With the 15th selection, it’s doubtful the Montreal Canadiens will get a crack at Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Kirby Dach, or any of the top centres in the draft class. But Montreal has done very well in the last few years stocking up on centres to start developing from within the organization.
There are several prospects working their way through the Junior ranks. Jake Evans and Lukas Vejdemo solidified themselves as enticing prospects in Laval last season. Nick Suzuki, acquired in a trade, is shaping up to be quite the player himself. And Ryan Poehling, a late-first-round pick in 2017, had quite the coming out party against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 82.
There is significant value beyond the top tier of centremen. Starting around 12 to 13 in the general rankings, there are several players ranked closely together with some favoured by one outlet or another.
This is the stage of the draft where the fun begins. It is anyone’s guess who is going to be picked by whom. With a large pool of prospects from which to choose, here we present four centres (as defined by NHL Central Scouting) who could very well end up being the Habs’ pick at 15th on Friday.
Alex Newhook is a speedy centre who can control the pace of the game as he outmanoeuvres defenders. There are few players in the 2019 Draft who are more mobile. He was legitimately outplaying his Junior-A opposition on most nights. When he was on his game, he was a game-breaking talent who set himself apart from his peers.
He’s a dynamic offensive presence, capable of pulling off end-to-end rushes, skating circles around defenders and has no problem breaking opponents’ confidence with one-on-one dekes. He has such a good set of hands that he can easily dictate the pace of the play developing in front of him. He can act as a sniper or a playmaker, making him a multidimensional threat, and that unpredictability makes him hard to defend.
Even though Newhook is quite the prospect, there are still some concerns about his potential. His effort level can be inconsistent, and there are even times where you question just how much hockey sense he has due to the poor choices he makes. This makes him sometimes a liability with the puck in the defensive zone.
Still, if he can polish those aspects of himself, which will be a priority in the NCAA, Newhook would be a great player to have in an NHL organization.
Nobody would be surprised if the Habs took Ryan Suzuki. The brother of current Habs prospect Nick is an incredible player who did his utmost this year with the Barrie Colts. He isn’t a perfect player but has such an intriguing toolkit and raw offensive potential he would be an incredible add to any prospect pool.
Suzuki will undeniably offer an offensive boost to whichever team selects him. The 25-point gap between him and the second-highest scorer on his team demonstrates how important he was to the Colts’ offence. He was the main driving force of the attack and did most of the heavy lifting himself.
He also showed why he would be a top selection come this June at the Hlinka/Gretzky Cup. He scored one goal and assisted seven times in five games. He was a force on the ice for a Canadian team that fumbled out of the medal round. He showed that no matter what his environment, he was able to rise above it and demonstrate his skills.
He is a creative and silky-smooth distributor. He boasts an incredible level of vision on the ice, has soft hands to handle pucks, and knows how to force the defenders to open up lanes. His poise with the puck makes him look like a veteran on the ice. Any time he can make his vision, hockey sense, and passing skills shine, he is at his best. Combine that with the skating ability that lets him use the space on the ice, and you get a very strong playmaking centre.
Whichever team picks Ryan Suzuki will have a tremendous player on their hands. The Habs could have their first brother duo since the Kostitsyns.
Raphaël Lavoie is a true power forward who saw his stock rise due to his impressive playoff run with the Mooseheads. What’s more, even with his staggering size at 6’4” and 198 pounds, Lavoie still is a decent skater. He’s deceptively quick, and his strides are long and powerful, allowing him to keep up or get ahead of the play.
He’s not a grinding and purely physical player; he’s quite skilled and can often play a finesse game, using his body to his advantage.
For all of his strong points, Lavoie does have a few flaws. EOTP’s David St-Louis summed them up:
‘‘There is the occasional glimpse of something more, but during most games, the forward doesn’t show a lot of creativity or an ability move defenders out of position to open up space for himself. He takes what the defence gives him and can make some play this way, but in the tighter checking of the NHL, only being able to exploit and not make defensive mistakes happen will limit his offensive impact.’’
Lavoie would no doubt be a very interesting prospect as he would bring both size and skill to a Montreal prospect pool that doesn’t boast that many players having those particular attributes.
Philip Tomasino is one of the youngest player in this year’s draft, with a July birthday. His production exploded this year with more maturity from the young forward.
What makes Tomasino such an interesting player, even though his stats aren’t wowing everyone, is the fact that he is such a versatile player. He played centre and right wing, and was use on both the penalty kill and the power play. He could be slotted into any role his coach asked him to fill.
He’s strong on the forecheck, hounding the puck wherever it goes, retrieving pucks to keep possession or to get it back. One of Tomasino’s strong points is how he understands how to uses his body first and foremost, preventing opponents’ access to the puck to the best of his ability. Adding more muscle to his frame would really go a long way into making him a better player by being stronger on the puck.
What’s more, Tomasino is already a solid skater. He’s strong on his skates but could work on polishing his skating to unlock even more potential. A little more speed and balance would go a long way into making him even deadlier on the rush.
All in all, Tomasino is a strong, versatile forward who could benefit from some more development time to really shine.
Which centre would you prefer in the first round?
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