone before attempting to make a pass.
Some of that can come with time, but unless he wants to only generate offence off the rush, he’s going to have to develop some patience in his game as well. He has the talent and the ability to do so, but has to apply them more consistently to reach his full potential.
Elite Prospects: #36
Hockey Prospect: #25
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #30
NHL Central Scouting: #20 (European skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #32
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #21
At the end of the day, Mešár could end up as one of the biggest draft steals in this class, or he could end up as another “what if?” for a team. His skating and ability to fool defenders in so many ways makes him a unique threat late in Round one. However, his flaws are apparent and could scare off teams who may want a player who isn’t afraid of getting to the tough areas of the ice to make things happen.
If you’re Kent Hughes, do you take the gamble on Mešár and potentially add a highly skilled threat to your prospect pool which lacks players of his type? Arguably it’s a risk well worth taking when we consider the speed at which the NHL is played at; you can always add size as a prospect, but they can’t always be taught the speed and puck-handling that Mešár operates with.
Drafts are all about risk and reward, and for the Montreal Canadiens they’re going to have to take some risky chances given their current situation. Filip Mešár might just fit that bill.