The Habs didn’t make any big splashes in terms of trades at the draft but they still wound up making seven picks in total, including five in the top three rounds. Let’s take a closer look at each and give an early grade to the draft class of 2017.
25th Overall – C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCAA)
I have to admit, I’m a bit surprised with some of the negativity surrounding this pick. Any player drafted at this point is going to have their flaws and while Poehling is no exception, he’s still a prospect that could fill an important role with the Habs down the road.
The offensive numbers weren’t too pretty but context is important here. He was the youngest player at the college level and wasn’t exactly in a top scoring role as a result. Underage players typically don’t light up the scoresheet their first season. What’s encouraging is his production against players his own age, such as the World U-18’s or his high school days.
That isn’t to say that I think Poehling will be a major point producer in the NHL – I’m not sure he will. I do, however, think that he can produce enough to be a second line centre and when you add in the defensive upside, he can be a pretty valuable piece down the middle for a team in dire need of help at centre. This isn’t a home run pick and there were players available with more raw offensive upside but he should be a pretty good NHL player when all is said and done.
56th Overall – D Josh Brook, Moose Jaw (WHL)
Last draft, it looked as if Montreal was placing greater emphasis on mobility on the back end and this continues that trend. Brook’s offensive jump this season is intriguing although it’s not likely to carry over at the higher levels.
Fortunately, it doesn’t appear as if they were necessarily picking him for the offence as Brook is rated as a good defensive player as well. Although he doesn’t exactly excel at one particular element of his game, there are no real glaring weaknesses either and players like they can become quality parts of an NHL back end for a long time.
58th Overall – Joni Ikonen, C, Frolunda Jr. (Swe. Jr.)
After what could be classified as a couple of safer picks, Ikonen is a bit more of a risk although the upside is certainly there as well. He has plenty of offensive skill and Montreal can certainly use an influx of that in their system.
Unfortunately, he’s a bit undersized and that calls into question whether or not he can play down the middle in the pros. While his defensive game is okay, it’s not going to be his calling card as he reaches the higher levels which makes him a bit more of a boom-or-bust prospect than someone like Artturi Lehkonen who is a bit more of a two-way player. Given their need for offensive upside though, this is a very good pick for Montreal.
68th Overall – D Scott Walford, Victoria (WHL)
In years past, Trevor Timmins and his scouts have had a tendency to overthink things when it comes to the 3rd round, often taking players that were rated a lot lower by scouting services and Walford somewhat fits in that class, though not to the extent as players like Connor Crisp or Lukas Vejdemo were in their drafts.
Montreal is banking on Walford being able to carry on his late season efforts in a top role before getting injured (which likely didn’t help his rankings). He doesn’t profile as much of an impact player but is someone who can be a serviceable defensive blueliner while playing the left side, something that the team sorely needs more of. This feels a bit more like a need-based pick and I wonder if they would have gone a different direction at this spot if they had more defensive depth already in the system. It’s far from a bad pick but the overall upside is lower here.
87th Overall – D Cale Fleury, Kootenay (WHL)
There are times when being the best defenceman on a bad team can work to the benefit of a player and times where it’s not. In Fleury’s case, the latter applies. He had a good season offensively but as the focal point of a subpar back end, he didn’t look too good on quite a few occasions either which undoubtedly makes him more of a challenge to project.
One thing that intrigues me is that he’s eligible to turn pro after just one more season in junior which would help to stagger out all of these defenders from going to the AHL at the same time. At the very least, he’s another good skater and puck mover, elements that are needed in the current NHL. Fleury is a bit of a project but with up to four AHL seasons to work him before waivers come into play, this is a decent pickup at this stage.
149th Overall – D Jarret Tyszka, Seattle (WHL)
In terms of value and independent of everything else, this is a solid value pick, basically the polar opposite of Montreal’s recent fifth round gambles on draft and stash college-bound players. Tyszka also fills one of the bigger organizational holes as a left shot blueliner.
However, the pick also feels somewhat redundant, especially after adding three blueliners already. He profiles as a potential third pairing player (and if he ever panned out, that would be great). Considering at this point that it was clear the team was going more needs-based than usual, I can’t help but think that another forward may have been more beneficial here given their depth concerns at centre and the right wing. But, given the value here, it’s hard to really be too critical.
199th Overall – G Cayden Primeau, Lincoln (USHL)
I really like this pick. While there is a lot of goalie depth at the moment, that turns over rather quickly and it won’t be long before there’s a lack of it in the minor leagues. There’s a lot of projecting required here as well, given how much Primeau has to fill out his frame. That’s part of the reason why I’m not overly concerned with his pedestrian USHL numbers.
The league is trending towards bigger goalies and given Primeau’s lineage, there’s a good chance he could still grow a bit more as well. This is definitely a draft and stash project, especially given that playing time at Northeastern is going to be hard to come by but at this stage of the draft and with the acquisition cost only being a 2018 7th rounder, he’s a very worthwhile selection.
Final Thoughts: While my final grade for this draft class is the same as the one for 2016, it shapes up a whole lot differently. Last year, the top few picks were really good in terms of who was picked and value and that was enough to overshadow some so-so selections at the back half. That isn’t really the case here. I don’t think many of these picks are big steals but there just aren’t really any bad or even questionable choices in the bunch either. That’s why all the individual grades are really close together.
Timmins and his scouts have assembled a pretty steady (and safe) group of prospects in this draft class. They’ve gone a long way towards shoring up their depth on the back end which is something that needed to be addressed while Poehling should be able to fill a big need at centre down the road even though it won’t be in a number one role. For those that were hoping for some home run swings on players with raw skill, this isn’t the draft for you. For those who wanted to see some quality depth with a bit of upside added to the organization though, the Canadiens have certainly accomplished that.
Overall Grade: B+