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MONTREAL — All eyes will be on Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes on July 7. The GM will walk to the draft podium for the first time and will get to make the first-overall selection.
The Canadiens won the 2022 NHL draft lottery on Tuesday night and have the first pick for the upcoming draft which will be held on July 7-8 at Montreal’s Bell Centre. For Hughes, winning the lottery and making the first-overall pick at home is “exciting for us as an organization.”
“I remember the last time the draft was in Montreal [in 2009] and it was a packed house. That isn't the case in every draft location,” Hughes said. “So, especially with us owning the first pick, I can only imagine the build up of anticipation, excitement and interest in the Montreal Canadiens.”
“You hope as an organization that you don't pick No. 1 overall too often but when you're in that situation, it's pretty special.”
The Canadiens had the best odds to win the lottery at 18.5 per cent after posting an NHL-worst 22-49-11 record this season.
The consensus top player ahead of the draft is centreman Shane Wright from the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs. Wright recorded 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games in the 2021-22 season.
The Burlington, Ont., native was preparing for Game 3 of the Frontenacs’ OHL playoff series against the North Bay Battalion while finding out the results of the lottery.
Hughes didn't want to say which player he wanted to select right away but added that the 2022 cohort will be “a talented draft.”
“We think we have the opportunity to draft a player that's going to have an important role in the future of the Montreal Canadiens,” Hughes said. “When? How? That's to be determined, like every other year in the draft, but we're excited. We're excited about the potential in this draft.”
Among the other top prospects are centremen Logan Cooley of the United States Development Program and Matthew Savoie of the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice as well as left-winger Juraj Slafkovsky -- a bronze medallist with Slovakia at the 2022 Olympics -- of Finnish club TPS.
Hughes added that the pathway to the Canadiens will be different depending on who they select in July and that winning right away will not be a factor.
“The decisions that we take in terms of where our players play will really be based on what we think is best for their development,” Hughes said. “We're just going to do what we think is right for the players and ensure that they move forward.”
For a second straight year, the team with the highest odds won the lottery. The Buffalo Sabres selected defenceman Owen Power with the top pick in 2021.
The Habs have not had a first-overall selection since drafting Doug Wickenheiser at the 1980 draft, which was held at the Montreal Forum.
Four other players were selected first overall by the Canadiens in club history: Guy Lafleur in 1971, Rejean Houle in 1969, Michel Plasse in 1968 and Garry Monahan at the very first draft in 1963. Every first-overall pick in Canadiens history was drafted in Montreal.
The Blackhawks sent the sixth pick to the Blue Jackets as part of the trade that sent defenceman Seth Jones to Chicago.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2022.
Tristan D'Amours, The Canadian Press