Back from my Turkey nap, it has been quite the week for the NHL. In a quick turnaround from the Stanley Cup Finals, the NHL held their annual Entry Draft last Tuesday and Wednesday while Free Agency opened last Friday. Bergevin looked like a real tactician in not only the last week, but since the Habs lost to the Flyers. Considering that Kirk and the Vikings continue to find ways to break my heart, this week will be very hockey heavy.
Today’s article will focus mainly on the NHL Entry Draft, and later this week I will recap Free Agency along with where the Canadiens go from here! This year’s draft was loaded with talent which is why, even deep into the Second Round, GMs were using the full allotment of time for each pick. Before jumping into the Habs and grading what Bergevin, Timmins and their staff did, let’s first look at some of the Winners & Losers from the 2020 Draft across the league.
1. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were the clear winner in my mind, this team has an already extensive and deep prospect pool and they added two of the biggest prospects (physically) with promising futures. Quinton Byfield (6’4, 215) and Helge Grans (6’3, 192) are both highly skilled, punishing players that will compliment a long list of talented players in the Kings organization.
2. Minnesota Wild
The Wild played this draft perfectly and benefitted from a bit of luck. Marco Rossi had no business dropping to 9th overall, and their near back to back picks in the Second Round could pan out to be a couple steals. Some scouts had O’Rourke going in the first, while Khusnutdinov is one of the top players in his age group for Russia, captaining their his U18 team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Judd Bracket has a long history of drafting well in the later rounds, add this to the talent he got in the first two and this could be turning point for the franchise.
3. Detroit Red Wings
The Wings went back to the well that has treated them so well for years as their first three picks all came from Sweden (SHL). Most European scouts rave about Raymond, he has a full compliment of tools to be a dominant NHL player. Wallinder is a very smooth skating defenseman, in the typical mold of a responsible two-way Swedish defenseman with a little offensive flair. Niderback was the third pick from Sweden, but the name I like is Jan Bednar in the 5th. A low risk pick with a lot of upside, he has the potential to be a starting goalie if he can put it all together.
1. Arizona Coyotes
When you don’t have a single pick in the first 100, you are certain to find your name on this list. The Coyotes have nothing of note to speak about in this draft and they still have yet to even begin to climb out of the hole that John Chayka created. This is not exclusively his fault, but I am surprised that no one wants to talk about that fact that he gave up way too much for Taylor Hall as a one year rental and now wants to go work for the team that he traded all those pieces to? I’m no conspiracist, but that is way to big of a coincidence don’t you think?
2. Boston Bruins
If it weren’t for such sheer incompetence at the top spot, the Bruins would likely find themselves there. The main reason being that out of all the teams that had a poor draft, the Bruins were the only team to hold any meaningful Draft Capital. The Bruins were only missing their First Round pick, yet they still failed to really draft any sort of high upside talent. While the Bruins have been a model of consistency in recent memory, spanning arguably a decade, their drafting has in large part, been terrible. Prime example, they failed to draft Chabot, Connor and Barzal.
3. New York Islanders / Vancouver Canucks
Both teams are in a full win now mode and it showed in this draft. Neither had a pick before the third round, sneaking in only 1 pick in the top 100 each. Neither team added any prospect with NHL upside at the moment, but things can certainly change. I will say, at least the Canucks are creating content around their draft picks to build hype and fan fare. The Islanders, not even a peep. Apparently laying the final beam in their new arena completely pushed all their new prospects off the team’s website.
MONTREAL CANADIENS – B/B+
As Habs fans, we have been blessed with back to back successful drafts, which is part of the reason why this year seems like a disappointment. With a Draft Class loaded with offensive talent, the consensus among fans was the Canadiens would address scoring in the First Round. That was not the case, but the Habs still picked up one hell of a player in Kaiden Guhle.
The Sherwood Park native was the First Overall Pick in his Bantam Draft into the WHL to the Prince Albert Raiders. In his rookie season with PA, Guhle and the Raiders won the WHL and went to the Memorial Cup. At the time Guhle was the only non 19 year old defenseman on his team. His point totals were nothing impressive, but playing that kind of meaningful hockey at that age is an incredible feat. This past season Guhle’s offensive game found another level as he was given much more freedom with the puck and in the offensive zone. While his offensive ceiling may not be as high as fans would have liked for a First Rounder, his defensive game has little to no holes it in. He plays a very physical style, he has perfect gap control and most importantly, he can skate.
The Canadien’s back to back Second Round picks are all anyone wants to talk about. The Tuch-Mysak picks will live in infamy even if neither plays a single NHL game. Don’t worry, short of injuries this is far from the expected outcome as Tuch is a big body with skill who loves to get in his opponent’s face and muck things up in the corners and in front of the net. He has very soft hands which makes him great in tight which is an undervalued skill for big physical players. Mysak is a much more skilled player, he plays a full 200 foot game and started playing Pro hockey at the age of 16 in Czech Republic. He was a bit of a First Round wild card as some scouts and experts ranked him that high, but the concerns surrounding his offensive ceiling are the reason why he dropped into the Habs lap at 48.
After no picks in the Third Round, the Habs really flexed their scouting muscles in the Fourth. Personally, I thought this was the team’s best round of the draft (relatively speaking) as the Habs picked up 3 NCAA bound players who all possess a ton of offensive upside. Jack Smith and Blake Biondi are both heading to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a top 5 program in the NCAA last season and Sean Farrell is heading to Harvard.
Smith ran into injury issues this season which affected his draft stock, but he still managed to put up 48 points in 27 games for his High School teams in Minnesota. Biondi is coming off an phenominal offensive season that saw him put up 76 points in 25 games, earning the distinction of Mr. Minnesota as the best High School player in the state. Farrell is the biggest steal of the bunch, he is probably a Third, maybe even a Second Round (Second is a stretch but let’s be optimistic) talent that inexplicably fell to the final pick of the 4th round. How or why, I could not tell you, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, just quickly google his name and you will find a number of experts who are shocked that Farrell fell this far.
To round out the draft, the Habs picked up goaltending prospect Jakub Dodes who I would assume Stéphane Waites likes. He seems like a very raw prospect, but Primeau was a 7th round pick so you never know! Alex Gordin is an offensive lightning bug, team’s worry about whether his game will translate to the pros as he dominates players in his age group. He has tremendous offensive upside but will need to find a way to become a more complete player if he wants to make the jump to the NHL.
LATE ROUND LOCK
I am adding this last part in because there is one player I really wanted the Habs to take in the later rounds. Without a Third Round pick he did not fall to us, but I will call it right now; Philadelphia Flyers 4th Round pick Zayde Wisdom will be an NHL player.
He reminds me of Gallgher in the sense that he may not be the best player on the ice, but he will always be the hardest working player every shift. He is a feel good story type, but it is rare to find a kid at this age with his maturity and determination. In the later rounds, consensus rankings go out the windows because teams draft based on preference and, intangible qualities become more important. Wisdom has all character and personally traits you can’t teach, give him time to develop his tangible skills and he will have a lengthy NHL career.
This wraps up the Draft Recap portion of this two part article. Later this week I will discuss the Free Agency market, along with how the recent Habs signing affect the team not only for next season, but the foreseeable future for the team moving forward.