The Montreal Canadiens have a huge opportunity to jumpstart their roster transformation with the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft, and general manager Kent Hughes isn’t wasting any time preparing for it.
When interviewed on 91.9 Sports FM, the Canadiens’ general manager spoke at length on how the 2022 NHL Draft has become a priority for him at this junction, having just returned from the Under-18 World Hockey Championships in Germany. He discussed how fruitful of a trip it was to see the top draft-eligible players and meet his entire scouting staff for the first time.
“Going to Germany allowed us to meet all of our scouting staff for the first time in person,” said Hughes. “It was good to talk about players that will be available at the draft.”
Hughes spoke about his draft-related plans from late April until the end of May. After spending the better part of 10 days in Germany watching the U-18 tournament, Hughes returned to Canada for the end-of-season exit meetings and the funeral of Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur. His work is far from over, as he plans to head over to Helsinki in Finland, where the World Hockey Championships will take place.
Montreal Canadiens Not Done Scouting
“We were in Germany for the U-18s and we’re going to be in Helsinki for the World Championships after the Draft Lottery,” said Hughes regarding his scouting work en route to the NHL Draft. “For example, Slovakia will have players that weren’t at the U-18s in Germany, the same can be said of a specific Czech player.”
The Slovakian players in question are none other than top prospects Juraj Slafkovsky and Simon Nemec, who were the backbone of the Slovakian team that terrorized the Ivan Hlinka tournament in August. Slafkovsky went on to have a standout performance for Slovakia at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he scored seven goals in seven games en route to being named tournament MVP. Meanwhile, Nemec had himself an historic season in the Slovak Extraliga, breaking the scoring records for an under-20 defenceman in both the regular season and the playoffs for his club, HC Nitra.
WHAT A RELEASE 🏒 🚨
— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) February 13, 2022
The Czech player that Hughes mentioned toward the end was defenceman David Jiricek, who started out the year very well in the Czech Extraliga, but suffered a serious knee injury at the World Junior Championships that forced him to miss four months of action. He is now healed and stronger than ever and will likely look to impress at the World Championships for Czechia with Hughes and other NHL general managers looking on.
David Jiříček must hate pucks. Guys always slapping them into oblivion.
Anyone who has underestimated Jiříček's offensive upside, may want to rethink their decision. pic.twitter.com/mSjfFH1XYF
— Future Watch (@FutureWatch_TV) May 2, 2022
Each of these prospects is ranked among or around the top-5 prospects of the upcoming NHL Draft. Should the Canadiens not win one of the first two selections via the NHL Draft Lottery, they would all become real possibilities at rank 3, the lowest the Canadiens could pick on July 7. It’s important to prepare for that reality, as it will allow the Canadiens to make the best possible decision; and not one simply based on organizational need.
Picking Best Player Available?
When asked about his draft strategy, when being faced with so many viable options to select, Hughes provided some clarity on how he would approach his selections in July.
“I believe that, in a normal setting, you should go with the best player available,” said Hughes about his draft philosophy. “But, if there are similar shades of grey, then you go for the shade that the team needs the most.”
In the past, the Montreal Canadiens have been burned on the draft floor by selecting a player based on the organizational need, rather than the best player available at that rank. One could think back to the 2018 NHL Draft that saw the Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes reach for centermen Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Barret Hayton, despite having better players like winger Brady Tkachuk or defenceman Quinn Hughes available at the moment of their selections.
Having Hughes and his scouting staff know that this is one biggest drafts in recent memory for the Montreal Canadiens. Some quality selections with the Canadiens’ first three picks, all within the first 33 picks of the 2022 NHL Draft, could go a long way in giving the franchise the boost in talent it so desperately needs. With the NHL Draft Lottery just a few days away, the Canadiens’ draft strategy will become even clearer for Hughes. That clarity will allow him and his team to get started on building out a draft board and identifying key targets at each of the 14 picks the Canadiens currently have for the 2022 Draft.