The Montreal Canadiens won the lottery for the third overall pick on April 28, moving up one spot from the fourth position that finishing 28th in the league standings initially garnered them. It put the organization in a great position to add a top prospect from the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
There is no doubt that Rasmus Dahlin (picked by the Buffalo Sabres) and Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina Hurricanes) will be gone by the time the Canadiens are put on the clock, but they will have a selection of several top-quality prospects still on the board.
One of the options will be Brady Tkachuk, a big-bodied left-winger who is relentless in his pursuit of the puck. He missed out on qualifyifing for the 2017 NHL Draft, born a day after the September 15 cutoff date. It meant graduating from the US National Under-18 Team before his draft season, though it did allow him to get one year in with Boston University.
Tkachuk had a good freshman season in the NCAA, coming away with 31 points in 40 games. Eight of those points were goals, from jamming the puck in from goal-mouth scrambles or using a quick wrist shot in close to the net. His 23 assists point to the fact that he is more of a playmaker, despite his power-forward size and willingness to go to the net, and that serves as one of the sources of criticism for his game.
His passes often result from a strong forechecking ability, winning one-on-one battles versus one or two defenders along the boards and then finding the open teammate who anticipated the big forward being successful in that task. He doesn’t show any particularly skilful ability to create lanes to find teammates, but does have the awareness to find the ones that are available to him.
Tkachuk’s determination applies at both ends of the ice, and his good hands, active stick, and long reach make him a threat to steal the puck from any opposing player who gets too close, resulting in a counter-attack in the other direction.
Trevor Timmins mentioned in his media scrum at the Scouting Combine that the team is looking to focus on players who can skate. The recent trade to bring in Max Domi may be the first result since that mindset was stated publicly. That is one of the few areas where Tkachuk isn’t a standout talent, and may force him down the Habs’ list.
The draft prospect can get up to a decent speed in a straight line. That allows him to get a few breakaway chances when allowed to race away toward the opposite end, but the initial acceleration can be a challenge. It’s something he can work on, but there are several prospects around him in the rankings whose mobility needs little improvement to be effective at the NHL level.
Of all the forwards ranked near the top, he is by far the most physical, and can force his way into areas he needs to get to to help the defence or move the puck into traffic right around the crease. He is an agitator and a pest, and at 6’3” he can be an imposing foe for the opposition.
The caveat to that physicality is his elevated penalty-minute total. In his last year with the USNTDP, he averaged slightly more than a minor penalty per game, and about one-and-a-half minutes per game in his first season in the NCAA. Discipline was less of an issue at the World Junior Hockey Championship, where he accomplished what has been a rare feat of having more points than PIMs in any competition.
Tkachuk is projected as a top-four prospect by most outlets, and is one of the best wingers available. He has a good chance at becoming a top-six forward at the NHL level, and will be a key contributor in all situations (other than the penalty kills he’s the one sitting in the box for) and in all three zones.
After reaping the benefits that go with a terrible season showing, improved by a bit of lottery luck, Montreal will be adding a great prospect to their pool, and one who will likely take the title of top prospect in the organization immediately.
You can’t go wrong selecting Brady Tkachuk at the top of the draft, but there are also players in the same range who have higher ceilings, whether that’s a potential top-pairing defenceman, first-line centreman, or elite scoring winger. We will be profiling the other main contenders to don the Canadiens sweater in this final week before the 2018 NHL Draft.
Views from across SB Nation
“He’s thinking the game well and working equally to set up plays for his teammates as for himself.” [Broad Street Hockey]
“Stylistically he’s a fit for many of the teams in the top 10.” [Canes Country]
“[H]e brings a certain level of acclaim with him.” [Jackets Cannon]
“[S]hould be a top-six winger in the NHL for years to come.” [Mile High Hockey]
“He ticks off the majority of things that GMs and coaches go googly-eyed for.” [Winging It In Motown]
Read more on the draft-eligible prospects in SB Nation’s draft hub.
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