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With the playoffs now a goal for the 2012-2013 season, Habs fans can look forward to what should be a very busy summer. The media, English and French alike, are writing the obituaries for the management team and coaching staff. While I did personally think Randy Cunneyworth was going to be the only casualty but now Pierre Gauthier has been relieved of his duties as general manager.
Whoever is the general manager for the upcoming season, Patrick Roy, Julien BriseBois or whichever other names are flying around the rumor mill, they have their work cut out for them. There are 12 restricted free agents to sign, among them Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Lars Eller as well as four unrestricted free agents. There are also Tomas Kaberle’s and Scott Gomez’s contracts to deal with, although it seems a decision has already been made regarding the latter and a buyout..
While a lot of this is hearsay, one fact that seems to be pretty concrete at the moment is that the Canadiens are making strong strides to a bottom three finish. Barring a hot streak in the next five games, the Canadiens’ seem to have at the very least a bottom five finish in the bank, which will give them a chance to move up to the number one spot should they win the lottery. The Chicago Blackhawks won the lottery in 2007 as the team with the fifth best shot at the first overall pick, which they won and leap frogged Philadelphia to draft Patrick Kane first overall.
This year, according to Bob McKenzie and most scouts, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting is the undisputed first overall selection. I’ve read some scouts quoted in different articles saying that it’s Yakupov and then everyone else. While I’ve only seen him in the World Junior Championships and select highlights from the OHL, there is no doubt this kid has some excellent skill and plays the way the game is supposed to be played but I’m not sure he’d fit the mold in Montreal.
He’s had a few injuries this season and that little outburst after Russia’s semi-final victory over Canada made me nervous. It takes a special kind of character to stand defiantly in front of the hometown media and speak the way he did. That could fly in some other markets but that wouldn’t fly in Montreal.
It would seem this year is the year of the defenceman. According to the professionals, the draft is ripe with young talent to build a defensive corps around. Unfortunately that doesn’t help the Canadiens. With Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu and Morgan Ellis in the pipeline, the future of the D-corps should be alright for at least another draft.
Which brings the Canadiens to really only one prospect they should be focusing on in this draft, regardless of where they end up picking, and that is Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts. Here is a big, talented centerman, who oddly enough was drafted and is being coached by the man many want to see as the next general manager of the Canadiens.
If there has been one constant prayer for Habs fans for at least the last decade, it has been to bring in a hulking centerman with talent. Look no further than Grigorenko. He is up for a galaxy of awards in the QMJHL this, among them as league MVP, and aside from the one knock that keeps coming up (and that knock is his compete level), he is touted as the second coming of Evgeni Malkin.
What would make things incredibly interesting is if in fact Patrick Roy is brought in as the team’s new general manager. I would think he would overpay to be in a position to select Grigorenko if the Canadiens do not find themselves in that position after the draft lottery. Regardless of who is at the helm, the opportunity to address a need the club has had is within reach.
After all, this doesn’t look like the kind of elite centerman festival draft we saw in 2003. Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Mike Richards and Patrice Bergeron (although he went in the 2nd round) were all drafted after the much adored Andrei Kostitsyn. There isn’t an abundance of elite talent down the middle this year, at least that’s what the scouts are saying.
So, in my humble opinion, even if the Canadiens win the draft lottery and get the first overall pick, I would take a pass on Yakupov. For all of the whining and complaining about not having that big talented centerman to lead the charge, now is the chance (assuming the Canadiens continue playing the way they’ve played for 77 games this season) to draft that type of player.
And let’s say he doesn’t pan out to Malkin proportions, it can’t possibly get worse than drafting David Fischer before Claude Giroux in 2006. Hindsight is always 20/20 but man that still stings.