Every year at the NHL Draft, there seems to be one team that sets the stage.
That team usually has a high pick and plenty of options on the table that could shake everything up. We didn’t really have this team in 2017 as the draft class was a little weaker without a consensus top couple of picks. In 2016, however, we saw this and how one team can impact so many others. It was thought that with Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, that Edmonton at No. 4 held the “keys to the draft.” They had offers to trade down; there wasn’t a consensus fourth overall player. There were rumors they might reach for a defenseman, which had teams below them like Montreal worried they were going to miss out on their guy.
Turns out it was the Blue Jackets all along who held all the cards. Columbus went with Pierre-Luc Dubois, which took Edmonton’s pick off the market. Vancouver was hoping Dubois was going to fall to them, and when he didn’t, that threw off their plan. Montreal was able to stand pat and get the defenseman they wanted at No. 9, and the draft unfolded from there.
This season, we may see something like that again with Montreal in the third position and a consensus top three of Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina. Montreal has plenty of options, which we will go through in order of likeliness.
Stay at three, and draft Zadina
This is the most likely of outcomes. Montreal, despite lots of speculation, keeps their picks and selects the best player available. Zadina tore up the QMJHL this season with 44 goals and 82 points in just 57 games, and is simply an elite shooter and goal scorer. He showed that at the World Juniors where he had seven goals in seven games for the Czech Republic. Montreal is said to be looking for a center or a defenseman, but third overall isn’t the time to get fancy – pick the best player and the rest will sort itself out.
Stay, and pick center Jesperi Kotkaniemi
Everything I just said about Montreal and Zadina could be applied to the Blue Jackets and Puljujarvi. The Blue Jackets needed a center and went out and picked one, despite what everyone else was saying. Perhaps Montreal does the same? Kotkaniemi is the top center available and a very realistic possibility for the Canadiens if they decide they need a center. Kotkaniemi is a big, skilled guy with a high hockey IQ; he had 29 points in 57 games in the Liiga (Finland's top pro league) this season. His season wasn’t quite to the level of Aleksander Barkov or Patrik Laine, but comparable to what Puljujarvi did at the same age.
Stay, and draft a defenseman
Anyone of the non-Rasmus Dahlin upper tier defensemen could be in play here. Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist and Noah Dobson are all talented players and it’s quite possible none of them make it out of the top 10. Montreal likes big defensemen, so that might take the 5-foot-10 Hughes and 5-foot-11 Boqvsit off the table. Dobson and Bouchard have the size at 6-foot-2 and the skill, and both were leaders on their respective teams, with Dobson wearing an A and Bouchard the C. If Montreal is looking for a no-nonsense defender, Bouchard might be the guy. He’s from the vaunted London Knights program, one that churns out NHL players year after year.
Trade Max Pacioretty to the Oilers for pick No. 10
We know the Oilers are looking for wingers and it's been rumored that they are willing to move their pick. This trade works for both teams, as the Oilers get a skilled winger to play alongside Connor McDavid, and one who is cheap enough that they wouldn't need to ship out Milan Lucic to make it fit under the cap. The Canadiens would then be able to take Zadina at No. 3, giving them a winger to replace Pacioretty, and then can get a center or defenseman at No. 10.
Trade down with Vancouver, or the Islanders
Per Elliotte Friedman, both teams are willing to move their pick. Whether that means moving up or down, we don’t know, but you have to imagine they would both have interest in pick No. 3. Vancouver at No. 7 makes the most sense; that would allow Montreal to collect additional assets while still being in the range to get the player they want. The Islanders with two firsts at Nos. 11 and 12 have the value to move up, but it's hard to believe Montreal wants to drop down outside of the top 10.
Trade down with Columbus
Of course, we had to include one option with the Blue Jackets. The Jackets are no strangers to trying to make big trades at the draft. From almost moving up to pick No. 4 in 2015, to almost being a part of three-team deal and moving down to No. 4 in 2016, to last season where there was speculation the Jackets had the pieces to make a trade with Dallas and move up to pick No. 3...they're always in the mix.
None of these deals came to fruition, but the Jackets seem to be involved when deals like this are discussed.
In this scenario, the Jackets would get pick No. 3 with Montreal sliding down to 18. The Jackets would need to include a roster player or two. With Montreal looking for defensemen, maybe you can sell them on Gabriel Carlsson or Ryan Murray? Or perhaps Boone Jenner if they think he can go back to playing center. Of course, Montreal is going to ask about Dubois, which might end the talks right there.
Stay at three and pick Joe Veleno
This is the least likely option, but oh boy, it would be so fun for everyone who is not a Montreal Canadiens fan. The Montreal media is obsessed with French Canadian players and to have the Canadiens draft the top one available would be heaven. Sure, it would be a massive reach to take someone at No. 3 who is projected to go outside of the top 10, but not only is he French Canadian, he’s from Montreal. A chance to get a homegrown center, how could you pass that up? The first player ever in the QMJHL to be granted exceptional status, imagine him centering a line with fellow Québécois Jonathan Drouin. The Montreal/Quebec market would love it.