The 2015 NHL Draft has come and gone without the Habs making too much noise as a result of only having five selections. Having had some time to ponder their choices, here are my grades for each of the picks.
1st Round – Noah Juulsen
Anyone who read the depth series could tell that there was a big need to add a quality blueline prospect to the system. They’ve certainly done so here. Those who were hoping for a big home run swing were disappointed as Juulsen isn’t one of those picks; he’s someone that can be defined as a ‘safe’ selection.
Yes, he’s a right shot defender and yes, the Habs have two very good ones on that side locked up through the rest of the decade. But that’s okay. By the time Juulsen is really ready to step in full-time, Petry and Subban will be down to two and three years respectively. In the perfect world scenario, that would allow Juulsen ample time to develop at a slow and steady pace without much pressure.
In terms of who was left on the board, there weren’t too many players that jump out at me as missed opportunities. Daniel Sprong has lots of talent but certainly doesn’t fit the character criterion the Habs place on pretty much all of their acquisitions. Nick Merkley has a lot of skill but is on the smaller side. I might have went with him had it been my choice but given the dearth of quality defence, that wouldn’t have been a given. Trading down didn’t seem to be worth much either as no one was willing to part with a pair of second rounders to move up to the end of the first round.
3rd Round – Lukas Vejdemo
Aside from a few scouts, I think everyone was more or less stunned by this selection. But there’s lots to like about Vejdemo. A big centre with some offensive skill is hard to come by, especially at the back of the third round of the draft where there are no guarantees. Having head scout Trevor Timmins suggest that he compares favourably to Alexander Wennberg, a Columbus first rounder, certainly sounds exciting.
That all said, Timmins also called him his ‘secret pick’. Given where he was in the rankings (not to mention the many that had him unranked entirely) and that it seems the Habs believed no one was as high on him as they were, it’s hard not to think that they could have traded down even a few spots to add another pick. That seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity even though they got their guy.
Grade: C (Had they slid down a few spots and got him later, this would have been a bit higher.)
5th Round – Matthew Bradley
This pick seems to fit a pattern for Montreal fifth rounders – smallish but feisty with two-way skills. Bradley is a bit of a late bloomer with this past year being just his first of major junior (most draft eligible players have two seasons under their belts) so there may be a bit of offensive upside to come. And if not, he could still project as a passable bottom six forward which is still decent value here.
On the downside though, they already have a few of these prospects in the system and there’s only room for so many players to play the same spot or two in the future. And with the benefit of hindsight of knowing their other two safe picks, this may have been a chance to take more of a swing and take a flyer on someone with more upside.
187 – Simon Bourque
For me, this is the best pick of the draft in terms of steal potential. Bourque has some real upside as a two-way defender and is a strong skater, a nice bonus in an era where teams are putting a higher premium on mobility.
Bourque is also a player who is going to find himself in a major minute role next season with both Sam Morin and Jan Kostalek graduating; it’s not crazy to think that he may be their #1 defender. That’s going to force him to really work on some of his in-zone deficiencies and if he can do that while handling a heavy workload, his value could really rise come this time next year.
Unless he really struggles badly in the next couple of years, Bourque should be someone that can at the very least play for a few years in the minors. At the back of the sixth round, that’s not the easiest to find.
207 – Jeremiah Addison
This is another one of those safe selections. Addison is an energy player and plays bigger than his modest (5’11-6’0 frame). His speed is also a nice asset while he plays a two-way game. However, there are questions about how much offensive upside he has; he had just thirteen goals in his first two full OHL seasons. He had a nice run to end the season but was that a fluke or a sign of things to come?
Addison was not the most skilled player left on the board and in a draft where the team didn’t shoot for too many high upside options, this would have been a decent spot to do so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad pick at all and like Bourque, he looks like he could be a decent AHL’er at the very least (as soon as 2016-17 even), but as a matter of personal preference, I would have taken a flyer on someone with more raw talent.
In terms of filling organizational needs, the Habs did relatively well. Juulsen is a legitimate top four blueline prospect while Bourque was a really nice pick up in the sixth round which really helps restock the defence prospect cupboard. Size down the middle is something they desperately covet and Vejdemo is a big centre. The two other forwards both profile as useful bottom six guys if everything pans out as well which is nice.
There’s nothing here to get overly excited about though. These all could be useful players but there’s no one that really stands out as a major upside selection which will be disappointing for some. But with only five picks and just two in the top 130, this draft was probably going to leave something to be desired no matter what route they took.
Grade: B-: For what they had to work with, they could have done a lot worse. If Juulsen makes it and one of the other players plays some sort of role down the road, this could be a solid B draft which would be very good considering what few quality picks they had.