Normally, one of our traditions on the day after the draft is our draft grades. However, with free agency coming so quickly after, I wanted to let the dust settle a bit before diving in. With that in mind, having had some time to ponder each pick, here is the report card.
16th Overall – Kaiden Guhle
Usually, at some point in a draft class, I’m a bit ambivalent about one of Montreal’s picks. It’s typically not their first-rounder but with Guhle, that’s where I fall.
Let’s get this out the way first. It’s not a bad pick and it’s pretty safe to think that he’s going to be an effective NHL defenceman for a while. Guhle’s mobility is promising for someone his size and as Montreal’s right-shot veterans in Shea Weber and Jeff Petry get older and slower, having someone that can help make up for that while being good enough to play big minutes is going to be important. As the playoffs showed, physicality is still going to be a factor and he certainly brings that to the table. It’s not crazy to think Guhle can be a core player in Montreal for a long time.
So why am I ambivalent? I don’t think his offensive game is as bad as some seem to think but I don’t believe there is a ton of development potential at that end. He’ll get some points from a good shot but I don’t think he’s going to be an impact player in the offensive zone. If other players pan out, he may not need to be but is a 25-point defender enough to justify the 16th pick, even with all of his strengths?
I had him at 18th in our mock draft and noted it as a small reach so I can’t change my tune now that he’s a Hab. I think a healthy Hendrix Lapierre may have made sense but I also understand the high risk associated with it. Lukas Reichel intrigues me and I think has legitimate top-six upside down the road. Even Dawson Mercer would have given them another decent offensive player even if his ceiling isn’t the highest; he’s a top-six guy in the right situation. Any of them could have been justifiable as well while also filling a more prominent organizational vacancy.
I think part of the reason for my opinion is that there was no clear-cut choice here. There wasn’t a Cole Caufield situation where a higher talent slipped that far down to become an obvious selection. I preferred a forward but not to the point where I don’t like Guhle being the pick either. He wouldn’t have been my choice here but this isn’t a bad choice by any stretch.
Grade: B- (with the potential to become a B if he becomes better offensively than I think)
47th Overall – Luke Tuch
The Habs have a lot of bottom-six depth and this is a player that fits into that group. And yet, I don’t mind this pick even though the upside doesn’t seem particularly high.
Tuch gives Montreal something that they don’t really have in their prospect pool. He immediately becomes their more physically-imposing forward out of their youngsters and brings some snarl as well. On top of that, there are enough raw skills to make him more than just a six-minute a game guy that runs around and hits people.
But at the same time, the upside here is limited. Tuch doesn’t have hands of stone but no one is going to mistake him for an offensively-gifted player. Going to college probably isn’t going to help in that regard either. He’ll play a middle-six role and make an impact with his physicality while more talented players get the prime offensive development situations.
On the surface, this seems like a reach but power forward profiles come off the board early given how hard they are to find and hearing that teams were trying to trade up to get him tells me the Habs ‘read the room’ properly (even though teams were all working remotely and there was no draft floor).
This is a high floor, low ceiling pick and that’s not the most exciting of profiles. But at least unlike some of the fourth line centre ceilings they’ve picked at times in the past, it’s not difficult to see Tuch making more than a negligible impact either and if you’re landing someone who can play a useful role in the middle of the second round, that’s a decent outcome.
48th Overall – Jan Mysak
For someone that was pegged by quite a few as a first-round pick, there are some pretty sizable variances in opinions. Some love him while others basically had him as a do-not-draft player. But after taking a bottom-six guy in Tuch, Mysak at least has a shot at playing a little higher up in the lineup.
There’s plenty to like about him. He’s a strong skater that likes to play an up-tempo style, albeit almost to a fault. Mysak also is at least conscientious when it comes to the defensive end and there are no glaring weaknesses offensively. So why did he go here? There isn’t necessarily that one dynamic quality to make him stand out either. For lack of a better phrase, he’s a jack of all trades, master of none player.
I actually saw him live back in January only a couple of weeks into his junior career. I remember thinking that there was some upside (I preferred his performance to Arthur Kaliyev who was merely going through the motions) and he scored a couple of goals. However, my lingering memory from that game was watching a team blow a 6-0 lead which is something you don’t see every day.
If Mysak can show some improvement over the next few years, there’s a small chance of him being a top-six player, likely on the wing. If it doesn’t happen, there’s a decent third-line profile here as well. It’s a safe pick in that sense but the upside makes it a very good one.
102nd Overall – Jack Smith
As part of my draft prep each year, I do a ‘mini-board’ of three players that should slot in around each of Montreal’s picks. I had Smith with the sixth-rounder, not this early.
Yes, there is intriguing offensive upside (and he’s not just all-offence either, he’s decent in his own end) but he’s still quite untested against quality competition with all due respect to the Minnesota high school ranks. He’s also coming off a year where he missed a lot of time due to a shoulder injury so he was largely off the radar (most scouting services had him unranked, for what it’s worth).
I’m guessing that Smith had to be fairly high on their list to go here as someone with this type of profile likely would have been available at one of their lower slots. It feels like a bit of a reach but there is some intrigue with this selection even though they’re probably waiting four or five years before deciding what to do with him.
109th Overall – Blake Biondi
This was the other player I had on my ‘mini-board’ that Montreal took and unlike Smith, I had Biondi going slightly earlier at 98th overall. (For anyone curious, Florida plucked four players off my Day 2 list which is a record.)
There’s a similar statistical profile to Smith – both played in Minnesota high school hockey and dominated with minimal testing at higher levels. They’re even going to the same college. But Smith is a better all-around player while Biondi plays with some more physicality and gets to the dirty areas.
That last part is why I had Biondi the higher of the two. Montreal needs prospects that have a willingness to play in close corners and he can do that better than Smith while also having a full season under his belt. It’s an interesting gamble to go with two players with a similar profile and background but it actually makes some sense if the Habs think one of these two will eventually pan out into something.
124th Overall – Sean Farrell
There are two notable drawbacks when it comes to Farrell that helped push him to the back of the fourth round. One is his size – he’s 5’8 and teams often still shy away from drafting small players early. The other is that despite his impressive offensive numbers, he’s not necessarily viewed as someone that drives the attack; instead, he’s more of a complementary player.
Neither of these concerns me much. No player at this stage of the draft is going to be without warts. The Habs have had success with drafting smaller players in the past and even if a player doesn’t necessarily drive the attack, Farrell has had enough success offensively to show that he can be a productive player. If he’s picking up assists as a strong playmaker, someone’s putting the puck in the net.
It’s another high-offence profile which may seem a little redundant after taking Smith and Biondi but I think Farrell has a shot at some success at the college level which should build up his trade value at the very least. If he does better, he’ll have a good shot at a contract. At this stage of the draft, that’s a solid pick.
136th Overall – Jakob Dobes
There was an organizational need to add another goaltender; while there is going to be a logjam in Laval next season as things stand, that situation will resolve itself over the next couple of years. I’m a little surprised, however, that they looked at a long-term project for the second straight year.
Teams want size in their goalies and Dobes has that at 6’4. I’m not going to pretend to dig into his technique; he’s 19 and a fifth-round pick – it’s far from flawless and he doesn’t exactly have all that long of a track record (which is one of the intriguing elements). He’s a five-year project and that fits Montreal’s desire to bring in some longer-term guys to counter the number of prospects that need to be signed within the next couple of years. I would have preferred a CHL pick as I’m not sold that Frederik Dichow is ready to turn pro next season but otherwise, there isn’t much to complain about there.
171st Overall – Alexander Gordin
There are quite a few flaws here – he’s not a good skater, isn’t the best in his own end, and his shift-to-shift effort can waver. He also hasn’t been tested at the top levels. But there is one part of Gordin’s game that is above average, his shot.
The Habs aren’t a team that is loaded with natural scorers, even with their recent acquisitions to bolster their attack. Their prospect pool has a few players with a high-quality shot but the playmakers vastly outnumber the shooters. Montreal’s young centres are known more for their passing than their shots. If you’re going to take a late-round flyer on one specific attribute, it’s shooting. I like this pick as a result.
After making five draft day deals two years ago and four last year, the Habs made ‘just’ three this time around but one of them was notable as they sent the 57th pick to Tampa Bay for pick 124 (Sean Farrell) and Tampa’s second-rounder next season. On the surface, the value is pretty good – the pick should be around that slot next season and picking up Farrell was nice. My preference would have been they kept the pick – our picks at 47th and 48th (Ty Smilanic and Topi Niemela) were still on the board (Jack Finley – the actual pick, was on my ‘mini-board’ at that spot as well) but it’s still a good return.
They then flipped the 98th pick to San Jose for Washington’s third-rounder in 2021. It was pretty evident at this point that Trevor Timmins wasn’t a big fan of what was left so to get what will assuredly be a higher pick next year (around the 90 range) is fine. Swapping 188 to Chicago for their 7th next year will probably be a drop in terms of pick location but by that point, the location of the pick in the round rarely matters as team boards are well different by then.
I’d be curious to know if there was a reasonable trade-up scenario to try to land Hendrix Lapierre or Mavrik Bourque in the first round. I know Los Angeles tried to trade into the bottom-10 of the first round seven different times with no responses from those teams so I’m not sure there was much of an opportunity. I’d have also been in favour of trading up to get Noel Gunler (41st) who we had as a first-rounder. Those are just my own preferences but we know Marc Bergevin doesn’t like to trade up.
The last few years, it felt like Montreal’s needs shaped their board to some degree when they went centre-heavy or defence-heavy but that wasn’t the case this time. They also didn’t really hit a good chunk of the needs in terms of filling out their cupboards.
Right defence is a big area of concern from a depth perspective. The ones they have are already signed and in the case of Noah Juulsen, he could be on waivers in a few months and available to other teams. They only added one defenceman in Guhle and he plays the opposite side.
Both wing spots were also flagged as big needs in our Assessing The Depth series. With Tuch, Farrell, and Gordin, they’ve certainly added on the left side while Mysak may wind up there as well. There wasn’t anything really added on the right but with Josh Anderson and Brendan Gallagher signed for six seasons after this coming one (plus Tyler Toffoli’s deal) and Cole Caufield not far away, it’s also not as pressing as it was when I wrote that column last month.
Drafting by need isn’t something I was looking for. This is just commenting on what I had pegged as their needs heading in and shouldn’t be interpreted as an indictment on the end result.
While I’m not overly enthralled about Guhle’s pick, he’ll be a solid piece for the Habs down the road. I see Tuch having some NHL upside, albeit in a limited role but he should get there. Mysak’s a little riskier but brings some upside. Can they get two NHL players out of that group? Probably and that’s usually the minimum benchmark that I look for in doing this early assessment.
After that, it’s all long-term projects and I know that this was disappointing to some that were hoping for some more CHL prospects (from Quebec or otherwise). As long as there is an incentive in terms of team control to draft from other leagues, teams are going to take it. In Montreal’s case, having drafted so many players the last few years, there’s a crunch coming in terms of contract slot availability and having a bunch of CHL players with two years or less to sign is only going to compound that. Yes, drafting extra NCAA-bound and international players will create another crunch down the road but by then, it’ll be easier to identify the ones to keep and the ones to let go. Get used to this approach – it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Habs had the most picks in this draft class and it was being viewed as a chance to really put a stamp on their retooling. That didn’t really happen here. Some were moved for NHL players which is fine and others were kicked down the road to give them 14 picks in 2021. (Do they know something we don’t about which replacement draft they’re getting?) It’s not a bad draft class by any stretch but from what this seemingly had the potential to be just a few months ago, it has come up a little short.
I have this class behind 2019 in terms of quality and that group got a B- grade. However, there weren’t any truly head-scratching picks here either to drag the grade down. There isn’t a lot of wiggle room with a ‘lower B-‘ than last year but that’s where I’m going with this group, especially with the 2019 class largely improving its status over the past year.
Draft Class Grade: B-