The Montreal Canadiens have done a good job over the years of stocking their prospect cupboards with a wide variety of prospects, but there are still some needs that must be addressed moving forward.
After picking 11 players in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens did a good job of bolstering their winger depth, while adding a few other players at key positions. Juraj Slafkovsky, Filip Mesar, Cedrick Guidon and Vinzenz Rohrer, who plays centre but projects as a winger, were a much-needed infusion of talent and tenacity on the wings for the Canadiens. Adding Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, Petteri Nurmi and Miguel Tourigny now give them options on defence moving forward, although all of them are left-shot defencemen. Finally, the Canadiens added Emmett Croteau to a cast of goalies who have potential, but aren’t necessarily blue chip prospects.
The Canadiens are still in a transition phase in trying to build a sustainable contender over the next couple of years, and there are a few areas the team will need to address in order to maintain that success over time. With the Canadiens not likely to compete for a playoff spot this year, they can spend most of the season targeting prospects or draft picks that will help them acquire prospects or young NHLers at positions of need, especially at trade deadline. Last season, the Canadiens were able to fill a major organization need when they traded Artturi Lehkonen to Colorado in exchange for a right-shot defenceman in Justin Barron. It may have been hard to let Lehkonen go, but Barron filled a huge hole on the right side of the defence at the time and more trades of the sort are likely in order over the next year.
So with that said, which positions are of greatest need at the moment? We break it down below:
After Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach, the Montreal Canadiens do not boast much depth in their prospect pools regarding the most pivotal (pun intended) position in hockey. As of this junction, the Canadiens have Riley Kidney (2021), Owen Beck (2022), Oliver Kapanen (2021), Jan Mysak (2020) and Blake Biondi(2020) as centers with legitimate NHL potential in their prospect pool. Of the bunch, Kidney and Beck are arguably the only ones that have a shot at one day being a top-6 centre down the line, but that remains a big maybe for the moment. General manager Kent Hughes has spoken at length about his desire to fix the center depth on the main roster and in the organization, so one could expect this need to be filled in short order.
With Ryan Poehling traded and Jake Evans seemingly having graduated to a bottom-six role with the Montreal Canadiens and only Kidney and Beck as legitimate contenders for future offensive duties down the middle, the Canadiens will likely address this need over the next year either at the 2023 NHL Draft or via trade.
The Canadiens went heavy with the drafting of defencemen, specifically left-shot defencemen, over the last four drafts. The selections of Alexander Romanov (2018), Jordan Harris (2018), Jayden Struble (2019), Mattias Norlinder (2019), Gianni Fairbrother (2019), Kaiden Guhle (2020), and William Trudeau (2021) saw the club really doubled down on a position of need at the pro-level that former general manager Marc Bergevin failed to address at the time. Kent Hughes then added Lane Hutson, Adam Engstrom, Petteri Nurmi as left-shot defencemen, making the position the Canadiens’ biggest organizational strength.
With such a large number of left defensemen being selected over this period of time, the Montreal Canadiens saw the depth of their right-shooting defensemen dwindle at the worst possible time. With veterans Shea Weber and Jeff Petry both in the final years of their careers, it was only in the 2021 NHL Draft that the Montreal Canadiens truly began to address the blatant need for right-shooting defensive prospects. The drafting of Logan Mailloux, despite all the noise surrounding him, as well as defensemen Dimitri Kostenko and Daniil Sobolev, shows the dire need to replenish their ranks on the right side of their defence was.
With the Mailloux situation still up in the air, the Montreal Canadiens still lacked a right-shooting defenseman in their prospect pool with legitimate top-4 potential until this most recent NHL Trade Deadline, when new general manager Kent Hughes acquired 20-year-old Justin Barron. Despite the acquisition of Barron, the Canadiens are still thin on the right side, especially after trading Jeff Petry this week. The prospect pool could most certainly use a boost in their ranks in regards to sight-shot D, be it via trade or at the 2023 NHL Draft, as Barron is already at the pro-level, and he’s going to need some support down the line if the Canadiens are going to want to be competitive.
Blue Chip Goaltender
This isn’t a slight on Cayden Primeau, who just had an exceptional playoff run in Laval, but the Canadiens do lack a bonafide blue chip goaltending prospect at the moment. They have done a good job of adding goalies to the prospect pool in every draff like Frederik Dichow (2019), Jakub Dobes (2020), Joe Vrbetic (2021) and Emmit Croteau (2022), but ultimately lack that can’t-miss prospect at that position that would be the heir apparent for the No.1 goaltender position. That is not to say that any of the goaltenders listed above couldn’t eventually develop into an NHL starter, but they’re far from sure things at this moment.
Unfortunately for the Canadiens, the 2022 NHL Draft was not a good one for goaltenders and thus couldn’t target one with the four picks they had in the first two rounds. One should expect the Canadiens to want to address this in the very near future, as the uncertainty around Carey Price’s health and the future in goal will likely prompt Hughes to address the future of the position in a big way moving forward.