The Montreal Canadiens drafted for need in many ways in this draft. There was a variety of centres with a few defenders and wingers thrown in for good measure.
Six out of 11 picks are centres, and even if a few of them can or will have to be switched to wing in order to play at a higher level, it’s not a bad thing to draft centremen. I have heard a lot of coaches, in different sports, tell me that if you get two players from your juniors into your main team each season then you are doing things right, and there should be at least two players in this group who will play in the NHL for Les Glorieux.
#3, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ässät, Liiga, Finland - A-
Kotkaniemi was the top centre of the draft, and while I think there was maybe more skilled and high-end players at the time of the pick, this is the selection the organization needed. His strength lies in the defensive game, and he should build on a stable offensive game next season, no matter where he will play. There is however one thing that has me grading down the pick a little bit, and it is where Kotkaniemi’s ceiling is. Is he really a true number-one centre, or is he simply the best centre available?
Miika Arponen thinks a little caution is needed, and in this case I trust someone who has seen Kotkaniemi play a full season. Still, a top-six centre is a great thing to come away with, hence my grade.
#35, Jesse Ylönen, Espoo, Mestis, Finland - B
Consensus - 40
Montreal’s Finnish scout, Hannu Laine, has gotten Marc Bergevin’s ear, with picks like Joni Ikonen last year and two more Finns in 2018 to add to Artturi Lehkonen and Antti Niemi already in Montreal.
I like Jesse Ylönen. His speed and vision are top notch, and he has fought a year in the second division rather than play with his peers in the U20s series. The fast-paced Finn gets his teammates into great positions while drawing coverage from more players, much thanks to his speed, vision, and hands. Fast and good hockey IQ/vision to adapt to the faster game is exactly what the Canadiens need, and I am fully on board with this pick.
#38, Alexander Romanov, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, MHL, Russia - D
Consensus - 184
With very few sites having ranked him, it created a bit of a problem for the consensus ranking. Romanov was listed by six outlets, ranging from 83 to 179, and it makes for a huge error in the averaged score. However, Marc Bergevin took a shot, and in the second round I prefer that he does that.
I can’t see this as a failure as we simply don’t know enough. By reputation, playing for CSKA’s development team is a statement in itself, and a good one. The undersized defenceman has a devastating shot. While he can do all things expected of a defender, except maybe quarterbacking the power play, he is a raw talent. Still I know too little, but that’s on me, I haven’t done my homework. Therefore I’ll give a passing grade for this pick, mostly because I know too little.
#56, Jacob Olofsson, Timrå, HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden - B+
Consensus - 30
Many considered Olofsson a first-round talent before the draft, but when he slid to 56th the Canadiens jumped on a chance to get him. Olofsson has shown to have a high floor but where is his ceiling? That is the question. But with many teams reaching a bit, this pick seems to be relatively safe. Getting a player with a mid-50s pick, that had the consensus of the 30th best player in the draft is a win.
#66, Cam Hillis, Guelph Storm, OHL, Canada, B+
Consensus - 55
Following the same pattern, getting a player later than the consensus ranking is a win. Jan Jenik went the pick before and it would have been interesting to know what would have happened if he was still on the board.
Hillis is the third centre taken in this class. While it’s a known fact that Montreal misses centres in their prospect pool as well as in the main team, there is also a lack of defenders on the left side. Ragnarsson was the next such defender being taken by the New York Rangers, but he was a major reach.
#71, Jordan Harris, Kimball Union Academy, High School, New Hampshire, USA - C
Consensus - 98
It was a mixed bag of votes for Jordan Harris, but a few of the scouting services had him in the 70s. The pick also addressed the need for defence. It’s a decent pick, and while it is expected that Harris goes to college, he seems like a risk worth taking.
#97, Allan McShane, Oshawa Generals, OHL, Canada - C+
Consensus - 50
A passing centre, with defensively sound qualities. McShane is the type of player the Canadiens were looking for on Saturday. While skating and balance need to be improved, this was a safe pick. I get that Montreal picks him with a high consensus ranking, but maybe they should have swung for the fences at this moment.
#123, Jack Gorniak, West Salem, High School, Wisconsin, USA - B
Consensus - 197
Even when you could be a year older then the youngest player in the draft, when you put up over a two-point-per-game average over a season and win the scoring title on your team by 26 points, you draw a few eyes. Gorniak is fast and quick in both mind and body and moves up and down the ice with ease, which appears to be the mark of the new Canadiens. It will be an important season for Gorniak who will play for the Wisconsin Badgers. If he continues his scoring craze he could become the shooter that Montreal will need to complement all their young passers.
#128, Cole Fonstad, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL, Canada - C
Consensus - 68
A small playmaker, Fonstad is intriguing. He reminds me a bit of Martin Réway: great passer but a flawed defensive game.
#133, Samuel Houde, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, QMJHL, Canada - C
Consensus - 263
Another of the Réway forwards. A playmaker, with great vision, and defensively flawed.
#190, Brett Stapley, Vernon Viipers, BCHL, Canada, D
Consensus - NR
Timmins’ summer present, the seventh-round free pick, went to Brett Stapley of the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. He will be joining the University of Denver next season. Stapley has a defensive game on top of a working offensive game, but does have some problems with his skating and the size difference that he faces. There’s not often much to find in the seventh round, and this pick is a pass, even if I would have preferred a pick on the puck-moving defender from Örebro, Lukas Pilö.
Overall I rank this draft as a success for the Canadiens, and rate it a B. There are a few players that are high-impact prospects who can develop into top six NHL:ers, but there are also a few that seem to fit the normal selection of small and skilled with a tough road to the big leagues.
The difference with this year is that there seems to have been a plan. “We’re looking to add skill, speed, character and work ethic [...] We want players that can play fast,” Timmins said at the scouting combine. Many of the players fit this bill, and I like it.
I would have preferred a defender or two more in the class overall, but this time around the organization filled the need for centre prospects with a clear plan in mind. That was a success and hence, the grade given.