The Montreal Canadiens are in a curious spot as they head into the NHL Draft with the 15th overall pick, barring any major shocks, the top 10 or so prospects of the draft class seem fairly set. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess right now as there is a multitude of potentially great players ranked in the middle portion of the round. That brings about the question of who exactly the Canadiens should be selecting with their pick, and how they should go about deciding on a player.
While there is a need for left defence in the organization, the team cannot just pass on a better player should he be available. Regardless of who they pick, their impact is likely to come in two to three years, not immediately. Drafting for need might be seen as a mistake in the future if the situation at the NHL level changes.
Currently, Montreal has a deep pool of talent on the right, with Shea Weber and Jeff Petry holding it down at the NHL level. Behind them is a three-headed monster in the form of Noah Juulsen, Cale Fleury, and Josh Brook, but Montreal’s choice on Friday evening could still be a top-end defender who plays that position.
The first of three potential defenders available at 15th overall is Victor Söderström, who has earned plenty of praise for his play at the top level in Sweden this past year. While listed at right around six feet tall and 180 pounds, he is not the type of player to be physically intimidated on the ice, despite his age and slightly smaller stature for a blue-liner.
Scouts have praised his decision-making on the ice, and note that his ability to read plays gives him the aura of a long-time veteran, not an 18-year-old kid. He skates incredibly well and can use his lateral movements to find shooting or passing lanes in the offensive zone.
All across the board, Söderström seems like a potential slam dunk if he is available at 15, Weber and Petry aren’t getting any younger, and adding a piece like this Swedish defender would be a good choice.
A rarity in the modern hockey world, Moritz Seider took the world by storm while spending the year in the top German league as a 17-year-old. He was named rookie of the year, claimed a DEL championship, and then suited up for his home country at the World Championship.
He is built like a pro already, standing 6’4” and weighing in at over 200 pounds. He has poise far beyond his years, and has been drawing a lot of attention as the draft creeps closer. Not a massive point producer at this stage, Seider has the potential to turn into a steady presence on the back end as a modern defender. He can move the puck with ease and has no issues carrying it from his own end.
At the NHL Scouting Combine, he said at the start of this year he was focused on making the safe, smart plays, but as he became more confident he expanded on his play, carrying the puck more and taking risks. He skates well, and with his reach he can break up plays through the neutral zone and his own end.
Many believe he’ll have no issues transitioning to the NHL when that time comes. The only notable issue is that Seider has a contract with Adler Mannheim, and he made it clear that he wanted to see out that deal before making his next move.
For someone who just turned 18, Seider plays the game on the ice like someone 10 years his senior, and off the ice represents himself with the utmost class. Montreal might have a boatload of players at his position, but Seider could easily jump to the front of that line if his name is called at 15th overall.
While both Söderström and Seider have locked themselves into surefire top-20 picks, Finnish defender Lassi Thomson is a bit more of an interesting case. For one, he played last year in the WHL, and next season will be taking his talents to Ilves in Liiga, while his two counterparts spent most of their years already in professional leagues. Thomson is also a bit more of a project than the other two, but a project with tremendous upside if a team has some patience.
Above all else Thomson is an incredible skater, able to blow past opponents and then work his edges in the offensive zone to find space for shots or passes. While there are other, more polished defenders in the draft, it might be hard to find one who makes skating with the puck look so effortless.
The issues with Thomson arise in his decision-making on the ice, and that is also reflected in some of his defensive play. He tends to overplay the body, and needs to utilize his stick and better positioning more often. Playing in a men’s league next year should help to iron out some of these deficiencies, but as it stands he has a lot more work to do in rounding out his game.
While Thomson is possibly the flashiest of the three defenders listed, he is also projected by most outlets either as one of the final picks in the first round or one of the earliest choices on Day 2, and would be a major reach at 15th overall this year.
He has massive potential, but Montreal needs to be looking for a strong bet to make the NHL, and as it stands Thomson isn’t quite there yet. If he is still around when the Canadiens are called upon for the second time, he could become a steal for the Canadiens.
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