Heading in with 10 picks for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, it was an extremely busy weekend for the Montreal Canadiens. The team restocked their prospect pool with what ended up being 11 total picks, and most of them aimed at filling a desperate need at the centre position.
First round, third overall: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (@taikinajalka on Twitter)
The biggest question of the first day was what Montreal was going to do at third overall. Filip Zadina, Quinn Hughes, Brady Tkachuk, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi were all names that were mentioned, but in the end it was the Finn who was the choice.
A talented centre with equally great playmaking and scoring ability, he could very well be the answer to a long-time problem in Montreal. He still needs to work slightly on his skating and get reps at the position, but Kotkaniemi looks like a fantastic combination of filling a need,while also being one of the most talented players available at the time of his selection.
Second round, 35th overall: Jesse Ylönen
After landing a fantastic pivot in the first round, the Habs went back to Finland and drafted a dynamic winger in Jesse Ylönen. One of the swiftest skaters in the draft, Ylönen is a blur on the ice, but maintains control of the puck with relative ease. Not only that, he is both a setup man and a finisher on the ice. He’ll work to iron out some defensive flaws in Liiga play next year, but this is a pick that will be sure to thrill Habs fans.
Second round, 38th overall: Alexander Romanov
Going a bit off the board with their second pick of the round, the Canadiens opted for a defender from the MHL (Russia’s junior league) in the form of Alexander Romanov, who plays for CSKA Moscow’s developmental team. Having suited up for Team Russia at the Under-18 World Championship, he has drawn praise for his ability to skate with the puck, and his laser of a slapshot.
While still a bit of a project overall, he can handle himself well on both sides of the puck, but his size may be a factor moving forward, and some scouts question the ceiling of his overall puck-distribution skills.
Second round, 56th overall: Jacob Olofsson (@jolofsson21)
With their third pick of the second round, the Canadiens went back to Europe for the fourth time, and came up with Swedish centre Jacob Olofsson. Standing 6’3’’, scouts rave about his ability to use his frame to skate with speed but also work along the walls. He’s a smart player with definite offensive upside, but he could stand to improve his consistency on that side of the puck.
He is obviously young and that trait may come with age, but the Habs grabbed a player who was ranked primarily in the last first/early second round area, and that is fantastic value for them.
Third round, 66th overall: Cameron Hillis (@cam_hillis)
With their fourth pick of the day (after trading down with the #62 pick) the Canadiens grabbed a third centre, this time from the OHL’s Guelph Storm. Cam Hillis is a bit of a rare case where he has just one season of OHL experience under his belt before entering the draft, but even so he could be a major steal for the Habs at 66th overall.
Smaller in size, but not in heart, Hillis is a high-energy player who works extremely hard on the ice. Great hockey sense combined with solid playmaking skills, in addition to his work ethic, make him a nightmare for opposing defences. Hillis himself mentioned he loved the tenacity in Brendan Gallagher’s game,and how he tries to bring it every night. Music to Habs fans’ ears everywhere, Cam.
Third round, 71st overall: Jordan Harris (@jharris004)
A bit of uncharted territory for Montreal in recent years, they reached into the US High School system for their next pick, selecting defender Jordan Harris from Kimball Union Academy. Harris is committed to play for Northeastern next year in the NCAA, making him teammates with current Habs prospect Cayden Primeau.
An agile skater who can handle himself in the offensive zone, or as part of the breakout game, Harris can quickly turn the play around on opponents in a hurry. Great with his gap control in the defensive zone, Harris is more than capable of handling himself in his own end.
Despite playing in a lower league, Harris has many qualities that make him an appealing prospect for the Canadiens.
Fourth round, 97th overall: Allan McShane (@allan_mcshane)
In a shocking twist, the Canadiens went back to the well and came back with another centre in the fourth round, this time Allan McShane from the Oshawa Generals. While not the most physically imposing player, McShane is a very cerebral prospect, able to read plays well and choose the best option available. A deft playmaker as well McShane reads as a very good value for his draft position. The only major drawbacks to his game are his skating which needs improvement overall, and to find a consistent effort level night in and night out.
Fourth round, 123rd overall Jack Gorniak (@gorny11)
Another NCAA commit, this time to the University of Wisconsion, Gorniak fits the mould of player that Trevor Timmins said he was looking for. He’s not a massive physical specimen by any means, but Gorniak possesses a fantastic skating ability that helps him to create space on the ice.
Listed as a left-winger and a centre, Gorniak’s versatility may help him down the line, but as it stands it’s likely he spends most of his time on the wing. He is not as flashy as some of the other picks, but with his skating ability he’ll be one to keep an eye on as his NCAA career progresses.
Fifth round, 128th overall: Cole Fonstad
The Habs took another centre, this time playmaker Cole Fonstad from the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. While not the fleetest skater, Fonstad never stops moving on the ice, and he shows a willingness to jump in on plays all over the zone if given the chance. His defensive game is a work in progress, but where he shines is with the puck on his stick.
Slick while moving with the puck, and smart in the passing game, Fonstad is a very dangerous player if given any time and space in the offensive zone. He was rated much higher than 128th by every major scouting service, meaning the Canadiens once again grabbed major value with this pick.
Fifth round, 133rd overall: Samuel Houde
Houde was yet another centre draft pick, this time coming from Chicoutimi in the QMJHL. Not highly touted like others in the draft, Houde is more of a project pick by the Canadiens, and with 11 selections total there isn’t any harm in this choice. A centre with good vision and a willingness to shoot isn’t a bad thing in the slightest, and some scouts believe some of his potential has yet to be met.
Seventh round, 190th overall: Brett Stapley (@BrettStapley)
For the second straight year, the Canadiens and Flyers traded seventh-round picks. Last year it netted Montreal Cayden Primeau who became an immediate star in the NCAA. This year it landed them BCHL forward, and University of Denver commit, Brett Stapley.
Smaller in stature, Stapley shines as an offensive piece, playing at close to or above a point-per-game pace his last two years in the BCHL. He’s a great distributor of the puck and handles it well with it on his stick. He’s fairly adept on the defensive side of the puck, allowing him to take up a regular role as a penalty killer.
Despite some skating and size concerns, Stapley is the kind of pick you make this late in the draft. Not that long ago Montreal grabbed an unknown kid from a smaller league in Ontario, and he blossomed into a great NCAA player before getting set to begin his professional career in the Canadiens organization this fall. Maybe Stapley can do the same.