The Montreal Canadiens had difficulty scoring goals last season. Ranking right near the top in possession numbers, the team finished 14th in goals.
The lack of top-end scorers was felt the most on the power play. The Habs finished the year in 30th place with a 13.2% conversion rate on their man advantage, and that was a major factor in them coming up just short of their post-season goal.
Given that deficiency of the current lineup, and the fact that outside of Nick Suzuki there are few prospects in the system who can be described as goal-scorers, the Canadiens may want to address that on June 21 by taking a winger with their pick at 15th overall.
The Canadiens don’t often take wingers in the first round. In recent years they’ve focused on centres and defencemen. Back in 2014, Montreal selected right-winger Nikita Scherbak at 26th, the last time they chose such a player.
While top offensive talents are rarely found after the top 10, this season only one winger appears guaranteed to be off the board by the time the Canadiens make their selection, and that is projected second overall prospect Kaapo Kakko (even he played much of his time this season at centre). There are several quality wingers, even if they do have a few flaws, who could still be waiting to hear their names when the Canadiens are given the podium.
Podkolzin had enjoyed a lot of offensive success in his teenage years, carrying through right to the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup at the beginning of his draft season. That offensive production had him ranked very high on various mid-term rankings this year, sitting as essentially a consensus number three.
Most assumed that a bit of a slump was temporary for a player who had scored with ease in previous years, even when playing with and against older or more experienced players. But as the season wore on, the goal-scoring never came. He went goalless at the World Junior Championship, and only hit the net once at the World Under-18 Championship in April. In 29 regular-season games played in the various Russian leagues, he scored just six times. He did, however, add four goals in 11 post-season games, which suggests the offensive finish hasn’t abandoned him entirely.
He still put in the work to place himself or teammates in position to score goals, even if things weren’t falling his way. Good work ethic, strong puck-handling skills, and an awareness of the players around him allowed him to get plenty of chances during the year.
Another factor in Podkolzin’s fall is that he has committed to another two years in Russia, delaying his arrival to North America, and that’s something the NHL’s worst teams from this season — those who make the opening selection of the 2019 Draft — may not be able to wait out. Montreal, on the other hand, has the cap space to address their goal-scoring issues at least temporarily in free agency, so they may be one of the first teams judging it to be worth the gamble on a player who could rediscover his touch.
If there’s a player who had no problem whatsoever with capping off offensive plays this season, it was Cole Caufield. He scored more goals than he played games in his draft year, setting a new under-18 goal record in the U.S. National Team Development Program, then going on to post an absurd 14 goals in seven games versus his international peers at the World Under-18s.
Given that otherworldly production, it’s hard to imagine how he could be passed over by so many teams, and that wouldn’t even be a suggestion if it weren’t for his height.
At just 5’7”, he’s the shortest player in the class, and that has some concerned about how effective that prolific offensive ability will be at the top level. Such concerns have also applied to Johnny Gaudreau and Alex DeBrincat over the years, and they serve as examples for the effectiveness of smaller players, but hesitancy remains when considering such a slight prospect.
Those two players require a team to select a prospect who is likely inferior if they are to fall to Montreal’s range. Either would be a great addition to the system, but Trevor Timmins and his staff won’t be counting on their availability.
The first winger projected by most outlets to go around 15th is Arthur Kaliyev, a member of the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL who posted 51 goals this season, ranking fourth in the OHL in that category.
Kaliyev has a great shot, put to best use when he’s on his off-wing, making him an excellent power-play contributor. His style of play that has him drifting around the offensive zone looking for quiet areas is very effective when the opposition has just four players, but less so when there are five defenders to limit his space. When it comes time to join the NHL, that type of game may not be enough to allow him to maintain his production.
Bobby Brink is an intelligent player whose reading of the play around him and knowing how to manipulate defenders are among his greatest assets. He’s both playmaker and goal-scorer, leading the play for his team when he’s on the ice. He’s constantly working to break up the opposition’s chances and create ones for himself, and that ability reaches its peak with the game or the season on the line.
All of these things combined should have Brink right among the top prospects in the 2019 Draft, but his skating is not close to the same level as his other attributes. Ungainly technique limits his speed up the ice, which hinders the effectiveness of those top-end skills.
We’ve seen how skating can be drastically improved with training as recently as this season: Michael McCarron showed up to camp looking like a completely different player, and was getting the benefits of his new mobility to start the year before shoulder surgery knocked him out of action. Should Brink put in the same work, it will unlock the full extent of his high-level talent, which could turn him into a very effective NHL winger. There is a lot of work to be done for the specialist who takes on that task, but the benefits should immediately be seen by organization and player alike once it begins.
Look for an in-depth profile on Brink this week.
A few more interesting choices at wing exist in the first round, like Nils Höglander and Samuel Poulin, but those players would be considered a reach at 15th, and likely require Montreal to trade down to be considered.
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