The dust has barely settled on the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and while it’s really too early to evaluate their newest group of prospects, that’s not going to stop us from trying.
15th Overall – Cole Caufield
It’s fair to say that hardly anyone expected this pick to happen. Not one of our entries in our Draft Pool had Caufield to Montreal as he was off the board by then. The popular pick was a defenceman but with Philip Broberg, Victor Soderstrom, and Cam York all off the board, the BPA at this point was clearly a forward – either Caufield or centres Peyton Krebs and Alex Newhook.
Given the circumstances, I think the Habs made the right choice. They need scoring. Caufield is arguably the best natural scorer in the draft. They’re thin on impact right-hand shots on the wing in the system. Caufield helps there as well; he and Nick Suzuki (if he shifts from centre) give them a pretty good one-two punch.
Yes, there are drawbacks. He’s extremely small and that’s something that the Habs already are. He’s a good skater but not an elite one for his size. He is not the type of player that fits in a bottom-six role so the boom-bust potential is more prevalent here than it would have been with Krebs or Newhook (or a defender that was picked later in the round). However, he’s also the last player from this class that has legitimate top-line upside. Those are hard to come by in the draft and I give full credit to the Habs for overlooking the negatives and instead focusing on his shooting prowess, something this organization really needs.
46th Overall – Jayden Struble
I’m a little conflicted with this pick. There is legitimate upside here with probably a third or fourth d-man ceiling if everything goes well. That would be terrific value here. But there are question marks.
One is the lengthy timeline it’s going to take for Struble to properly develop. It could legitimately be four or five years away. I’m not against long-term picks early on but when you’re choosing to draft by need (as they clearly did in the first few rounds of Day Two), turning around and then drafting a project goes against that.
As part of my draft prep, I came across an article in which several scouts identified Struble as having the highest bust potential. That suggests to me that there were quite a few teams who would have had him quite low on their list which makes me wonder if he’d have been there a few spots later at 50 (which they wound up trading away). I had him as an option for the third-round pick because of that and the longer wait to actually be able to use him.
If he can put everything together and play under control, Montreal will have a very good prospect on their hands. Struble isn’t an entirely off-the-board pick like Alexander Romanov was a year ago. But there is a lot of risk with this selection as well.
64th Overall – Mattias Norlinder
I know he’s a second-year eligible player but this is a pick I particularly liked. He took advantage of a larger role with his junior team and thrived which earned him a promotion to the Allsvenskan. He certainly held his own against tougher opponents and his strengths played up in that league as well.
Skating is a premium nowadays and Norlinder has that in spades. He showed enough offensively to suggest that there is some upside while he’s also viewed as a capable player in his own end as well. The higher upside like Struble has isn’t there but there’s NHL potential here which, for a pick in the third round, is still pretty good. While he’ll miss the upcoming development camp due to injury, it’s not a serious one and he’ll be a part of Sweden’s entry into the summer World Junior tournament.
77th Overall – Gianni Fairbrother
The theme of the day was really set with this selection. One is that the Habs are really emphasizing skating and in a few years from now when some of these prospects graduate, Montreal is really going to be a fast team. The other is that they were clearly going for team needs and not the best overall prospect available. (I’d have picked Pavel Dorofeyev here, someone that we had as a first-round pick based on his offensive upside.)
Fairbrother has some offensive upside and is someone that’s poised to have a big year next season and clearly, there was some projection from Montreal’s scouts that factored into him going here. (This is oddly reminiscent of Scott Walford though the two are very different players.) This is a safer pick after a couple of bigger swings but it also started to feel like a bit of overkill at this point on the defencemen.
126th Overall – Jacob LeGuerrier
This one was truly overkill. LeGuerrier profiles as a low-ceiling, stay-at-home defender and is also a strong skater. But what is the upside here? A sixth or seventh defenceman? That’s not what teams should be using a fourth-round pick on, especially after drafting three other left-shot blueliners with their most recent picks. They let a pair of prospects with more upside go earlier this month in Scott Walford and Jarret Tyszka. As a seventh-rounder, this pick would have been somewhat defensible. Here, it simply isn’t.
131st Overall – Rhett Pitlick
Hey, an actual forward. Pitlick, like Caufield, is very undersized but there are some intriguing tools. He’s another speedster and his offensive skillset is impressive although it hasn’t been tested much at the high school level. He’s another long-term project but at this stage of the draft, he’s worth a flyer. For those of you that believe in hockey lineage, his father played in the NHL, his cousin plays in the NHL (Dallas), and his brother is in Nashville’s system.
138th Overall – Frederik Nissen Dichow
There’s not a whole lot to go off of here. He hasn’t really been tested at a high level yet with all due respect to the Danish junior league. His showing at the World Under-18 Division A group (where he was named as the top goalie) is likely what got him on Montreal’s radar and at 6’5, his size is certainly intriguing as well. They needed to get a goalie at some point and while I thought they’d look for someone a little closer to being pro-ready, this is a reasonable gamble.
170th Overall – Arsen Khisamutdinov
Considering he’s already 21 and had been passed up several times in past drafts, I actually kind of like this pick. Khisamutdinov has shown he can score at the lower levels in Russia and didn’t look out of place in his first KHL stint. Skating is a bit of a weakness but at 6’3, 205, he has a near NHL-ready frame. He has one year left on his deal in Russia and Trevor Timmins indicated after the draft that they want to bring him over after that. There’s more intrigue than usual here for a sixth-rounder.
201st Overall – Raphael Harvey-Pinard
To me, this felt like a creative way to get what projects to be one of the better QMJHL free agents off the market early. Harvey-Pinard had a great year with Rouyn-Noranda and a similar performance next season with Chicoutimi would have him fielding a lot of NHL interest. This pick gives Montreal exclusive negotiating rights for one year (not two like most CHL picks). An interesting approach and one I can get behind.
206th Overall – Kieran Ruscheinski
The good news is that Ruscheinski was league MVP last season. The bad news is that he was still in midget hockey. Not the AJHL or the WHL, midget hockey. This is another Arvid Henrikson-type pick in terms of his rawness and comparably long-term timeline.
I’m not entirely against picks like this in the seventh round. Generally speaking, I’ll take the player with the longer team control over a CHL player in this instance. But what is the goal here? If they think he can be a future top-four defender, then sure, this makes sense. However, with the limited information there is available about him, this feels like one of those picks where if everything goes swimmingly, he could maybe be a third-pairing player. That’s a long time to wait for that type of upside. He’s an intriguing pick but filing him away for next year and seeing how he fares in the BCHL before drafting him may have been the more prudent move.
The Habs weren’t quite as active on the trade front with picks as they were last year…they ‘only’ made four this time compared to five last year.
Generally speaking, I’m not opposed to trading down or out if they feel the value isn’t there. So moving 108 and 136 for fourth and fifth rounders next year is okay. (Interestingly enough, pick 136 came from when they dealt a 2018 fifth-rounder last year.) Besides, with the draft being in Montreal, a little extra ammunition isn’t a bad thing. The annual trade of sevenths with Philly is fine even though that took away a pick from next year’s pool.
But I don’t think they got great value by moving down from 50 to 64 and 126. I know that Timmins said they may have considered Norlinder there in which case 126 is merely a bonus pick but Jacob LeGuerrier can’t be considered a bonus when he was arguably their worst pick of this class in terms of value. I’d be intrigued to know if they tried to move up for Raphael Lavoie as he was slipping but it’s pretty clear that their mandate was BDA, not BPA so probably not.
The Habs checked off some boxes here. Right wing isn’t a strong spot organizationally in terms of depth and Caufield gives them an impact piece with the type of scoring upside that they simply didn’t have among their prospect pool. They didn’t add another winger behind him but quality is better than quantity.
Struble and Norlinder have some upside which is something that can’t be said for a lot of their left-shot defensive prospects at the moment. They added three more just because they could, I suppose. I think they went with the approach of draft enough of them and some are bound to pan out. There have been crazier approaches than that.
I’d have liked to have seen a right-shot blueliner added. Yes, the Habs are well-set in the short-term and a prospect trio of Josh Brook, Noah Juulsen, and Cale Fleury is nice to have. But a couple of years from now, they’ll be established (or elsewhere) and there isn’t much of a pipeline behind them. In fact, there isn’t anything in the pipeline behind them. That’s going to be a near-term weakness that they could have helped address here, especially since they were going with a needs-based approach.
I really like the Caufield pick and the next two defenders give them some real upside to try and land that second player that can help define whether or not a draft class is successful. I like some of the picks in the later rounds with Pitlick and the two international players whose names are going to take some time to remember (Nissen Dichow and Khisamutdinov).
However, I think this class, as a whole, slots in behind the 2018 group. There is going to be a higher bust rate from this set of prospects simply based on the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of picks that could be classified as safe. The late-round gambles, as much as I like some of them, probably won’t amount to a whole lot but comparatively speaking, most safer picks from other teams won’t either. With baseball back at the forefront with the recent reports of Tampa Bay looking into sharing the team with Montreal, the Habs made a lot of uppercut swings and some will be meek pop-ups in the end.
That said, I don’t think this is a particularly bad group either. Caufield could be a home run pick and in the middle of the first round, that could be a huge win in itself. I think one of Struble or Norlinder will make it. Caufield and one of those two defenders help fill arguably the biggest needs in the organization at the moment. That’s still a win in my book, even if the grade checks in lower than last year.
Draft Class Grade: B-