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Last month, the Habs got what many thought was their best-case scenario with Ivan Demidov falling to them with the fifth pick.  After shying away from that type of player a year ago, they didn’t this time around.  Here are some thoughts on Montreal’s newest top prospect.

With all due respect to Cole Caufield, Demidov is a different type of game-breaker.  While Caufield undoubtedly has a high-end shot, Demidov – assuming he pans out, of course – has the ability to impact the game on a much greater basis than just being a triggerman.

While his skating stride is awkward, it works well enough as his top speed is pretty good.  It wouldn’t shock me if Montreal eventually tries to refine it slightly but we’re not talking about a complete overhaul here.  If it stayed exactly as it is now, it’d still play.  More importantly, it should be good enough for his offensive skills to succeed in the NHL.

We’ve all seen the clips about his shot and playmaking (both elements are quite strong) so let’s skip those and talk about puck handling instead.  While a few Habs can handle the puck well in space, I don’t think it’d be fair to say that it’s an organizational strength.  This team thrives off the rush with quick puck movement and not a lot of one-on-one play.  While Demidov can play that way too, he’s someone who can slow things down and look to break a defender down one-on-one.

Why does this matter?  We’ve seen plenty of games where Montreal’s playing style works and others where the way their offence is structured plays right into the strength of the opposition’s defence.  That’s part of the problem right now; the offence is a bit too one-dimensional being as rush-oriented as it is.  Demidov should be able to help on that front.  One player isn’t going to solve everything but it’s a start.

Let’s assume the new long-term plan for the Habs is to keep the top line from the second half of the season intact with Juraj Slafkovsky playing alongside Nick Suzuki and Caufield.  That’s a line with some good complementary skills; it makes sense to keep them together.

I think that will work well for Demidov in time.  With the wide range of skills he has, he’s someone who I think should be the play-driver of a line.  He’s not going to get that playing with Suzuki and Caufield (or Suzuki and Slafkovsky).  But with due respect to the other pieces the Habs have either on their roster or in their system, Demidov should be the top talent and play-driver on any possible combination.

For that matter, Demidov could be the anchor point of a second forward line which is something the Habs have been lacking for a while.  They have the makings of a good top trio and enough prospects to eventually get some good bottom-six production but finding that impactful talent (not a complementary piece like Kirby Dach or Alex Newhook) to help make a second scoring line had been on the checklist until now.  Demidov effectively takes Montreal’s biggest need off the board, assuming he pans out, of course.  That’s about the best-case scenario they could have had in this draft.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he sees a couple of NHL games as early as this coming season, provided his Russian team (whichever level he’s at) is eliminated early and SKA agrees to release him from his contract a few weeks early.  That doesn’t always happen but it’s a possibility.  But as long as Demidov doesn’t sign an extension in Russia, he should be free to join Montreal no later than 2025-26.  If he lives up to the hype, he’ll be well worth the wait.

We’ll have a similar piece coming on Michael Hage as well plus a column with some thoughts on the Day 2 selections coming up later this month.