High Risk, High Reward? A Montreal Canadiens First Round Preview

With the 2018 NHL draft on our doorstep, the Canadiens have some decisions to make. The Canadiens have the 3rd overall pick, the highest position the Canadiens have since they selected Alex Galchenyuk 3rd overall in 2012. No matter who the Canadiens select, they will leave Dallas with a excellent prospect. What remains to be seen is who the Canadiens will pick.


© Photo: Dan Hickling

If you listen to the official draft rankings, logic would dictate the Canadiens selecting Filip Zadina, a left winger from the Halifax Mooseheads. In his rookie season in Halifax, Zadina scored 44 goals in only 57 games, and proved he was able to succeed in the North American game. Zadina would likely fit into the Canadiens top six instantly, and impact the Canadiens immediately.






On the other side of the equation, if you have been paying attention to the rumour mill, a name has been steadily rising in the rankings over the season. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, a 17-year old center who has been making a name for himself through his impressive play in both the Finnish elite league, and in international competition for his native Finland. Kotkaniemi, who enters the draft as the sixth ranked European skater, has turned heads all season, and is reportedly gathering increased interest from the Canadiens. Unlike Zadina, Kotkaniemi fills an organizational need for the Canadiens, the potential to be the Habs long-coveted number one center.

This is where the controversy arises, should the Canadiens take a risk, and lose a player like Zadina, to possibly gain their number one center of the future?


In the past, there have been cases where teams have reached in order to fill positional needs. When the Winnipeg Jets held the 7th overall pick in 2011, they reached and took the 16th ranked prospect in the draft. That player? A center by the name of Mark Scheifele.

However, there have been instances where teams have taken the best available player. In 2005, the Canadiens held the 5th overall pick, and the time, if the Canadiens followed the rankings of the draft, they would have selected Gilbert Brule, a promising young center from the Vancouver Giants. Instead, despite having two very capable goalies in Jose Theodore and Mathieu Garon, the Canadiens decided to

Photo by Jana Chytilova / The Ottawa Citizen, CanWest News Service

select a 17 year-old goalie named Carey Price. This shocked many at the time, including laughter from the Blue Jackets staff (who would take Brule), and spawning one of Pierre Mcguire’s most famous miss-evaluations.





Of course, there are famous examples of busts that were supposed to be guaranteed stars, Nail Yakupov, Alexandre Daigle, and Nikita Filatov that are names that come to mind. The draft is not a guarantee, as many of today’s NHL stars are late round draft picks, including the Canadiens own Brendan Gallagher.

Naturally, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s clear that these moves worked out for both the Jets and Canadiens, but what this proves is that the draft can be very unpredictable. No prospect in the draft is ever a sure thing.


Getting back to the current situation, when you are looking at this year’s draft, it comes down to whether or not the Canadiens want to enter a high risk, high reward situation. Zadina, in my opinion is by far the safer pick, as right now he is the better player, and will be able to help the Canadiens now. Kotkaniemi on the other hand, projects to be a number one center, but he needs more development, and would not make an impact on the Canadiens for a few years. If the past is any indication, the Canadiens have had

New Laval Rocket Head Coach Joel Bouchard
The Canadian Press / Ryan Remiorz

issues developing their prospects, despite Joel Bouchard taking over as coach in Laval, I don’t trust the Canadiens to properly develop a player like Kotkaniemi. Even with his potential, he will be a project.


When a team is undergoing major changes, and have a top 3 pick, you need to draft the best player available. Although the Canadiens may miss out on their center, it gives Marc Bergevin a chance to improve on his asset management. Drafting Zadina will make other wingers expendable, and allow him to acquire a center via a trade or free agency.


If this is the beginning of a new era in Canadiens hockey, the right decisions must be made. Who knows, maybe the Canadiens next mega star will be selected in the lone star state.


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