For the first time since 1980, the NHL draft lottery balls have gone Montreal’s way. At the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, which is scheduled to be held in Montreal, the hometown Canadiens will be the owners of the first overall selection. After Montreal obtained the rights to the pick during the draft lottery on Tuesday, May 10th. This year, 2022, also marks the first time since 1985 that the location of the draft is in the city of the team which possesses the first overall selection.
He recorded 276 points in 556 games played in the NHL, 202 of which were played donning a Montreal Canadiens sweater. His numbers don’t seem that bad – and they aren’t. They are, however, a little underwhelming, especially since he was the first overall selection in 1980. His name is Doug Wickhenheiser, and he was Montreal’s selection the last time the Canadiens owned the rights to the first overall pick. The disappointment which followed Wickhenheiser’s tenure with Montreal will be the same disappointment Montreal’s Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton will look to avoid this time around, forty-two years later in.
For the first time since the 1939-1940 NHL season, the Montreal Canadiens finished in last place in the NHL standings. Their final record over the 82-game season stood at 22-49-11; good (or bad) for 55 points. During an injury-riddled season with many blowout games, there were however, some bright spots. Former head coach Dominic Ducharme was replaced by interim head coach Martin St. Louis on February 9, 2022, which lit a fire under most Canadiens players, especially rookie Cole Caufield, who had previously recorded only 1 goal and 8 points in 30 games under Dominic Ducharme. Caufield finished the season with 23 goals and 43 points, good for 22 goals and 35 points in 37 games under St. Louis. Suffice it to say, the 49 goal pace at which Caufield scored may or may not be achievable next season, but what we can say with certainty is that St. Louis brought the best out of his diminutive counterpart.
On a team with a deep prospect pool, GM Hughes will look to add one more promising prospects with the first overall selection at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, the first round of which is scheduled for July 7th.
A first overall selection can do wonders for a team. Former Habs’ general manager Marc Bergevin used to say that the best way to build a contender was to build through the draft – and that’s just what Montreal will do this off-season, albeit, not with Bergevin driving the bus. The first overall selection can be a franchise’s cornerstone – the poster boy – the marquee name. Or, it can go wrong, and fans can be quick to label the player chosen as a “bust.” A bust isn’t necessarily a bad player; it is simply a player who hadn’t quite met the expectations of the fans or hockey world as a whole. Whatever your definition is – it’s something GM Hughes and co. will look to avoid at the 2022 draft. And avoid they must.
There are two main competitors for first overall: Shane Wright and Logan Cooley; with one honourable mention: Juraj Slafkovský – depending on who you ask, of course. We’ll compare them below, and how they fit relative to the structure of Montreal’s forward corps.
Shane Wright – OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs, C, 6’1″/199lbs, 63-32-62-94-22 (GP-G-A-PTS-PIM)
Burlington, Ontario’s Shane Wright was granted exceptional status for the 2019-2020 OHL season. Exceptional status gives the player in question the ability to play one year ahead of their peers; at the age of 15. You flip the 15 around and get 51, the number which Wright has worn at every significant level. Wright was granted exceptional status after a monstrous year with the Don Mills Flyers, a U16 AAA team, where he produced 66 goals and 150 points in 72 games as a 14 year-old. In his rookie OHL season, Wright posted 39 goals and 66 points in 58 games, breaking the point-per-game record for a rookie who was granted exceptional status previously set by Connor McDavid. Wright, along with the rest of the OHL for that matter, were unable to play the 2020-2021 season due to the global pandemic. Wright struggled to put up the lofty numbers expected of him throughout the 1st half of the season, but he picked up in the 2nd half and put up the best numbers in the CHL out of any first-year draft eligible.
We’ve seen the Patrice Bergeron comparisons and the Jonathan Toews comparisons for Wright, and from that we can conclude: he’s a two-way forward who makes his presence felt on both ends of the ice. He plays well on both sides of the puck and has an amazing snap-shot release. The best comparison I’ve seen comes from a Twitter user who says, “Wright is Patrice Bergeron with less defensive ability but with a better shot.” I think Montreal would take that any day of the week.
Along with his quick release, his passing sense and hockey IQ are tremendous. He has the ability to dominate the play; a game; even a tournament, which we saw at the 2021 U18s, where he recorded 9 goals and 14 points in just 5 games. His play at the 2022 World Juniors was cut short, due again to the pandemic. It was a small sample size, but the “under-ager” Wright held his own with an assist in 2 games.
Wright, a center, would give Montreal a center corps which would be capable of winning a Stanley Cup championship in the future. Nick Suzuki, Shane Wright, Christian Dvorak, Jake Evans and Ryan Poehling all make for terrific options down the middle. Having five centremen who are all “200ft. players” as options would give Montreal the most center depth we’ve seen in decades.
Logan Cooley – USNTDP Juniors, C, 5’10″/180lbs, 24-13-23-36-55 (GP-G-A-PTS-PIM)
TSN‘s director of scouting Craig Button had said that no player in this 2022 draft class will turn heads. I tend to disagree in terms of Logan Cooley. The flashy forward has proven time and again that he constantly keeps his head on a swivel in the offensive-zone while looking to distribute the puck. Cooley has an amazing set of hands combined with great decision-making. While on his game, Cooley is a real treat to watch. Cooley finished the 2022 U18s with 3 goals and 10 points in 6 games. During the tournament, Cooley showed off his amazing passing skills along with successfully completing the “Michigan” in a game against Team Latvia.
The pass-first play-style which Cooley utilizes replicates that of NHL stars Patrick Kane, Mitch Marner and Trevor Zegras to a great extent. In a perfect world, a team would have a game-breaking goal-scorer which they could put on a dynamic pass-first center’s wing. Maybe we don’t have to imagine a perfect world scenario, though. Imagine Logan Cooley with Cole Caufield for the next fifteen years. Linked below is a small sample of what Cooley (#18) can do.
Honourable Mention: Juraj Slafkovský – Liiga’s TPS, LW, 6’4″/218lbs, 31-5-5-10-33 (GP-G-A-PTS-PIM)
Is that Eric Lindros, Peter Forsberg, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Josh Anderson? Actually, it’s Slovakia’s Juraj Slafkovský, the power-forward with a sniper’s release who was named the tournament MVP at the 2022 Olympic Games with 7 goals in 7 games. To compare Slafkovský to any power-forward of substance this early in his career may be a stretch, but he’s shown that he possesses the skills required to be a Dubois/Anderson type: a forward who forces pucks up the wall and who isn’t afraid to engage in board-battles. A lack thereof can kill a team come playoff time.
Throughout the 2021-2022 NHL season, after his appointment, Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis went through a trial of several wingers, the “winner” of which would be the third forward on the Nick Suzuki-Cole Caufield first line. Josh Anderson made a strong case to be the front-runner. We saw Joel Armia and Jonathan Drouin. Sniper Mike Hoffman ended the season on a three-game goal-streak while playing on that line as well. As I said with Cooley, imagine Juraj Slafkovský on LW with Nick Suzuki in the middle and Cole Caufield in his natural RW position. Simply put, Slafkovský is nothing short of a perfect compliment for Montreal’s energetic first line.
Case in point, the Montreal Canadiens will be getting an amazing player on draft day should they keep their pick. Shane Wright has been the consensus number one for seemingly years now; Logan Cooley possesses the passing-ability that could get Cole Caufield 50 goals in a season (not that Suzuki can’t). Between Suzuki and prospect Sean Farrell, Caufield should be set for the future. Then there’s Juraj Slafkovský, a player any team can not only use, but would love to have.
Less than a month away from the draft – who’s your pick?