With the NHL combine now behind us, here is the legitimate short list of candidates for the Montreal Canadiens at 5th overall.
With the Canadiens’ first pick of the 2023 NHL Draft set to be a contentious one, the fun begins for the organization as they set their draft board and speculate on who they could be selecting.
The NHL combine revealed a great many things about the personal and physical ability of many prospects in this draft class, especially when it came to conditioning and personality.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes and EVP Jeff Gorton have spoken at length about their excitement toward this year’s draft class and here are just a few names that they’ll be looking at with the 5th overall pick.
Here are their options in terms of need.
The Dream Scenario
Notwithstanding the relationship between Hughes and Will Smith, the U-18s MVP is a perfect fit for the Canadiens; as he brings incredible skill to a growing young core.
He plays a game predicated on high-tempo offence and can take over a game when the puck is on his stick; something the Canadiens have been lacking for some time.
Smith can seamlessly move up the ice and stop on a dime, scanning the ice for the best possible play and executing it before his opponents even know what happened.
He was the sparkplug for the USNDT this season and looked especially strong against NCAA competition as well; which is why he’s shot up the rankings so quickly this season.
Whether he plays centre or left-wing at the NHL level, Smith could very well be the missing top-line player the Canadiens need.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) April 29, 2023
Another Smoke Screen?
The case of Matvei Michkov is an interesting one.
On one end, he is arguably the second most talented player in this entire draft, but on the other end, he has three years left on his contract with SKA St. Petersburgh and things aren’t exactly peachy with Russia right now.
Due to outside factors, he may indeed slide to the Montreal Canadiens’ rank and present the club with a very interesting conundrum, as Michkov would easily be the best player available and a potential superstar down the line.
So far, Hughes has been hesitant to speak of the young Russian in a positive light, but has confirmed that they will be meeting with him over zoom to discuss with him; as well as go over some substantial tape before making a decision.
If the Canadiens feel confident that Michkov would make the jump in 2026 and that they’re willing to wait for him, they should be running up to the podium to select the next great Russian hockey star.
A Matvei Michkov Michigan goal for your timeline. pic.twitter.com/qlUKCiZ0kn
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) February 26, 2023
The Gut Feeling
Ryan Leonard is the perfect blend between old-school and new-school, combining strong physical play with exceptional offensive abilities.
Leonard could be the best possible compromise for the Montreal Canadiens to add both toughness and skill to their lineup; as Leonard plays a very unique game.
Leonard plays a power forward game, but has the stick-handling and shooting ability to make highlight-reel plays on the rush; all while driving his line and ensuring the defensive side of the ice isn’t compromised.
The gritty forward has really improved by leaps and bounds this season and was one of the most prolific goal-scorers in the U-18s this past month; proving that he can keep up with the best players in his age group.
His shooting arsenal screams future 30-goal-scorer and he would bring a lot of energy and jump to a roster looking to impose their will on their opponents.
Players like him help you not only get to the playoffs, but get through the playoffs; and the respect he’s gained this season, despite playing on one of the best U-18s lines in hockey, shows he’s much more than a simply complimentary player.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) April 30, 2023
The Wild Card
David Reinbacher has risen on many draft boards as of late, due to his exceptional performances in the Swiss A league as a U-18 defenceman; so much so that he just may get selected at 4th overall by the San Jose Sharks.
He first caught the attention of the hockey world at the 2023 World Junior Championships, where he stood out in a big way on Austria’s blue line; consistently looking like the most dangerous player on the ice.
For a player of his size, he has top-end carrying ability with the puck on his stick and is able to transition in the blink of an eye; a skill that will become even more apparent on smaller ice.
Reinbacher’s combination of size and mobility make him one of the more unique players in the draft, but also one of the safest bets to become a top-4 defenceman down the line.
What a sequence of events for David Reinbacher here. Stops 2 sure empty netters within 20 seconds.
The second stop he is dead tired yet finds the energy to catch up to the Germans, then dive from behind to stop the sure goal.
Best defender in the 2023 Draft. pic.twitter.com/HtjKsdeqxh
— Steven Graves (@German_Spitfire) December 31, 2022
Zach Benson has been a standout in the WHL since he first laced up his skates as a 15-year-old.
Despite being 5-foot-10, Benson plays with significant grit and doesn’t back down from contact in the corners; playing some of his best hockey when all the chips are on the table.
He has an electric offensive game that could translate quite well to the NHL level, as his hockey IQ and shooting ability are off the charts; making him especially dangerous on the rush and on the power play.
He could easily become one of the best players in this draft class when all is said and done if he’s able to continue getting stronger and faster; because his mind and his ability are already elite.
With the Canadiens having drafted Juraj Slafkovsky and adding Kirby Dach at last year’s draft, picking a smaller player here with top-end talent should be an easy call.
Zach Benson (2023) grabs his 4th goal and 12th point in 9 playoff games as the ICE cruise to a 3-0 series lead.
Winnipeg has eyes on the Memorial Cup. pic.twitter.com/HQF8r7Ebc6
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) May 3, 2023