Habsent Minded is a podcast series on all things Montreal Canadiens. In this concluding episode, Patrik Bexell was joined by Hadi Kalakeche, Matt Drake, Jared Book, and Anton Rasegård for a round-table discussion on the overall depth of the 2022 draft class and what the Canadiens can do at the draft with their other selections.
Patrik Bexell, European Correspondent: There are these intangibles and opportunities for groupthink in every draft, so it will be really interesting to see if there are any players that might drop below where they should be. For example, in the Cole Caufield draft, it was really Detroit taking Moritz Seider [6th overall] that really threw everyone for a loop. Seider’s turned out to be a great pick, but he wasn’t expected to go that high, and that caused everyone else to prioritize defenders more than expected. That might happen here too because the only defencemen in that top 10 tier are [Šimon] Nemec and [David] Jiříček.
Hadi Kalakeche, Catching the Torch series, Assoc. Editor & QMJHL Regional Scout - DobberProspects: The Habs are in a perfect position to take advantage of that this year. There might not be as much high-end quality, but there is quantity galore in the [draft] pool. Trust me, I know. I’ve been covering way too many guys this year. So let’s say a guy like Frank Nazar, by some miracle, is still available at 16 or 17. I’m running to offer picks 27 and 33 for a chance to take Nazar. I think Jeff Gorton has that same mindset — where he recognizes that there are players in this draft class who deserve to be top 10 selections who will fall out of the top 10. Going back to Nazar, this might shock people, but I think Nazar might have the highest point production potential out of this draft class. Yet, at the same time, there are rankings that have him in the twenties, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him available in the mid-teens. I hope Gorton is comfortable trading up for a pick in that range, because after all, how many guys picked between 20 and 30 either don’t make the NHL, or wind up in a bottom six/third pairing role? The Habs also have a lot of options because they have so many selections, so I think we’re going to see a lot of trading up this year.
Matt Drake, Staff Writer/Editor: I agree with Hadi. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gorton traded up, and I wouldn’t be surprised either if he traded down. Obviously, this is a new administration, but the Habs have historically had success trading down in the past. Look how they got Joshua Roy. There’s a lot of guys who stand to potentially slide down this year like Nazar — I don’t know if he could slide to 26, but who knows, right? I think there’s also a few other guys who could maybe slide, like Jagger Firkus, although he’s probably gone at 26 too. But this just brings back memories of the Cole Caufield draft, where I was looking at that draft board and saying “I hope Caufield slides, but he probably won’t slide far enough” and then the Habs wound up getting him. So this is similar to that when I think some guys are going to slide undeservedly because their production is skewed, maybe because they lost a year of development. I talked about it with Shane Wright and how he missed a year then had to come in and work through that. There are going to be other players who are in that same boat. These are guys who missed their sophomore seasons, even instances where they missed their rookie seasons, so they’re basically playing their “draft minus one” year right now. People are going to look at that, see lower-than-expected point totals without thinking about the context, and say “I’m dropping that guy on my list.” So there’s a possibility that say a Nazar drops into the range where you could trade up to get him. If Firkus drops to 26, I’d consider that almost highway robbery. Either way, there’s going to be stuff like that, and if you’re smart with it, you could end up with some really good players.
Jared Book, Deputy Managing Editor: I think this is really the third year in a row where the draft is filled with uncertainty, mainly because you’re dealing with less player data than usual. Hopefully, this is the last year where the pandemic significantly affects a draft class. But like Matt said, you have most of these guys coming off missed 16-year-old or 17-year-old seasons. Scouts haven’t been able to travel as much to see these players — a lot of different variables that result in the available data being a little bit skewed. So I think there’s definitely more of a fog-of-war surrounding this draft. You have Hadi who says trade up and Matt who says trade down, and I think they’re both right, because there’s a lot of depth to this draft class. Trying to differentiate between as high as eight or nine, down to 40 or so, is still a little hit and miss.
We track the draft rankings at Eyes on the Prize, and while they’re still trickling in, the variability is already insane. The current consensus rank six player has a 10 spot gap between their highest and lowest rankings. You’re seeing 15 or 20 spot spreads for top 10 ranked players. I think you’re going to see that kind of disparity in opinion between teams as well, not just scouting agencies. So you guys talked about guys like Firkus and Nazar, there’s going to be a lot of guys falling just because the team on the clock happens to like other guys more. A guy like Marco Kasper, for example, can go anywhere from top 10 to the tail end of the first round — and this is despite him having a bit of a coming out party at the World Championships. There’s something to be said, obviously, for having the first overall pick, but there’s also something to be said for having the sheer quantity of selections that the Habs have. They don’t need 14 prospects from this draft class, which gives them the flexibility to play with three or four and use them to move up.
This concludes a four-part presentation of the latest episode of Habsent Minded.
Readers looking for the first part, covering whether the Habs should select Shane Wright first overall or not, can find it here.
Those looking for the second part, discussing what to expect from the first overall pick in his first year with the franchise, can find it here.
Finally, the third part, wondering if Jeff Gorton’s missteps in New York are cause for concern, can be found here.
This transcript has been edited for clarity and length. The full, unedited conversation that serves as the source for all four parts is available below.