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Some years, I’ve sat down and graded Montreal’s full draft class.  That would be a difficult exercise this time around so instead, here are some thoughts on each of their selections.

Having covered David Reinbacher in a separate article, let’s focus on the picks from the third round through the seventh.

69th Overall – G Jacob Fowler

It feels like he was the forgotten one toward the top of this draft class.  While Michael Hrabal, Adam Gajan, Trey Augustine, and Carson Bjarnason drew most of the attention, Fowler flew a bit under the radar.  It wasn’t for a lack of success either as he had a very strong season in the USHL, winning Goalie of the Year and playoff MVP.

Yes, there are concerns about his conditioning but that can be worked on at Boston College when players have less game time and more time to work on their conditioning.  I don’t expect that to be a problem by the time he’s ready to turn pro.  It’s also encouraging that he’s going to a good program but will still have a chance to be a starter in his freshman year.  That’s the best of both worlds right there.

Fowler is considered small by new goalie standards at 6’1.  That’s a tiny bit undersized but it’s not as if that can’t be overcome.  But it’s fair to say it hurt him in terms of where he went among goaltenders (sixth).

Out of this draft class, I don’t think there was a true starting goalie in the mix.  There are some that should emerge as a 1A guy, but not necessarily a 50-plus game player.  Fowler, to this point, has shown that he should have been in that top group of netminders (Montreal apparently had him number one on their goalie list) and getting one with legitimate upside early in the third round was a nice start.

101st Overall – W Florian Xhekaj

It’s not that I didn’t like the idea of drafting the younger Xhekaj.  I just didn’t like the idea of drafting him early in the fourth round.  He is not exactly what you call a high-ceiling prospect by any stretch.

He’s physical and hard to move while being a decent skater for his size.  There’s a fourth-line profile if everything comes together.  But is early in the fourth round the time to start drafting that type of player?  This seemed a couple of rounds too soon to me.

I get Montreal’s thought process here and I don’t think it has much to do with reuniting the brothers.  Xhekaj is poised to have a bigger role next season and with it, there’s an expectation of improved offensive production, upping his value.  If I can think of that, so can other teams so it became a matter of getting him before other teams would pick him based on that projection.  I just think they jumped the gun a little too early.

In terms of filling a certain role in this organization, the Habs don’t have too many like Xhekaj, a true gritty, physical winger that is willing to drop the gloves.  With some development and refinement, it wouldn’t shock me to see him get some NHL games playing eight minutes a night.  This pick feels like it was a reach but getting him into the fold isn’t necessarily a bad outcome in itself.

110th Overall – D Bogdan Konyushkov

This was the second straight pick of someone that went undrafted the year before although Konyushkov hits a different level as this was his third year of eligibility.  He’s an undersized right-shot defenceman who is a strong skater and can move the puck well.  That’s nice but as a 20-year-old, those attributes alone don’t make him draftable.

But this is where I get a little intrigued with Konyushkov.  In his first KHL season, he led Torpedo in ice time at nearly 21 minutes a night.  If you’re good enough to play close to 21 minutes a night in the KHL, you’re a player that should be at least on an NHL radar.  Maybe he’s a late bloomer and there’s more room to grow.  Maybe not.  But even if he can maintain his current role over the next few years – he just signed an extension through 2025-26 – there might be enough there to give him a chance to push for a spot on an NHL third pairing one day.

This pick reminded me a bit of Petteri Nurmi a year ago.  He was also a third-year-eligible player who locked down a full-time role in Finland’s top division whose selection felt like Montreal taking him to see if there’s more to come from him.  They made that pick in the seventh round compared to the middle of the fourth round here.  Again, this feels a bit early but I get the thought process with this selection.

128th Overall – G Quentin Miller

A second goalie came as a bit of a surprise at this point but this is closer to the traditional strategy of taking a bigger goalie.  Miller hasn’t had a lot of action at the QMJHL level yet but will be the starter next year so this could be another ‘get him early’ type of selection.  Personally, I’d have looked to the WHL where Scott Ratzlaff (who’s in the same situation as Miller) but that’s just me.

Miller did well in a limited role on a stacked team and now he’s probably going to see more than his fair share of shots as the Remparts will be much worse next year.  That’ll be a good test for him and should give the Habs a better idea quickly as to whether there is legitimate upside here (in which case it’s a great value pick) or a mid-round gamble that doesn’t pan out (in which case it’s not the end of the world as lots of players in this range don’t pan out).

133rd Overall – W Sam Harris

The third player that was passed up previously, Harris got off to a hot start in the USHL last season which likely got him on the radar.  However, only managing a point per game in his second year at that level isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring.

But this isn’t the Montreal typical mid-round college-bound player that has one particular element of note (usually speed) and not much else.  Harris isn’t the best of skaters for his size but plays with a physical edge both as an attacker and a defender.  30 goals in the USHL means that there is something to work with offensively as well.  That seems to fit the ‘type’ that management is looking for, a high-compete player that could one day play in the bottom six if all goes well.  Not an overly exciting pick but this is closer to where Montreal should be taking their lower-ceiling selections.

144th Overall – G Yevgeni Volokhin

Now this is the prototypical Montreal goalie pick of recent years.  Tall and nowhere remotely near ready to play in the Habs’ system.  Usually, their later-round dart throws are USHL players heading into college.  This time, it’s a Russian player who won’t be going to college but has some work to do to get to the KHL level.

The size is there and limited scouting reports say he’s an athletic netminder.  Great.  Let’s check back in four or five years; that’s the timeline with this selection.  It feels like a bit of a redundancy with the Fowler and Miller picks but they clearly were going with the strategy of draft a few and see if one pans out.  Not the craziest of ideas even though it’s not the direction I’d have gone here.

165th Overall – C Filip Eriksson

In the limited action Eriksson had last season, he did rather well.  He was nearly a point-per-game player in Sweden’s junior level and after a very limited SHL stint, his deal was converted and he played in the playoffs at that level.  Unfortunately, he missed most of the year with a broken leg which certainly didn’t help his draft stock.

The Habs are banking on a jump coming from Eriksson in 2023-24, one that would likely have gotten him drafted if the Canadiens didn’t take him here.  It’s hard to tell if that will happen as if he winds up playing regularly in the SHL, his playing time and production could be rather limited.  But, all things considered, he appears to be a decent two-way player that’s a bit of a wild card selection.  That’s more than fine for a late-round pick.

197th Overall – D Casey Mittelstadt

This was one of my favourite picks by the Habs in this draft class.  I expected him to go closer to the middle of the draft as someone that comes out of nowhere to make the US World Junior roster while having a strong freshman year at a good school (Minnesota) is the type of player that’s worth taking a flyer on.

Yes, he’s an undersized defender who is better at the offensive side of things than defensive.  That’s okay, he has three years left of college eligibility left to try to work on that.  At a minimum, I think Mittelstadt would have been a popular free agent a few years from now.  Getting him early gives Montreal a chance to work with him and, thus, a better shot at signing him at that time.  This is a similar process to what they’ve done with the likes of Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Xavier Simoneau, Jared Davidson, and Miguel Tourigny in recent years, get the guys that could be popular free agent targets early.  I’ve been a fan of this strategy and it has worked well so far so don’t mess with a good thing.

General Thoughts

In the Reinbacher article, I talked about the Habs not using the BPA approach for their first-round pick but rather went for BVA, best value available.  They flipped the script as the draft progressed as after Fowler, they didn’t do the best of anything.  Instead, they started to pick for certain types.  Multiple goalies in the hopes that one hits?  Check.  Gritty wingers?  Yep.  In terms of organizational depth, these were the thin spots and they filled those holes instead of going for the most talented players available.

I do find it interesting that they went with four players that were undrafted in their first year of eligibility.  Perhaps the success they’ve had with recent late-rounders (mentioned in the Mittelstadt section) has emboldened them to be more aggressive on that front?  I’m curious to see if this is a one-off or a start of a new trend for this management team.

One element that isn’t getting enough attention from this group of players is that the Habs drafted a group of players that mostly don’t need contracts for a long time.  I suspect that was by design and might have played a role in them not necessarily landing the true BPAs, some of which would have needed to be signed earlier.

Of the eight players picked on the second day of the draft, only two need a contract between now and June 2026.  Those would be the two junior players, Xhekaj and Miller.  After that, Mittlestadt is up next with a signing deadline of mid-August 2026.

There is a crunch coming in the prospect pool next year for who needs contracts, see below from our signing deadlines listing:

June 1, 2024:
Jared Davidson (5/130 – Seattle, WHL)
Cedrick Guindon (4/127 – Owen Sound, OHL)
Petteri Nurmi (7/194, 2022 – HPK, SM-liiga)
Miguel Tourigny (7/216, 2022 – Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL)

August 15, 2024:
Blake Biondi (4/109, 2020 – Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA)
Rhett Pitlick (5/131, 2019 – Minnesota, NCAA)
Ty Smilanic (3/74, 2020 – Wisconsin, NCAA)
Luke Tuch (2/47, 2020 – Boston University, NCAA)

As it is, they’re going to be hard-pressed to sign half of these players but this draft class might make it easier to squeeze another deal in by virtue of so few needing to be signed quickly.  For reference, here’s the group that needs to be signed in 2025:

June 1, 2025:
Oliver Kapanen (2/64, 2021 – KalPa, SM-liiga)
Quentin Miller (4/128, 2023 – Quebec, QMJHL)
Daniil Sobolev (5/142, 2021 – Windsor, OHL)
Joe Vrbetic (7/214, 2021 – Trois-Rivieres, ECHL)
Florian Xhekaj (4/101, 2023 – Hamilton, OHL)

August 15, 2025:
Lane Hutson (2/62, 2022 – Boston University, NCAA)
Jack Smith (4/102, 2020 – Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA)

If they would have drafted more CHL players, they would have landed in the June 1, 2025 section.  That group isn’t the deepest right now so by keeping a weaker group in there, it might free them up to sign an extra 2024 deadline player which, for the most part, is a stronger collection of players.  (And something tells me Hutson will be signed long before this point so his presence on here is largely moot.)

While I’m sure the scouting staff would never admit to it, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if there was a bit of strategy with this class, punting some signing decisions down the road to give them a chance at signing more from the earlier cohort.  If a bunch from the 2024 group do sign, it may very well be thanks to who was picked in 2023.  That makes it a little harder to evaluate this draft class independently which is why I’m holding off on the grade this time around.