The Montreal Canadiens have drafted 38 prospects over the last four drafts, and unfortunately, they won’t be able to sign them all. With the deadline to sign certain prospects fast approaching, the Canadiens have will have to make some decisions this summer on which prospects they’d like to sign and which they’d like to cut loose.
When an NHL club drafts a prospect, they acquire the exclusive rights to that player for a certain amount of time, which varies according to which region or league they’re coming from. For example, the rights of a player drafted out of Canadian Major Junior (CHL) belong to an NHL club for a maximum of two years. If, after two years, the team decides against signing the player, the player can go back into the draft for another team to sign him. However, in Europe or in the NCAA, once your rights expire after four years, you become a free-agent capable of signing with any team in the league, rather than going back into the draft like CHL players. Below is the limit for each region when it comes to signing prospects.
- Canadian Major Junior: 2 years
- NCAA: After completion of senior year in college, usually 4 years.
- Europe: 4 years
- Russia: Indefinitely
Each NHL club can only have a maximum of 50 players under contract, including their usual 23-man NHL roster. This means they have to be selective with whom they decide to sign and who they let go. It would be easy for a team to sign every prospect they draft, but the contract limitations make it so that they need to be convinced of the youngsters’ NHL potential. The Montreal Canadiens have tough decisions ahead on some of the players listed below:
Canadian Major Junior
The Montreal Canadiens do not have any players in Canadian Major Junior at this time with expiring rights, as Kaiden Guhle, Jan Mysak and Arber Xhekaj are all signed to entry-level contracts. Other prospects like Joshua Roy, William Trudeau, Daniil Sobolev, Joe Vrbetic and Riley Kidney still have another year of junior eligibility, having all been drafted less than a year ago. Although Roy and Kidney are already signed to entry-level contracts, it doesn’t mean the rest won’t be signed within the next year.
Xavier Simoneau, who played as an overager in the QMJHL this year, is a bit of a special case. Being drafted at 20 years old at the 2021 NHL Draft, the Canadiens still hold his rights for another year, despite him not being eligible for Major Junior next year due to his age. Seeing as the Montreal Canadiens hold exclusivity over Simoneau, he can sign an AHL contract and play for the Laval Rocket or Trois-Rivière Lions next season, similarly to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, and earn his entry-level contract the year after.
The Canadiens have two prospects whose rights are set to expire as of August 15, 2022. Jack Gorniak, a former 4th-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2018 NHL Draft, played his four NCAA seasons for the Wisconsin Badgers alongside Cole Caufield. After a respectable freshman season at Wisconsin, he failed to step up his game in that time frame, despite a major turnover of players headed to the NHL. He was always projected as a bottom-six player, but the Canadiens seem to have enough of that in the system at this time. The expectation is that he won’t be signed and will become a free agent on August 16.
Another former 2018 pick, Brett Stapley, is also about to see his rights expire this season. Stapley has had an up-and-down trajectory playing for the University of Denver over the last four years. His freshman and sophomore seasons looked promising, but he ultimately only saw his offensive numbers increase after being surrounded by top offensive talent. Despite putting up good numbers in his final year in the NCAA, the Montreal Canadiens need to be wise with whom they give contracts to this summer, as they should be receiving quite the influx of young talent over the next two years. With Stapley already at 23 years old, his chances of becoming a regular NHL player at the next level remain slim and he could see his rights expire in consequence.
Jacob Olofsson, a former 2nd-round pick in 2018, has significantly disappointed since being drafted 56th overall. The 6’2 center from Sweden was pegged as a possible 1st round pick in his draft year and ultimately fell due to concerns in his offensive abilities and compete level. Olofsson failed to establish himself consistently in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and ran into some injury trouble along the way. He’s played parts of the last two seasons in Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan, the second division below the SHL, where he’s put up slightly better numbers than he did in his draft year.
Unlike NCAA players, European prospects must be signed by June 1 of the 4th year following their draft before their rights expire. This means that the Montreal Canadiens will have to make a decision in the next ten days on whether they would like to give Olofsson an entry-level contract or cut him loose. Unfortunately, due to a lack of progression, in this case, the expectation is that the Canadiens will let Olofsson walk by 5 pm on June 1.