NHL Mock Draft 2019: Montreal Canadiens select Thomas Harley with No. 15 pick

The Habs bolster their defensive depth with an offensively inclined left-handed blue-liner.

The Montreal Canadiens went into the 2018-19 season expected to finish near the bottom. They’d traded away two of the top goal-scorers on the team and done little to address the defence. But with neither a long-term injury to Shea Weber nor a surprisingly poor start from Carey Price able to knock them to the canvas, it was quickly apparent that the team was going to battle for a playoff spot.

In the end, that fight came up just short of a post-season berth, two points away from the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, though with a higher total than three of the playoff clubs in the West.

Being the best of the rest gave Montreal the lowest odds of winning a top-three pick, and they left the draft lottery in their designated 15th spot, destined to watch the other non-playoff teams head to the podium ahead of them.

Fourteen players will be gone off the board when the Habs’ brass takes the stage in Vancouver. In the annual Mock Draft, the SB Nation NHL sites picture how that process will unfold. These are the picks that had been made when we were called upon for our selection:

  1. Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils)
  2. Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers)
  3. Alex Turcotte (Chicago Blackhawks)
  4. Kirby Dach (Colorado Avalanche via Ottawa Senators)
  5. Dylan Cozens (Los Angeles Kings)
  6. Bowen Byram (Detroit Red Wings)
  7. Cole Caufield (Buffalo Sabres)
  8. Peyton Krebs (Edmonton Oilers)
  9. Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks)
  10. Matthew Boldy (Vancouver Canucks)
  11. Alex Newhook (Philadelphia Flyers)
  12. Vasili Podkolzin (Minnesota Wild)
  13. Philip Broberg (Florida Panthers)
  14. Victor Söderström (Arizona Coyotes)

While a few of us have been hoping that Podkolzin’s contract situation (he has two more years to play in the KHL) will have him fall to 15th at the actual draft, that wasn’t the case in this event.

However, even though Montreal sits in the proverbial “no man’s land” as the non-playoff team farthest from the first overall selection, there were still plenty of solid prospects projected to go in the range of the Canadiens’ slot for us to consider.

Ryan Suzuki was one option. Despite already having his brother in the prospect pool, his skill set was thought to be similar to that of other players and prospects in the system. Montreal has plenty of forwards to distribute the puck but few to finish the play off.

2019 Draft profile: Ryan Suzuki is an intelligent playmaker

Arthur Kaliyev and Raphaël Lavoie were perhaps the best goal-scorers still on offer at 15th, however several of us have concerns about how prolific their offence will be in the NHL. They’re able to rack up points at the Junior level, but a few flaws could limit their output in the professional ranks.

2019 Draft profile: Raphaël Lavoie plays a giant role in Halifax

Looking at some of the defencemen available, Moritz Seider is one prospect who really stands out as a potential NHL blue-liner. He has an intriguing set of abilities that will pique the interest of many scouting staffs leading up to the draft.

2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Moritz Seider brings a professional pedigree

He would surely be an excellent selection for Montreal, but he is a right-handed defenceman, and that is the stronger of the two sides — by a significant margin — in the Canadiens’ system. Weber is locked into a top-four spot for several years, Jeff Petry will closely match him for at least two more, and Noah Juulsen, Cale Fleury, and Josh Brook all have realistic shots at becoming regular NHL players.

The left side of the defence is the weakest position in the organization, and there are two left-shot players in this part of the draft who could help stabilize it.

While he does play with a left-handed stick, Ville Heinola lines up on the right side in all competition. It would surely be possible to develop him to play on the left side, but he seems comfortable in his current role.

2019 Draft profile: Ville Heinola may be the next great Finnish defenceman

The one whom we at EOTP ultimately decided on is Thomas Harley, a 6’3”, 192-pound defenceman born less than a month before the cutoff date for the 2019 NHL Draft. He had a good offensive year on what was a middle-of-the-pack Mississauga Steelheads squad, leading all team defencemen, with just two forwards above him. Swept in the opening round of the OHL post-season, Harley co-led the team with four points.

Getting a chance to play on Team Canada at the World Under-18 Championship, he once again posted the top points total of all blue-liners, ranking behind a bevy of forwards also projected to be taken in the opening round of the draft.

Harley is a very good skater who is able to keep up or even catch opposing forwards on the rush. That’s proven to be an important skill in the OHL because he can get out of position on that side of the puck.

“My defensive consistency is all over the place, that is something I need to work on,” he admitted at the Scouting Combine. That could be seen as a concern, but the fact he acknowledges it as a weakness, and seems determined to improve it, are good signs.

With the puck in his control, his best attributes are put on display. He uses that speed to carry the puck out of danger, building up speed as he makes the turn out of his defensive zone. Head up, he’s aware of the lanes open to him and the teammates available for passes.

Even inside the opposing team’s blue line, his feet don’t stop moving. He moves laterally along the blue line or jumps up into the zone to create better offensive plays. These abilities all allow him to be a good power-play performer, when even more lanes are left open by a four-man defensive alignment.

Thomas Harley wears #48 with the Mississauga Steelheads

His shooting motion is a bit wooden, and is another part of his game he identifies as needing work. Still 17, he will have plenty of time to work on his release as well as his defensive play, both of which can be greatly improved with training.

Offensive instinct is one of the elements in short supply in the Canadiens’ current pool of defencemen, especially on the left side. With an organizational structure largely based on strong defensive play, from Price, through Weber, to a large number of two-way forwards, the Canadiens can add a blue-liner who is more inclined to the offensive side to complement prospects like Juulsen, Fleury, and Alexander Romanov.

We believe Thomas Harley addresses an organizational need while also being one of the better players available, and for that reason he is our selection at 15th overall.

We will have an in-depth profile on Harley in the near future. In the meantime, check out the 50-plus prospects we’ve written about so far in our 2019 NHL Draft Hub.

The history of Eyes On The Prize’s SB Nation NHL Mock Draft selections

2019: Thomas Harley (15th)
2018: Filip Zadina (third overall)
2017: Urho Vaakanainen (25th)
2016: Tyson Jost (ninth)
2015: Thomas Chabot (26th)
2014: David Pastrnak (26th)
2013: Josh Morrissey (25th)
2012: Mikhail Grigorenko (third)
2011: Mark Scheifele (17th)
2010: Ryan Spooner (27th)
2009: Scott Glennie (18th)

Who is your choice for the 15th overall selection?

Bobby Brink15
Thomas Harley346
Ville Heinola126
Nils Höglander18
Arthur Kaliyev99
Spencer Knight25
Raphaël Lavoie327
Moritz Seider89
Ryan Suzuki224
Cam York252
Other (make your case in the comments)37

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