When the Montreal Canadiens was among the final three at the 2018 NHL Draft Lottery, many were dreaming of Rasmus Dahlin. Although Rasmus Dahlin would have been a game-changer for the Canadiens, the Habs are in a good place. This is deep draft with high-level scoring forwards and puck-moving defensemen. Unfortunately for the Montreal Canadiens, their most glaring organizational needs, at center or left-defense, won’t be addressed with this pick. However, they will finally be able to add some scoring punch to a putrid offensive corps.
Right now, the top three candidates for the third overall position are the Barrie Colts forward Andrei Svechnikov, the Halifax Moosehead’s sniper Filip Zadina and the USNDT’s standout scorer Oliver Wahlstrom. All three players look to have exceptional scoring abilities, but each player has their own unique style. Brady Tkachuk of Boston University was also considered for the top-5 of this draft. However, since January, many scouts are sliding him down their rankings due to his lack of progress over the last year. Tkachuk would have been eligible for the 2017 NHL Draft had he been born a few days earlier, which makes him the oldest player in the draft. This is something to keep in mind when analyzing the performance of a draft eligible player. As we have seen in the past, an extra year of development can make a world of a difference.
Let’s look at each player in detail to get familiar with the potential picks for Montreal when they speak on June 22nd:
RW Andrei Svechnikov – Barrie Colts
Among the top potential forwards in this draft, Svechnikov is the most dynamic of the three. His great stride and puck-possession skills make him a threat every single time he’s on the ice. He has the shot, size and speed to score a goal in clutch situations. Andrei was able to score a goal-per-game as a draft-eligible 17 year-old, notching 40 goals in 44 games. Standing at 6’2 190lbs, he is a beast along the boards and extremely hard to knock off the puck. He absolutely destroys the “lazy Russian” monicker and is very involved in all aspects of the game.
Although Svechnikov is universally ranked 2nd overall on scouting lists, you never know what can happen on Draft Day. There is a slight chance the Carolina Hurricanes, who own the 2nd overall pick, opt for Zadina instead. The fact that the Hurricanes have not drafted a Russian player in 12 years hints that Svechnikov might slide to three. If that were ever to happen, the Canadiens would run up the podium and select the young Russian right away. Svechnikov looks like he could have an immediate impact for the Canadiens this fall and would be essential to fixing Montreal’s scoring woes. Who wouldn’t want the winger equivalent of Evgeni Malkin on their right-wing?
RW Filip Zadina – Halifax Mooseheads
Bob MacKenzie has gone on record to call Zadina a scoring prodigy, which would be a huge boost for any franchise. Although Svechnikov does seem like the more dynamic scoring winger, Zadina seems to be the true sniper between the two. Putting up 44 goals in 57 games, Zadina scored from virtually everywhere for Halifax. Zadina’s high hockey IQ and excellent positioning set him apart from all the forwards eligible for this summer’s draft. He always seems to make room and find himself in the slot in order to unleash his wicked one-timer or precise wrist-shot.
The 6’0 200 lbs winger put up identical numbers as former Moosehead Jakub Voracek at the same age for Halifax. Many have compared Zadina to Voracek, but Zadina is more defensively responsible than Voracek was. Zadina was a one-man show in Halifax due to how young the Moosehead’s roster was this year. This makes Zadina’s offensive output even more impressive and would make him a solid choice for the Canadiens at 3rd overall.
C/LW Oliver Wahlstrom – United States National Development Team (USHL)
Oliver Wahlstrom is the best draft eligible scorer to come out of the USNDT program since Jack Eichel. Let that sink in for a bit. His 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games for the USNDT put him in elite company in regard to USHL scoring. Furthermore, his exceptional performance at the U-18s solidified his position as an elite goal-scorer on the international stage. He has outproduced last year’s 8th overall pick, Casey Mittelstadt in the USHL during their respective draft years. His 7 goals and 9 points in 7 games for the US U18 team this April has vaulted him up the rankings. Many scouts believe that young Wahlstrom could surpass Zadina and Svechnikov within the next five years.
Wahlstrom projects to be a goal-scoring top-6 winger and his 6’1 205lbs frame is already pro-ready. He would certainly be an extremely attractive consolation prize for a team that missed out on Dahlin. Many have compared his style to that of Brock Boeser, as his wrist shot is hard and precise. Montreal would love to add such a versatile player to their top-6, but I do not see them picking Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom projects as a full-time left-winger in the pros, even though he can play center. Unfortunately for Oliver, left-wing is a strength for Montreal (even if they trade Max Pacioretty during the draft this summer).
It’s clear that whoever the Montreal Canadiens draft at 3rd overall will be a game-changer for the franchise. With Bob MacKenzie calling this a very deep draft, it seems like the right time for Montreal to swing for the fences and pick that top-end offensive talent they are so sorely lacking. Although many Hab fans want their team to draft a top prospect, theCanadiens could always decide to trade the pick. In addition, they could also trade down in the top-10 if they feel confident that their player is still there. In the end, the thought of adding another potential 30-35 goal scorer will be too sweet to pass up.