NHL Draft: Canadiens' biggest needs, top prospects

Shane Wright is projected to be drafted first overall by the Montreal Canadiens at the 2022 NHL draft. (Photo by Ken Andersen/Getty Images)
Shane Wright is projected to be drafted first overall by the Montreal Canadiens at the 2022 NHL draft. (Photo by Ken Andersen/Getty Images)

What started out as a disastrous year actually rebounded to appear hopeful for the Montreal Canadiens.

Not only did Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki look like a pair of superstars up front, but Montreal’s prospect pool got significantly deeper through trades and the acquisition of draft picks. Couple that with landing the first overall pick, and knowing they’re expected to gain Shane Wright, a player who will center one of their top two lines for the foreseeable future, and it looks like better days are ahead for the fabled franchise.

Montreal’s blueline of the future will be formidable. New acquisition Justin Barron made the jump to Montreal, as did NCAA signing Jordan Harris. With Alexander Romanov and Kyle Clague already in the NHL, the Habs have four young defensemen on their roster. When you consider their top prospect is Canada’s world junior captain Kaiden Guhle, the future of Montreal’s blueline looks even better. From Stanley Cup finalists, to last overall, expect an upward swing this season for Montreal.

Top prospects

Kaiden Guhle, D: Reads the ice well and uses his speed to close gaps and strip pucks before they reach danger, Guhle will help Montreal at both ends. Offensively, he is not afraid to jump into the play, but also effectively finds seams while entering as the second wave. Guhle was Montreal’s 16th overall pick in 2020 and will be in the NHL or AHL next season. Where the left-handed defenseman starts and finishes will as much be determined by Guhle’s play as how Montreal fares as a team in the early going.

Justin Barron, D: Acquired as the key piece of the trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche, Montreal struck it rich in its return of blueliner Justin Barron. An outstanding skater and puck mover, Barron was the 25th overall pick of the Avalanche in 2020. Because he’d already completed four seasons in the QMJHL, Colorado brought him to the AHL this year, which is why by season's end he was skating with Montreal. Expect the right-handed defenseman to stick with the Habs next year.

Cayden Primeau, G: To some, Cayden Primeau is Montreal’s goalie of the future; to others, especially when the standard for comparison is Carey Price, Primeau is a question mark. Canadiens fans will have sky-high expectations of their next franchise goalie, and while Primeau benefits from a 6-foot-3 frame and above average athleticism, he often does a little too much in net, hurting his positioning. The 22-year-old's 4.21 GAA and .874 save percentage in 18 NHL appearances does not scream NHL ready, but the team will almost certainly give the fourth year pro first rights to the backup role next season.

One to watch

Joshua Roy definitely looks like a steal after being selected 150th overall by the Canadiens in 2021. The forward followed up the modest draft mark by scoring 51 goals and 119 points in 66 with Sherbrooke to lead the QMJHL in scoring. It was elite production from the late-bloomer, who looks to have used the pandemic to get stronger and faster. Roy now factors into Montreal’s plans for the future.

Ready to step in

Goaltending will remain a question in Montreal with or without Price due to the length and value of his contract. That’s why Montreal will look to infuse a homegrown and low cost goaltender to their roster. Cayden Primeau fits both of those qualifications and has NHL size and tools. He looked a little lost in the NHL this season, but will be given a much longer look next season. Beyond Primeau, Barron will be counted on to make the full time jump, and of course, Wright is a lock to join the Habs… if he is in fact Montreal’s choice.

Needs at the draft

Considering the above, the Canadiens could use goaltending depth in their system. The problem however, is that this draft is historically thin when it comes to netminders. It’s unlikely any goaltender will be chosen in the first two rounds of the draft. When goaltenders do come off the board, few if any will be considered difference-making prospects. Goalies take longer to mature, which the pandemic did not help, so steals could be available. After that, if Montreal uses its first pick on Wright, aiming for scoring wingers to complement its top two centers of the future will become a goal.

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