Canadiens confident they'll add a top talent with No. 5 pick in NHL draft
MONTREAL — It won’t be prized prospect Connor Bedard, but Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes is confident he can add a “really good hockey player” after securing the No. 5 pick in Monday's NHL draft lottery.
“Whether that player becomes a franchise player, I don't know,” Hughes said. “It's really difficult to say that, but it's a talented (draft class) and we're confident that we're getting a very talented player at five.”
Montreal, which missed the playoffs for the second consecutive season with a 31-45-6 record, will have the highest selection of any Canadian team in this year's draft, to be held June 28 and 29 in Nashville, Tenn.
The Vancouver Canucks (11th) and the Calgary Flames (16th) round out the Canadian teams who will select in the top 16, while the Ottawa Senators will send their 12th-overall pick to the Arizona Coyotes. The Chicago Blackhawks won the lottery and can select Bedard first overall.
Bedard, a 17-year-old centre from North Vancouver, B.C., is the most anticipated draft pick since Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid was eligible for selection in 2015.
But the talent available in the draft doesn’t end there. The Canadiens will still have top players to choose from when their pick rolls around four selections later.
Adam Fantilli, a centre from Nobleton, Ont., won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in men’s college hockey this season. Leo Carlsson of Sweden is NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked European skater.
American centre Will Smith recently turned heads by earning Most Valuable Player honours in last month’s under-18 world championship. And Matvei Michkov, at times seen as Russia's best prospect since Alex Ovechkin, has broken several teenage scoring records in the country.
Michkov, who could be in line for Montreal to take at No. 5, has been harder to scout than others amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is under contract with Kontinental Hockey League club SKA St. Petersburg through the 2025-26 season.
Hughes called the five-foot-10, 172-pound winger “a special case,” and says the team has a lot of evaluating to do regarding both his play on the ice and the risks that come with drafting him.
“It's kind of a risk-reward assessment for any team that is considering drafting him,” he said. “It would be a tiebreaker … if you’re considering Michkov and another player you deem very, very comparable in terms of talent and potential, then those factors are probably going to weigh him down.
“If we determine that Michkov is a lot more talented than the other players available at the draft, we’ll have a decision to make.”
Hughes said the Canadiens are looking to draft the best player available instead of drafting for need, identifying hockey sense, character and “compete” as ideal qualities.
“We’re looking for the player we think is the most talented, who can have the biggest impact over the course of his career for the Montreal Canadiens,” Hughes said. “I can’t tell you if it’s a big player or a small player, or whether it’s a defenceman or a forward or a goalie.”
As far as moving the pick goes, Hughes said not to expect it.
“I’d say it’s unlikely,” he said. “But I could never tell you it’s impossible without knowing what we’re choosing from.”
Hughes said he was open to moving their next selection in the draft — a first-round pick acquired from the Florida Panthers in last year’s Ben Chiarot trade.
Montreal won the draft lottery last year after finishing the season with the league’s worst record and selected Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky with the No. 1 pick — the club’s first since 1980.
The 19-year-old Slafkovsky struggled to adjust to the NHL this season. He produced four goals and six assists and was minus-13 in 39 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 15.
The last time the Canadiens selected fifth overall was in 2005, when the organization picked franchise goaltender Carey Price.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 8, 2023.
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press