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D’Amico: Montreal Canadiens, Hughes Not Looking To Take Shortcuts

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Montreal Canadiens

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes isn’t looking to take any shortcuts in his mission to turn the club into a perennial Stanley Cup contender.

“We’re not going to do anything to sacrifice what it is we want to do here is, which is to build a team that’s capable of winning on a sustainable basis,” said Hughes on the possibility of including picks and prospects in trades.

Hughes remained consistent in his desire to open up some Cap space for the club, but the intent is not to splurge on the free-agent market and attempt to compete as soon as next season. Instead, Hughes presented a more balanced approach for long-term success.

“If the objective is to build a team that is capable of winning on a sustainable basis, it’s not just a question of (trading), drafting or signing (players), ” said Kent Hughes about his roster-building philosophy. “There’s a strong component of development. We want to make sure we have a circular management structure where everyone is working towards not only building a better culture, but developing better hockey players.”

With the Canadiens likely to see a wave of prospects turn pro, while holding 14 picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, this is the right time to focus on development; as it’s the main avenue to sustainable success in the Salary Cap era. Ruling out the notion that the Canadiens were going to do anything rash to jeopardize their youth movement was a loud message that a quick fix is not on the horizon, and that’s likely for the best.

 

A Focus on Development

Huges has spoken in the past about how he’d like the Montreal Canadiens to be players during the NHL Free Agency period, but the reason behind the acquisition of said free agents became a little clearer when listening to Hughes. He seemed far more interested in acquiring stopgaps for the time being. He didn’t feel comfortable throwing three or more rookies into his defensive brigade, even if their play or talent warranted it.

“Our priority will be to put our youngsters in the right environment to develop,” said Hughes regarding his plan to fill out his roster, especially on defence, next year. “Bringing in three rookies to play on our defensive brigade for a full 82-games is not a risk we’re going to take.”

Hughes’ focus was on developing these younger defencemen rather than simply playing the best players available. The Montreal Canadiens have been burned in the past by rushing players to the NHL simply because there weren’t any better alternatives. By bringing in a more patient approach and a more detailed developmental strategy, Hughes is creating the right environment for players to thrive.

“As far as our youngsters are concerned, the decisions we will make in relation to where they play will be more based on what we believe is in their interest developmentally,” said Hughes regarding the club’s top prospects. “I fully expect that we will see some of our young players in the lineup next year. You could see a player start in Montreal, go to Laval, then come back up. It may not be predicated so much on their play, as what we think we need from them from a developmental perspective.”

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It will be imperative for Montreal Canadiens to be as fluid and flexible with their youngsters as they continue to grow and mature, aspects of player development that are often undervalued. Hughes is showing a commitment to helping the players grow both on and off the ice, attempting to have their on-ice game match up with their off-ice growth. Allowing his prospects that kind of leeway and patience creates an environment conducive to improvement that will serve the team on the long term.

An Influx of Montreal Canadiens Prospects Next Season

The timing of this change could not be better. Hughes was excited about what the future held for the Montreal Canadiens, as he listed the many young faces that will be present at training camp next season.

“We’re going to get younger’ said Hughes about his vision for the future. “We saw Barron and Harris. Guhle is coming. Mysak is coming. Xhekaj is coming. There’s going to be a lot of youth, but our objective will remain to build a team that is capable of winning on a regular basis. The decisions we take this summer will enable that.”

With the Canadiens set to pick in the top-3 of the 2022 NHL Draft, they’ll have even more to be excited about in the very near future, as the club will continue adding top-end draft capital as their roster transformation continues. Unlike previous experiences with other top picks like Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Mikhail Sergachev, it seems like Hughes is more than willing to hang onto his youngsters and give them the time they need to grow, even if that hurts the team in the present. In choosing to commit to the development and the interests of the individual prospect over the team’s short-term success, Hughes is shielding his youngsters from unnecessary pressure.

It’s a refreshing mindset for a fan base that has had the team’s prospect pool hyped up for years, only to see them falter when they make it to the NHL. By ruling out the rushing of his prospects or the sacrificing his youth for quick fixes, Hughes is giving his youngsters the necessary room to grow. That kind of foresight and commitment to sustainable success provides a sense of optimism about the future that hasn’t been seen in quite some time.

 

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