Yakupov? Grigorenko? Forsberg? Murray? These are the names that have been on the minds of Montreal Canadiens’ fans for the better part of this past season. Which of these players will make everything worth it? Who will make everybody forget the dismal season that they suffered through this year? It is hard to say. It could be that all of them will have some sort of a major impact in the league. It could also be that only a couple or maybe none of them at all will be impact players in this league. But it is the hope of a franchise player evolving from one of these young prospects which keeps fans excited about the NHL draft. They have reason to be excited as well as names like Toews, Kane, Crosby, Tavares, Stamkos and Eberle have all joined their respective organizations by draft. In a salary cap era solid draft picks are the true difference maker when it comes to competitive teams in the NHL. Almost all of the recent Stanley Cup Champions have built there teams around draft choices. The Carolina Hurricanes won the cup with major contributions from Cam Ward and Eric Staal, while the Pittsburgh Penguins won the cup with Jordan Staal, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury and Evgeni Malkin. For the Chicago Blackhawks it was Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews who led the way in their successful quest for hockey’s greatest honour. The importance of the draft is undeniable in this league, but where you pick in the draft also has a major influence.
For the Habs Tuesday will not be about revealing which of Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Murray or another player they will acquire with their draft pick but how many of these players will be left to pick. While something has to be said about teams who find world class players in the later 1st round and beyond the best players in the draft are almost always picked in the top 3. Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares have all been picked in the top 3 and made an instant impact with their team. Kane, Crosby, Ovechkin, Tavares and Stamkos all got picked first overall. In Tuesday’s draft lottery the Canadiens have a chance to receive that first overall pick, a pick which will give them plenty of options. The higher they pick the better chance they have of drafting their first choice prospect. If they don’t get the first overall pick they will likely be drafting their second, third or even fourth choice prospect. This would be disappointing, as you would hope their first choice prospect will turn out to be the best player in the draft.
Although Tuesday will not tell us which of Yakupov, Grigorenko, Mathew Dumba, Murray, Forsberg or other will (hopefully) play for the Habs it will tell us which of these players the organization will most likely acquire. The consensus first overall prospect is Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sarnia Sting but after that it becomes confusing as to who will be picked behind him. In some ways it depends on what each team specifically needs, Edmonton will probably be looking at Murray or Dumba more than anything. However a case has to be made for the mentality that many organizations have going into the draft which is to select the best player they can come by. If they get the first overall pick they will not address a specific need for their team but instead pick up the best player what ever his position may be. One can hope this is the Canadiens philosophy going into this draft, unless of course they feel that the best player in the draft is a goaltender. In that case they should probably take a pass with Carey Price having that position on lock for the longterm.
So while the question of who the Montreal Canadiens will draft won’t be answered during the draft lottery the almost equally important question of in what position the Canadiens will draft will be answered. How likely is it that they will receive the first overall pick? The Edmonton Oilers website features a simulation of the draft lottery from a past year. The Oilers, the last place team in the NHL that year and the favourite to receive that 1st overall pick (as they eventually did) only won the lottery four times in my ten simulation attempts. I would assume from this fact that the Canadiens have about a 20% chance of winning the lottery. Not good by any stretch of the imagination however you can never be certain. All that you can be certain of come Tuesday is that the position the Canadiens receive from the lottery could be the kind of player this team has needed since 1993.