With the Montreal Canadiens going into the 2017 NHL Draft with the 25th overall pick (and two second round picks), their focus should most likely be on the forward position. Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin has gone on record stating that the Canadiens do not have a solution to their scoring issues internally and this maybe a great place to start. However, unlike the 2016 NHL Draft, where Bergevin traded both his high second round picks in exchange for Andrew Shaw, the Canadiens will have to focus on drafting here with picks 25,56 and 58. With the Habs set to pick at 25th overall, it will be the 3rd time in 4 years that the Habs pick this late in the first round. In the past, Montreal has opted for size (McCarron), playmaking skill (Scherbak) and stable defense (Juulsen). However, this year, the Habs should focus primarily on high-end scoring. With three picks in the top 62, it is time to load up on forward prospect depth; a luxury the Canadiens haven’t had since the 2005 lockout with the likes of Higgins, Kostitsyn (Andrei and Sergei), Plekanec and Latendresse. Counting only the likes of Scherbak and the criminally underutilized Charles Hudon as the only offensive forces in their farm team, which is primarily linked to the years of trading away their second round picks (between 2009 and 2016) for futile rentals on non-contending teams.
With Montreal looking for scoring, from both the center line or the back-end, let us see what their options are at pick 2015 in the 2017 Draft.
Conor Timmins (D)
At 6’1” and 181 lbs, Conor Timmins is by no means a hulking, hard-hitting defenseman. That is honestly the only knock on his game that I can truly find, as this young and promising defensemen has the skills and drive to play a prominent role on the backend for years to come. The rise of Timmins has been nothing short of spectacular this season, going from a 13-point OHL rookie season in 2015-2016 to a 61-point sophomore season this year. Although Timmins ranked fifth in team scoring for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, those players were all forwards and, with the exception of draft eligible Morgan Frost, older than him.
So what’s the deal with Timmins then? Why isn’t he being talked about in the middle of the first round like Juuso Valimaki or Cal Foote? This is because Timmins has a late birthday (September 1998) and that makes him one of the oldest 18-year-old draft eligible players on the board. However, having a 61-point season is far from making you a reach in the late first round, just ask the Washington Capitals how they feel about John Carlsson, as they selected him 27th overall in 2008 with similar question marks. Even NHL scouts have warmed up to him as the season progressed, as The Hockey Writers ranked him at the 47th spot in January, while Bob Mackenzie had him at 31. Today, he is slated to go 25th according to Craig Button, who does have an eye for talent, but cannot be taken seriously since his Zach Fucale hype train of 2013.
Although the Canadiens are absolutely set on right defense for the foreseeable future (Weber, Petry, Emelin, Lernout and Juulsen), this would be a solid gamble for a sure-fire top 4 defenseman, similarly to that of Noah Juulsen in 2015. Canadiens’ GM Marc Bergevin has always said that top 4 defensemen are worth more on the trade table than a top 6 forward or goalie, and with such a high quality glut of defenders slated to go through picks 20 to 31, one can think that Marc wants him some value. I see nothing wrong in selecting this young man, as it would finally allow the Canadiens the flexibility on their blue line to truly target a center going forward.
Isaac Ratcliffe (LW)
This behemoth of a young man, standing at 6’5” and 203lbs, is already physically ready for professional hockey. He can be what many scouts will call a “safe pick”, which means he’s a sure bet to make the NHL. Now the Canadiens said the same thing about Michael McCarron, and, although he has sporadically been in the Canadiens’ lineup, he is by no means a difference maker. Many will see the parallels between the two hulking wingers at the same age, as Ratcliffe scored 28 goals and 26 assists for a total of 54 points in 67 games. That was one-point shy of the team lead in scoring for the Guelph Storm this season, as 2018 draft eligible Canadian defense prodigy Ryan Merkley (remember this name) had 55 points in 62 games as a rookie defenseman.
Many will point to Ratcliffe as player with untapped potential in Guelph and that he could produce over a point per game on a team whose third best scorer had more than forty points. Scouts have caught onto this as well, ranking him in the late 20s of the 2017 NHL Draft. This crash and bang player closely resembles the Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroons of the current NHL, but will teams desperate for secondary scoring gamble on such a player in the first round? I know that I would.This kid is an interesting pick to make if you’re Marc Bergevin. Many could question the pick, as it does not meet the team’s most glaring positional need: center. However, it does meet their need for size and scoring on the wings. The Canadiens do not count much depth on their left-wing going forward, as Arturri Lekhonen has already made the big leagues and looks poised to become a regular going forward.
Nicolas Hague (D)
So remember when I said Conor Timmins was impressive? Well here’s another right-handed D-man who seems like the second coming of the Winnipeg Jets’ Tyler Myers. A hulking 6’5” and 216 lbs defenseman, Nicolas Hague is an absolute beast on the back-end for the Mississauga Steelheads. I’m talking Weber like beast on the blue line, and that is no small praise. Producing a very respectable 18 goals and 28 assists for a 46 point total this season, Hague doubled his production from last year and also emerged with a +22 this year. Hague was part of a Steelheads team that included the likes of Michael Mcleod, New Jersey’s 12th Overall pick from last year, and Owen Tippett, a surefire top-10 pick in this year’s draft, which are leaving many scouts wondering whether he can drive the play himself.
Throughout the season Hague has been ranked anywhere from 18th to 26th by The Draft Analyst, NHL Central Scouring Services and the ISS. This is primarily due to his ability to control the game with his skating and high passing completion percentage. Many scouts in the OHL are actually crediting Hague for the increased assist total of the aforementioned prolific scorers on the team. Also, let’s not discount the fact that he scored 18 goals this year, which is one more than Mikhail Sergachev had last year when the Habs took him 9th overall. Who doesn’t want another Weber type bruiser with a quick first step, cannon-shot and insane size. Hague will return to Mississauga, where the Steelheads will most probably challenge for a league title, whilst also favored to be called upon to represent Canada at the World Junior Championships this December. Certainly a value pick at the 25th pick, and would certainly entertain trading up for such a stud.
Maxime Comtois (LW/C)
Here’s to the 2017 NHL Draft’s biggest slipper. The Longueuil, Quebec native was pegged as a surefire top 10 pick by scouts last year after a 60-point rookie season for the Victoriaville Tigers. However, earlier in the year, the young forward seemed to regress from his rookie totals, ultimately finishing out the year with 51 points in 64 games. Although he is still pegged as a first round pick, this is the type of gamble that many teams will want to shy away from. It’s what most of us call the “Angelo Esposito Effect”, where a junior player will have an impressive playing next to better players, and ultimately amount to nothing. While Esposito had the enormous luxury of playing with Alexander Radulov during his junior stint with the Quebec Remparts, Comtois had the benefit of playing with over-agers Alexandre Goulet and Samuel Blais, which heavily increased his point total last year.
I see Comtois in the same ilk as former Victoriaville Tiger and current Montreal Canadiens center Philip Danault. Both were ranked in the later first round, with Danault presenting more of an offensive pedigree come draft day. Although Comtois is a local kid, I would not touch him unless he fell way into the 2nd round (where I would most likely suggest trading up from one of our two second round picks). Can the Canadiens really afford that kind of a risk in this case? Luckily for them, there are better options at forward in the late 20s, but it would certainly be a worthwhile venture if the Canadiens traded down to the 28-32 range to draft him, whilst also acquiring another second round pick. Alas, the possibilities are endless.
Robert Thomas (C)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Rob Thomas is entering the 2017 NHL Draft and he won’t be lonely in the arena for too long. The 6 foot 187 lbs center is a jack of all trades it seems, as he was at a point per game player for the London Knights this season (66 points/66 games) and in the playoffs (12 points/14 games). I wouldn’t even be surprised if this is who the Habs are targeting as one of their coveted center prospects, as they will have had ample time to see him while checking up on former 2016 4th round pick Victor Mete on London’s blue line. Finishing third in team scoring for London, Robert was their best center from right out of the gate and was also called upon to shut down the best offensive threats in the OHL, namely the Windsor Spitfires in the first round of the playoffs. Mikhail Sergachev’s life was made very difficult by this hard-working and skilled center, as he followed and wore down Sergachev by game four, five, six and seven, leading him to commit a multitude of turnovers.
He is estimated to go anywhere between 18 and 33 (between ISS, Future Considerations and NHL Central Scouting), and many see him as a value pick at that slot in the same ilk as former first round picks Tyson Jost (Colorado, 2016) or Bo Horvat (Vancouver, 2013). His speed, vision and shot would allow him to easily fit into the top 6 for the Canadiens, and we all know how happy that would make the fanbase. I would be more than comfortable with this pick, and would allow it to progress slowly within the Hunter Brothers’ hockey player factory in London. He wouldn’t be a player with an immediate impact, but would be a mainstay for a long time to come.
Jason Robertson (LW)
Jason Robertson is a power forward that came over from the United States to play in the OHL, and boy has it ever paid off. The 6’2” 194lbs winger can simply score, counting 42 goals in 68 games. Outside of the top 10, he has to be the best pure scorer in this draft and would be my number 1 target if there aren’t any noteworthy centers on the board come 25. Initially ranked 37th by Future Considerations, Robertson has great vision, Hockey HQ and a great shot. He is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Montreal Canadiens from a forward perspective.
The only real knock on the young winger is his skating, which seems passable at best. In a league where youth movements and rule changes have made way for lightning quick hockey, Robertson might have to take yearly power skating courses in the summer to avoid fizzing out before making the big leagues. Many have compared his draft story to that of Carolina Hurricane’s prospect Nicolas Roy, who was drafted in the fourth round in 2015 due to his skating. It did not seem to bother him, as he posted 90 and 80 point seasons following his draft year and was a hero for Canada during the 2017 World Junior Championships. A similar impact can be expected by Jason, and any team who picks him will know that his positional game and his reach give him an advantage over most of his competition, limiting his need for blazing speed. If he is on the board when the Canadiens pick, Bergevin will have a tough choice indeed.
Filip Chytil (C/LW)
The Czech pivot should actually be the youngest player picked in this year’s draft, as he is born days from the league’s cut-off (early September, 1999). With players like Connor Timmins, who are almost a full year older than him, it makes Chytil’s performances that much more impressive. Chytil has been floating under the radar for most of the year, with Central Scouting pegging him as the 11th best European skater and Future Considerations ranking him 79th. However, the 6 foot 180lbs pivot is garnering a high level of interest after his performance at the Ivan Hlinka tournament earlier this season and was seen as dominant at the U-18 against the likes of Belarus. He has scouts second guessing his draft stock, as he has now risen out of the mid-second round and into the late first category, and once again the center hazard lights are going off in the mind of Canadiens fans.
He possesses high-end skill in the same vein as Alex Galchenyuk and has the speed and hockey IQ to go with it. One former scout has even gone on record to call Chytil “highly skilled” and “liked him every time he’s watched him.” Many mock draft specialists are beginning to take note of this late riser, as he has broken past the North American draft bias and has firmly planted himself in the conversation of late round center steal. Will Marc Bergevin go for the skill and potential top line center?
So much for a weak draft! This looks to be one of the better late first rounds in a few years, although I must agree that the top 10 of this year’s draft pales in comparison to the last 3-4 years. The Canadiens can either draft defensive quarterbacks Timmins or Hague, bruising wingers Robertson or Ratcliffe, or they can go right off the board and take Comtois or Chytil. More prospects will move around the rankings before June 23rd and we’ll be back a week before the draft with a detailed first round mock draft to get you up to speed. Until then, keep it locked to Scrimmage and Stats!