Make no mistake, the Montreal Canadiens stole the show on the first day of the 2022 NHL Draft.
From making the first overall pick to making two significant trades, it was a lesson in engaging the home crowd.
Here are some impressions from being at the Bell Centre both days.
- At first I was confused when I saw people talking on social media (and the EOTP comments) about Juraj Slafkovsky being booed after being selected. I knew there was a mixed reaction at the red carpet, but from the Bell Centre media seating, there seemed to be shock, but not any booing. It wasn’t until I re-watched the draft broadcast that I heard that part of the reaction.
- I probably will never forget the moments leading up to the two trades being announced by Gary Bettman. I was already in the media room, with most of the Montreal media, waiting for Slafkovsky to be interviewed. Then, whispers started that the Canadiens traded Alexander Romanov, then Bettman was about to announce two trades involving the Canadiens. It led to a short sprint from the media room to the entrance to the bowl to hear what the trades were.
- One crowd reaction I did hear was when Slafkovsky made his way to the TVA Sports studio/riser. He had to walk through the crowd to get there, and was met with a WWE-style crowd high fiving and cheering. It was so loud at one point, they had to interrupt the pick on the floor.
Then the Ole’s started from the crowd surrounding the TVA riser, and Louis Jean stopped the interview so that Slafkovsky could take it all in. Considering all of it happened essentially right above me, it was a cool ‘welcome to Montreal’ moment for the first overall pick.
- Day 2 of the draft is incredibly fast paced. I’m not sure if it was a lack of trades, the fact the two previous drafts were virtual, or simply having more work to do, but the fast pace combined with 10 picks from the Canadiens made the day fly by.
- After Owen Beck was drafted 33rd, I knew I wanted to wait as long as I could before heading down to the work area because I wanted to try and see Jack Hughes, son of Canadiens GM Kent being drafted. It didn’t disappoint. After Hughes’ name was called, the father quickly went from the Canadiens draft table to the stairs where his son would enter the draft floor and meet the Los Angeles Kings. The two had a long hug as he made it to the floor, and while the cameras didn’t catch that, they did catch Martin St. Louis greeting Jack.
“He met me at the stairs where I was coming down, gave me a hug and said congrats and all that,” Jack said. “It was really cool.”
Hughes was told that he was drafted by the team that employs Marc Bergevin, the person whose job his father took in Montreal. “Crazy coincidence,” Jack said, laughing. “It’s weird to just be here and have him down there working.”
Jack was also asked if the fact his father was a GM if it meant he couldn’t have normal discussions about the draft like a father and son would have.
“Even if he wasn’t GM, it wouldn’t be normal conversations about the draft,” Jack said. “He prepared me for it, not to expect to be picked as high as I would have thought. He just said to enjoy it, see what happens. We had different talks about the draft in the prior weeks or months, explaining how it works and how it could be crazy.”
Kent was asked, jokingly, after the draft’s first day if he was picking his son at 33rd overall and quickly said no. Jack wasn’t expecting his name called by the Canadiens, either.
“I think he wanted to avoid it as best he could. He made it pretty clear beforehand that he was going to avoid it at all costs,” he said.
- Nick Bobrov and Martin Lapointe, co-directors of amateur scouting for the Canadiens, both said that they were looking for players who play the game the right way. They didn’t only want players with success, or players with skill, but players with the right skills to translate their success to the next level.
When talking to the players in attendance throughout the two days, their personalities stuck out. They were all motivated, confident, but aware of their shortcomings and had perspective.
Whether it was Owen Beck discussing time management balancing studies and hockey, Vinzenz Rohrer discussing what he learned from tennis, or Filip Mesar answering a question to describe his play with weaknesses as well as strengths minutes after being a first-round pick, it was apparent that the Canadiens valued not only what was on the ice, but what was inside the player as well.
- Let’s stick with Rohrer for a second. I have rarely seen a player so young capture a room like he did. He had unbelievable awareness and perspective. What really stuck out, like I mentioned above, is what he learned from tennis.
He played tennis until he was 11 or 12, and his father was a pro tennis player. He said the team aspect of hockey is what pushed him towards that sport.
“Tennis is an individual sport so you can’t hide behind other people. In hockey if you have a bad game, maybe a scout can really tell but if you struggle mentally in tennis it’s obvious. Everybody sees it. That’s something you can relate to, not only in hockey but life-wise. You can really learn from other sports, not just hockey.”
Rohrer used his tennis background to go 5-0 in five ping-pong games against Canadiens staff members after his meeting at the combine. He wouldn’t say who he beat, but both Bobrov and Lapointe joked about it so you can maybe assume they were two of Rohrer’s victims.
“He excels at basically everything he touches, including hockey,” Bobrov said, before Lapointe chimed in with ping-pong. Lapointe also mentioned that his success with everything he touches goes into musical instruments as well.
“We tried to beat him but it didn’t work out too well,” Bobrov continued.
“It sealed the deal, now I know why I’m here,” Rohrer joked.
- Lane Hutson is aware of the fact he’s a smaller player. The 5’8” player joked that he hoped he would fill out the Canadiens jersey he was wearing better with time.
“I know I can get bigger, faster, stronger, even taller,” Hutson said. “That’s something that will come as I get older. Either way, it’s how you play the game not how big or strong you are. When you get on the ice, everyone is the same size.”
The Canadiens also aren’t an organization to shy away from smaller players, with Brendan Gallagher, Cole Caufield, and Sean Farrell being a part the organization even before they hired Martin St. Louis as head coach.
“It definitely helps because I’m looking to learn from those guys,” Hutson said. “They’re all super talented.”
- Owen Beck and Cédrick Guindon both had really interesting things to say as well. Beck mentioned how he was upset that he couldn’t be there for Luca Del Bel Belluz, his OHL teammate, when his name was called because he was drafted before. A few moments after, Del Bel Belluz came into the media room where Beck was and he was able to congratulate him and give him the hug he wanted to. It made for a nice moment for two players realizing their dream within minutes of each other.
Guindon said, almost sheepishly, that he grew up a Senators fan in the Ottawa area, but said that once he understood the importance of the French culture and its connection to the Canadiens, it gave him a different understanding of the franchise and he was thrilled to be chosen by them.
- Bobrov also said that the thing that while you want all picks to have skill and substance, combining the two was something the Canadiens wanted. Several times, about several of the prospects, Bobrov and Lapointe mentioned how players were people that drew people to them and that people wanted to be around. The first impressions matched up very well with that.