Continuation of the first-round prospects ranking brings us to an interesting group in the 9-16 range that includes two players rising rapidly and two who were in the top 10 to start the season. Just a reminder that their potential fit on the Habs is also covered in the analysis.
#9 – Will Smith
USNTDP (Juniors) – C
When I first started to tabulate results, Smith was regularly in the teens. When I first wrote this article, he was 16th on my list. Now, the midseason rankings have him consistently in the top 10, with an increasing amount ranking him in the 5-7 range. He’s the largest riser since the start of the year. He’s been a highlight machine for the USNTDP and will get selected prior to this ranking, I’m almost sure of it.
69 points in 38 games on the U18 team and 22 points in 12 games with the Juniors team is excellent. He was left off the WJC team which might temper some who want to see him become a top-five pick though. It’s unlikely he slips much further than 10th as he’s gaining more and more comparisons to Jack Eichel as the season progresses.
This player is so interesting. As mentioned, he’s a human highlight reel who needs work on his defensive game and can sometimes disappear if his linemates aren’t getting him the puck at even strength (Hello, Trevor Zegras). The problem is that I would put Cole Caufield in that category, and to a lesser extent Nick Suzuki too. While I love the projected skill (and you can teach Smith the elements he seems to be lacking way more than you can teach someone else skill), my worry is that it seems like he falls into a strength the team already possesses. But, BPA, right? I’m intrigued by this player and though it’s not the ideal fit, I think this player is absolutely worth the home run swing if the Habs are selecting in the 8-10 range and he’s still on the board.
#10 – Andrew Cristall
Kelowna Rockets (WHL) – LW
Cristall is having himself a season yet remains a polarizing player on these rankings. He’s now listed in the top ten on some lists while being in the early twenties on others. He’s got incredible hands and a high hockey intelligence to match. As is usually the case with players of his stature, the questions around him are physicality and translatability of his skill set at the pro level. At the time of writing this article, he was involved in over 50% of his team’s offence which is impressive to say the least.
Cristall has produced 62 points in 36 games which is fairly close to two points per game while the advanced stats suggest he was having poor puck luck that has recently turned around. How some rankings have him outside the first round with those numbers is puzzling to me but make the point that some scouts really don’t see his style of play translate to success at the pro level.
In an earlier draft piece centred around the Habs, I was lukewarm to the idea of the Habs selecting Cristall with the 14th selection. He’s a player I’ve kept on my radar and observed closely and at this point, I would be comfortable with the Habs picking him with that same 14th pick. Truthfully, I think it might be a Cole Caufield-like steal. However, he’s shot up rankings, especially in those focused on the advanced stats. Admittedly, it’s a boom or bust pick, but if the Habs have already had a selection, and the Panthers pick comes in this high, it’s a gamble I’d surely be very happy to see the Habs make.
#11 – Calum Ritchie
Oshawa Generals (OHL) – C
Odd results with this player. He was ranked higher to start the season but now finds himself lower than this on many rankings. I call it odd because there appears to be very little in the numbers to suggest this drop. One really must dig to figure out that the numbers appear decent based on a recent surge, so the drop is mostly from a terrible start to the season. Will be interesting to see how he finishes the season.
Currently scoring at a point per game (45 points in 45 games), this is quite acceptable for a player who is said to be a centre that already plays a 200-foot game. His positioning is excellent which helps defensively and he’s always attacking the slot. The issue seems to be that he’s a player that does everything right without having a particular skill that really stands out as exceptional.
This seems like an awfully safe pick that tops out as a solid 2C. The Habs currently count on Suzuki and Dach up the middle. I’d personally be tempted for a bigger swing than Ritchie, even if that swing lands a winger instead of a centre. A pick at 11 would likely be the Habs’ second of the round and this only enhances my desire to see a bigger home run swing. Maybe that’s how many scouts are feeling, and it explains his recent drop in the rankings. However, if he continues to slide and the Panthers get hot and their pick ends up closer to 15, it would be a little crazy to pass up on this player.
#12 – Mikhail Gulyayev
Omskie Yastreby (MHL) – LD
A consensus top-twenty pick who is getting some higher votes in recent rankings. Considering the league Gulyayev is playing in, this to me screams recency bias as well as the need to include some defencemen.
18 points in 16 games in the MHL, 1 point in 13 games in the KHL, and 4 points in 12 games in the VHL.
He’s a small left-handed defenceman playing in a lower Russian league than the KHL. Call me crazy but this is a no for me. The Habs are already riding high on the diminutive Lane Hutson, and the team has plenty of defensive prospects that want to play the left side. This seems like an incredibly redundant pick at this point in the draft. Then add in the rolling of the dice that is the MHL, and I just can’t get behind this pick. Given that blueliners typically go higher than ranked, I’m not seeing this as a good pick for the Canadiens even if he does pan out as an NHL player.
#13 – Riley Heidt
Prince George Cougars (WHL) – C
Steadily ranked at about this position since the start of the year, Heidt remains a player who shows flashes but lacks consistency. It’s a nice gamble at this point, though his size and not overly aggressive style of play makes him a boom or bust pick which might mean he ends up a bit further down.
65 points in 46 games is certainly impressive as it’s just below a point and a half per game. I think the detail I’ve seen on more than one analysis that has me really excited about Heidt is that he wants to be the player carrying the puck and making the offensive plays every single time he’s on the ice.
A smaller centre that needs to work on his strength ranked in the middle of the first round. He has speed to burn and loves to carry the puck to create offence. This kid has Mathew Barzal written all over him and with the recent acquisitions up the middle for the Habs, I love this gamble. The league is trending toward this type of player, and I’m absolutely on board should the Habs make him one of their first-round selections. Much like Cristall, you’ll notice that this is the second time I’m featuring this player, and it’s far more positive this time around. I think he’s had players pass him on the ranking, and players dip below him, and he’s stayed steady. So, the read on him is likely accurate and a worthwhile gamble.
#14 – Oliver Moore
U18 NTDP – C
There are recent rankings that have him sneaking into the top 15 on more than one list after being more of a late-round selection prior to the season. He is a 5’11” centre who plays fast and shifty hockey. The one knock on him I’ve read is that he’s top speed all the time, even when it would benefit him to slow it down to better evaluate what to do with the puck.
He’s got 49 points in 38 games in the J18 league and 16 points in 14 games with the J20 team, both solid numbers without being outstanding.
In a draft that is particularly strong up the middle, I don’t know how I feel about the 10th-ranked pivot at the 16th slot in the draft. I feel like Montreal should be able to address the centre position by this point in this particular draft and if a trade allows them to pick here or Florida makes a late push and their pick ends up here, filling a different need like an Axel Sandin-Pellikka might be a more interesting option.
#15 – Colby Barlow
Owen Sound (OHL) – LW
Easily the most polarizing player in the top 20 of this ranking. Two rankings have him inside the top ten and continue to rank him there while other rankings have him as late as the late teens. One ranking even had him outside the first round.
Barlow is scoring at over a point per game with 63 points in 43 games. He’s got 23 PIMs to go with those totals, and if questions around his defensive game were present prior to the season, his +20 on the season might show an effort in that area for the draft hopeful.
He is a big winger that likes to play like a big winger, can generate speed when given space, and plays a more north-south style. Questions about his defensive awareness are common and are a likely contribution in the rankings that place him lower. The Habs have many wingers on the current roster, but should they choose to part ways with Josh Anderson near this season’s trade deadline, Barlow could easily be tagged as a suitable replacement for that power winger role on the team moving forward. Because they should be able to address the skillful centre earlier in the round, I actually prefer this pick to Moore and Gulyayev for the Habs.
#16 – Nate Danielson
Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – C
Danielson is consistently ranked in the late teens of this draft. His ability to be ranked there by almost every single ranking got him a ton of points and he was able to jump over some more polarizing players that are likely to be selected before him on draft day.
With 58 points in 48 games, it is interesting to read that Danielson is still finding his game offensively. While the translation of his offence to the pro game is questioned, the -8 next to his name has me more perplexed as he’s touted as an all-around player that has the skill to be a solid 3C in the NHL. I know that the +/- is a very flawed statistic, but it seems like a player ranked this high should be able to mitigate this at the junior level.
Likely to be selected much later than this ranking, Danielson could be a player worth keeping tabs on if the Canadiens acquire a late-round pick at the trade deadline. His profile reminds me of Owen Beck an awful lot, and if the Habs could make Danielson their third selection as they did with Beck, it could make for some very interesting competition in years to come for that 3C role on the team. Frankly, should they end up with Danielson and Beck, we might see Jake Evans become a trade chip in the not-too-distant future.