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Continuation of the first-round prospects ranking brings us to the 17-24 range that includes a few players holding steady rankings and a few others that had excellent starts to their season. Once again, a reminder that their potential fit on the Habs is also covered in the analysis.

#17 – Ryan Leonard

USNTDP (Juniors) – C/W 

Left off many top-round rankings to start the season, Leonard is taking advantage of a strong season to now be in most scouts’ top-15. His shot is absolutely lethal though he does need to work on his decision-making.  

12 points in nine games on the Junior team that follows 56 points in 36 games performance with the U18 team. These are nice numbers even if questions remain on the translatability of it all. 

This is an interesting player that projects to be a triggerman at the next level. I can see Mike Hoffman comparisons, and while some won’t like that outcome, I would say he’s young enough to carve out some of the egregious defensive miscues and would play for a much smaller salary to start which would likely endear him to many fans. It is questionable if he goes as late as 17 as some teams will line up to acquire what he offers on the offensive side of the puck. Should that be the Habs with the Florida pick, it would certainly be an intriguing pick to complement what would figure to be a playmaking centre earlier in the round considering he and Will Smith already have quite a bit of chemistry playing together. 

#18 – Otto Stenberg

Frolunda (SHL) – C 

Only one ranking has this player cracking the top ten while only one ranking had him slipping below the twentieth selection. Seems like a consistent selection and a safe pick in this general area of the draft. 

He’s got 14 points in six games at the Under-18 level, 20 points in 24 games with the J20 team, and one goal in 15 SHL games. He was left off the WJC squad which I think will ultimately hurt his draft ranking.   

I’m not sure Stenberg goes this high. He gets here on my ranking through consistency more so than having a few scouts really fall in love with his play. If that’s how the pro scouts see it too, he’s likely to slide down. The Habs could potentially target him later in the first round if not early in the second round.  

#19 – Axel Sandin-Pellikka

Skelleftea AIK J20 (J20 Nationell) – RHD 

The European scouts regularly rank him much higher than this. He was nowhere to be found on the North American boards to start the year, but he’ll be on every single list and much higher than this for the rest of the year. Amateur scouts love him and regularly have him in the top-12, while he remains a pick in the middle of the first round for most scouts. As the highest-ranked defender on many lists including my personal one, I would not be surprised to see him go higher than this. He is said to be an effective player in all three zones that might well be a power play quarterback at the next level. 

His 28 points in 22 games with the J20 Nationell is certainly noticeable though his five points in 22 games in the SHL is a bit more underwhelming. In a league that’s more defensive and on the bigger ice, the production isn’t as much of a concern for a young defender who is said to be defensively responsible, and the fact he’s remained a plus player through his transition to the pros is certainly indicative of that ability. Then he had a coming out party at the WJC and his stock is going through the roof to where he likely ends up being the first defender off the board. 

When I say the late riser scares me in the drafts, the type of rise being seen here for Sandin-Pellikka is exactly what I mean. Is he a nice player? Absolutely! But he’s gone from relative unknown to the top ten within a month and a half on certain boards. If he can be had at 12-16 with the Florida pick, then great. If a team makes him a top-ten selection, I think it’s a mistake. The Habs have been guilty of falling in love with late risers of late (spanning across two GMs if we’re going to be honest), so it will be interesting how they feel about this dynamic defender who also fills an organizational need. 

#20 – Matthew Wood

University of Connecticut (NCAA) – RW 

Never ranked super high, but rarely left off lists, Wood is a big body player who lacks the foot speed to be a factor off the rush. He’s a player who cycles well and has a lethal shot. If he can continue to put on some muscle without losing any more finesse, he could become a worthwhile gamble this late in the round. 

27 points in 28 NCAA games this season is certainly impressive as a stat line. I think this profile is one that is common for the late first-round selection through the years. What it means for Wood remains to be determined. In a stacked first round, it might mean a bit of a fall as teams will prefer to go with defencemen instead of a question mark up front.

Like Ryan Poehling, this is a pick that makes sense to many teams. He’s big but skillful and if he can catch up to his frame, he could be a player that many teams regret passing on. However, considering the type of team Hughes says he wants to assemble here, I question if this pick fits the vision. I would be rather indifferent with this pick for the Habs. 

#21 – Ethan Gauthier

Sherbrooke (QMJHL) – RW 

Another player with a steady selection in the later parts of the first round. He’s as consistent as any player, and this is roughly where he ranks on nearly every single article consulted. 

With 53 points in 48 games, his production doesn’t jump off the page. However, when reading up on the player, it is his never-ending energy level to forecheck and commit to all tasks that need to get done on the ice that has scouts paying attention to his game. Of course, having a pedigree like the son of Denis Gauthier helps the scouts be confident in the fact that he absolutely understands what he needs to do to apply these skills to the next level, and that never hurts. 

Because his skills don’t particularly jump off the page, I wonder if this isn’t a player that ends up falling as teams fall in love with players that show more flash. I could see this being a solid late-first-round selection. This might turn out to be a very sneaky good pick for the team that understands what Gauthier could bring to the table. Will that be the Habs if they acquire a third pick in the round? Who knows, but I certainly wouldn’t be against the pick as a player that could easily become the next Artturi Lehkonen for the Habs.  

#22 – Charlie Stramel

University of Wisconsin (NCAA) – C 

Ranked just outside the top 10 to start the season, Stramel’s stock has lowered with an unproductive start to his season. 

The big centre has scored only nine points in 25 games at the NCAA level, though that’s accompanied by 57 penalty minutes. Stramel made Team USA ahead of others listed higher here so that’s interesting to consider. In the World Juniors, he got three points in a depth role.  

This is a player that reminds me of Jimmy Snuggerud from last season. He’s big and strong and knows how to use it. It’s a high-floor pick as it’s almost certain he will make it to the NHL, but he’ll need some work to make it as an impact player. As of now, he’s a very north-south player who uses his physicality to get to the tough areas and create chaos. I do think his game translates as a winger in the NHL, but if the Habs want to take a big gamble on Andrew Cristall or Riley Heidt, then this is a nice counter-pick as a safe and physical player. 

#23 – Kasper Halttunen

HIFK (Liiga) – RW 

Haltunnen has a ton of skill and projects well as a big-bodied winger. He doesn’t always play his size and there are questions around his decision-making that has a few scouts ranking him later in the round, but he’s rarely left out of the first round on the over twenty lists that were consulted to create this ranking. 

Only one point in 25 Liiga games may worry some if not for his 17 points in 12 games when facing his peers at the U20 level. As mentioned, there are some questions about the talent translating to the pro game, and obviously, those have been emphasized by his first handful of games at the pro level on bigger ice.  

With his size, he could easily become a deployable bottom-six player if the decision-making can’t get to the next level. This is a safe pick, the type I’m hoping a rebuilding team like the Habs passes on even if another player who’s more boom or bust ends up not panning out. 

#24 – Quentin Musty

Sudbury (OHL) – LW 

A big winger who relies on his shot for offensive production prior to this season where he’s shown a bit more interest in using his teammates and seemingly developed a bit more of a passing game. He does need to improve his skating and interest in playing in all three zones. 

48 points in 33 games for the bottom-feeding Sudbury Wolves is certainly impressive as Musty is even out-scoring a player I was pretty high on last year in David Goyette.  

The holes in his game away from the puck appear to be significant, but the skill sure seems to be undeniable. This might be an interesting pick early in the second round for the Habs as he may slip and the Canadiens are sure to have a pick around where he ends up being selected. This was my thought earlier in the season, but Musty is now climbing the rankings for many scouts and this is a red flag for me. Too many question marks to be going in the first round, never mind as high as 24. 

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