It was a double dose of drafting this week in the NHL, with the Expansion Draft going first, on Wednesday night. Immediately following that there was a major flurry of trade action as teams sought assets recently gleaned by the Vegas Golden Knights. Finally, Friday and Saturday saw the NHL converge on Chicago for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.
Despite a shaky start to the off-season with rumours of an Alex Galchenyuk trade, Marc Bergevin and his team had an outstanding week overall. They made it out of the expansion draft relatively unscathed — and perhaps even more well off than when they entered — before they reloaded a few areas of organizational weakness with several good prospects.
Vegas selects Alexei Emelin in the Expansion Draft
The biggest win of the week overall was something that Marc Bergevin had next to no control over. The rumors were swirling that it was likely to be one of Charles Hudon, Alexei Emelin, or Brandon Davidson who would join the newest NHL franchise in Las Vegas. The news, however, leaked out earlier in the day on Wednesday that the Golden Knights would indeed lean towards the hard-hitting Russian defender, and as an added bonus there were no trades in place to secure that selection.
This pick immediately freed up $4.1 million in cap space, with the Habs already sitting on a good chunk of money to re-sign their stars.
This move helps the Habs both on the ice, and in terms of their financial situation, and serves as arguably the best transaction of the week.
Montreal trades a fifth-round pick for David Schlemko
The day after the expansion draft, Bergevin put his newly acquired cap space to good use, as Montreal made a trade to bolster their defensive unit. For the low price of a 2019 fifth-round pick, the Canadiens acquired David Schlemko: a capable bottom-three defender that can make an instant impact in the lineup.
With three years left and a reasonable $2.1 million cap hit, the Canadiens added a solid piece that can be a stabilizing presence as the younger prospects begin to break into the lineup.
He’s not going to set the scoresheet on fire, but for adding a good possession defender for relatively little, Bergevin gets a good mark for this trade.
The Canadiens select Ryan Poehling 25th overall
When the Canadiens approached the podium on night one of the draft there were a number of high-end, super-skilled prospects on the board, such as Eeli Tolvanen. However, instead of going for the higher-risk, higher-reward player, Montreal went the safe route. Out of St. Cloud State in the NCAA, Ryan Poehling became the newest member of the Montreal Canadiens.
Poehling isn’t overly flashy, and he isn’t going to be an elite scorer unless something miraculously changes over his college tenure. He’s a good two-way centre, and while he isn’t projected to be the mythical “first-line centre” with a high ceiling, he’s more than likely to be a stable piece down the middle in Montreal.
Overall, for a first round pick you typically want someone more flashy, but safe isn’t necessarily bad.
Josh Brook selected 56th overall
The Habs had two second-round picks this year due to the trade that sent Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals, and they made the most of them.
At 56th overall they snagged Josh Brook from the Moose Jaw Warriors. Brook is an aggressive defender on both sides of the puck, attacking the opposition at his blue line, and making pinches to keep plays alive in the offensive zone. Despite being labelled as “defensive” he racked up 32 assists this past season in 69 games, which isn’t indicitive of a one-dimensional game at all.
With the pick, the Habs’ draft team began to replenish a CHL pipeline that was running dry, and didn’t just add an average talent to do so..
Joni Ikonen falls to the Habs at 58th overall
When you give Trevor Timmins multiple picks in the second and third rounds of the draft, he starts hitting home runs like he’s Mark McGwire chasing Roger Maris. Joni Ikonen is one of those home-run picks, especially when you consider he’s developing in arguably the best hockey franchise in Europe: Frölunda HC in Sweden.
He’s a dynamo on the ice, with top-end speed and the ability to get into the prime scoring areas game in and game out. Under the tutelage of the Frölunda coaching staff, we could see him blossom into a quality player much like we did with Artturi Lehkonen.
Ikonen is exactly the kind of prospect the Habs have missed out on in recent draft years, and he becomes one of the most exciting prospects to watch going forward.
Scott Walford is picked 68th overall
After trading Nathan Beaulieu to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick, Montreal used that slot to add another WHL defender to their growing stable. Scott Walford comes to Montreal from the Victoria Royals, where in his second season he produced at a half-point-per-game pace. He’s not a game-breaker on the blue line, but can skate the puck out of the zone easily and make a solid first pass.
He’s not going to hurt his team, but it’s also unlikely he transforms into a top-pairing guy. He’s a decent pick, but not one who knock fans’ socks off.
Cale Fleury makes it a WHL hat trick
With their 87th pick the Canadiens made it a hat trick of WHL defencemen. Cale Fleury comes from the Kootenay Ice, and has the ignominious distinction of having a -61 plus/minus rating last year. Kootenay was an abysmal team, posting a 14-46-12 record last year; by far the worst in the WHL.
Fleury, however, is a highly skilled defender who gets into trouble when trying to take on the roles of multiple players to turn his team’s fortunes around. While his offensive numbers aren’t over the top, playing on a terrible club definitely hurt his overall production.
Fleury could be a major sleeper in the Habs’ prospect pool. If he can move onto a better WHL team, or if the Ice take a leap forward, we can get a better idea of his potential.
He might be a bit of a stretch, but with what he was able to do on a bottom-feeding team there’s still a lot to like about him, and it’s possible he could break out soon.
And Jarret Tyszka makes four
Apparently the Habs’ scouting department spent a lot of time in the Western part of Canada in the past year. With the 149th pick the Canadiens made Seattle Thunderbirds defender Jarret Tyszka the fourth WHL defender picked on the second day of the draft.
Much like Walford and Brook, he’s not the most dominant player in terms of offensive production. He’s a good skater who can move the puck up the ice while remaining a reliable option in his own end.
While Walford was a bit of a reach for the Canadiens, Tyszka had rankings as high as the second round, and still fell right into the lap of the Canadiens at 149th overall. He’s not projected to become a top-level prospect like previous fifth-round picks Charles Hudon or Brendan Gallagher, but there is upside there.
A Primeau pick in the seventh round
The Canadiens originally didn’t have a seventh-round pick this year, so they simply sent their 2018 pick to the Flyers in exchange for the 199th overall selection this year.
In a bit of a troll move, the Habs used the pick to draft Cayden Primeau, son of former Flyers star Keith Primeau. He’s a very athletic netminder, using good lateral movement to cover his net and pairs this with solid positioning.
There’s work to be done on the young goalie though, as he needs to work on his rebound control and be more controlled in his crease. He’s set to join the Northeastern hockey program — a top team in the NCAA’s Hockey East conference — so it’s more than likely that as he works with college coaches and the Habs’ staff this summer that he’ll refine his technique.
There’s literally no downside to this pick. If he develops into a solid netminder it’s a steal. If he doesn’t, then it was the loss of the smallest denomination in the NHL economy.
The selection gets a boost for how funny it is to trade with a team and then take the son of one of their icons.
So there you have it, folks. An extremely hectic week comes to a close with the Habs’ roster shaping up to look a lot different than last year’s. They refreshed their defensive prospect pool in the CHL after Mikhail Sergachev was shipped off to Tampa Bay and both Simon Bourque and Noah Juulsen are bound for the AHL’s Laval Rocket.
While Ryan Poehling isn’t the most exciting pick, Joni Ikonen in the second round is a dynamite selection by Montreal.
I’m pleased with how the last four days have gone. How do you grade the eventful week?
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