Thanks for joining us for our July 31-in-31 series! Every day this month we will be taking a look at how each team fared in the NHL Entry Draft, as well as checking in on incoming/outgoing prospects and Development Camp notes. Check back every day for a new team profile, and next month when we begin the August 31-in-31 series diving more into prospect depth charts.
We knew it might happen, but we couldn’t help but stare as the Habs made the first big statement of the draft, taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the 3rd overall pick. We can debate the pick all we want, and we wont know for certain how the pick looks for another 2-3 years are he continues to develop, but the move was a turning point of the day and will be what most people remember from this draft when they look back on it. What should also be remembered is the Habs’ general bounty of total picks made – multiple in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th rounds – so as much as anyone loves or hates specific picks, it will be pretty damn hard for the Canadiens to come out of this without some value added down the road.
1st Round, 3rd overall – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C
The Canadiens went a bit off the board when they selected the big (6-2.25, 181) Finnish center third overall. This selection has drawn a lot of comparisons to the Pierre-Luc Dubois selection by Columbus two years ago. Both times, the consensus third overall ranked player was a winger but the team drafting third had a big need for a center. Both Dubois and Kotkaniemi had question marks about their actual ability to play center, though – Dubois because he had been just recently switched from wing to center, and Kotkaniemi because he spent this past season playing wing in the Finnish Liiga. But the Canadiens are obviously confident in their scouts who believe Kotkaniemi will be a number one center in the NHL and they’re hoping things turn out as well as they have for Columbus. Even if Kotkaniemi becomes that number one center he’s expected to become, that doesn’t mean huge offensive upside. He has enough talent to be a good two-way center on the top line but don’t expect more than 65-70 points which means you can slide him down a few spots in fantasy hockey drafts. Kotkaniemi is expected to return to the Finnish Liiga for another year, and this time he should play center the entire season. His team just wanted to break him into the league at wing but every indication has them switching him over to center now. Jokke Nevalainen
While the Hockey world was expecting Filip Zadina to be drafted at this rank, the Canadiens opted for the 6-2 190 lbs center from Finland. If there was still anyone on planet earth who didn’t know the Habs needed help at center, there was then no remaining doubt at that specific moment. That’s being said, The Finnish isn’t a bad option either. Kotkaniemi possesses great offensive skills which he showed all year in the Liiga’s Ässät Pori, scoring 29 points in 57 games among men. He was also one of the masterpieces of the gold-medal-Finland at the U18 WJC. Offensively, Kotkaniemi has a great shot; he has the size but most importantly the attitude to compete every single game and is also very reliable defensively. As opposed to fellow 2018 top draftees, it would be a bit of a shock to see Jesperi in the Habs uniform this upcoming fall and 2019-20 is more likely but not guaranteed what so ever either. The Habs went for the potential and are willing to wait for Kotkaniemi to fully develop before hopefully become that big, skilled 1st line center Montreal has been waiting for since Vincent Damphousse Fantasy talking, it wouldn’t a mistake to try and stash the big Finnish who’s been compared to Aleksander Barkov in your dynasty roster. Carl Sinclair
2nd Round, 35th overall – Jesse Ylönen, RW
Ylonen is a natural when it comes to the offensive part if the game. He’s a fast and fluid skater who can use either his shooting or playmaking abilities to hurt the opponent. Already considered one of the key forwards for Finland at the upcoming U20 WJC, it would be interesting to see if some sort of chemistry could develop between him and fellow Habs prospect Jesperi Kotkaniemi. A first season in the Liiga should reveal a little more about this 6-0 168 lbs forward. The upside is there for him, but at least one to two years will pass before we get a better idea at his chances in the NHL. Carl Sinclair
Ylönen had a very good U18 World Championship tournament a year ago, and he had a good season playing at the second-highest level in Finland in Mestis. Ylönen is an offensive winger with top-six upside, so slide him up at least a few spots in fantasy hockey drafts. His skating is very good, he can score in different ways, and he can also make plays – and he has NHL pedigree because his dad Juha played a few seasons in the NHL. Ylönen will play in the Finnish Liiga this upcoming season and both he and Kotkaniemi are expected to play for Finland at the World Juniors, so there’s a chance these two future Canadiens can build some chemistry already there. Jokke Nevalainen
2nd Round, 38th overall – Alexander Romanov, D
Les Habitants were not at their last surprising selection at this 2018 draft and picked the russian defenseman 38th overall, a rank far from the one predicted by every prospects analysts. His shot is at a very high level and his low and fluid wind up makes it hard for opposing defenders and goalies to foresee. The size of an offensive dman isn’t as much of an issue in these years’ NHL and that’s perfect for Romanov who’s only 5-11.
The fact he has a great feel for either goals or assists doesn’t make him any less of a mature and reliable defender, which the Habs love from their defense. The Russian who score 14 pts in the MHL (U20 Russian league) as well as scoring 3 pts in 5 U18 WJC games is at least a couple years away from being the next Andrei Markov, but with that big of a reach to draft him, Marc Bergevin seems pretty confident he could be there eventually.
2nd Round, 56th overall – Jacob Olofsson, C
According to Trevor Timmins, Canadiens’ head scout, the team’s Swedish scout would have “choked me if we didn’t pick him at that rank. We couldn’t believe he was still available.” Olofsson has the skill, the IQ and especially the size (6-3 190 lbs) to have a brilliant professional career. He can play both ways of the ice equally efficiently and has a nice shot release.
Olofsson won the Golden Cage which is given to the top junior-aged player in the Allsvenskan for Timrå, a team that earned promotion to the SHL for next season. He could use more speed, but there’s still time for that. You would need to have a pretty deep roster, even in dynasty formats to consider picking him up at this point, but some monitoring during the next 12-18 months could give you high rewards. Carl Sinclair
Olofsson is a well-rounded two-way center with excellent size (6-2.5, 189) and good set of offensive tools. He won’t be a high-end offensive forward but has a small chance of becoming a second-line center but more likely ends up being a very good third-line center. He played a big role in Allsvenskan for Timrå, a team that earned promotion to the SHL for this season. Olofsson won the Golden Cage which is given to the top junior-aged player in the league. Olofsson is a decent skater but not great. His offensive abilities are good but not high-end. He’s one of those players that does everything well but doesn’t excel in any aspect of the game. He’s a safe option after the first 30-40 players have been drafted but doesn’t have huge upside. Jokke Nevalainen
3rd Round, 66th overall – Cameron Hillis, C
The expression might be a bit overused, but Cameron is a small player who plays like a giant. This tireless center has absolutely no fear whenever he touches the ice and he has a way of finding himself in a position to scoop a rebound or lose puck around the net. Hillis scored a respectable 59 points in 60 games for Guelph in the Ontario Hockey League the past season and rapidly became the team’s number one center despite his 17-year-old rookie status. According to Trevror Timmins, head scout for the Montreal Canadiens, “Hillis may not be as physical as Brendan Gallagher, but he’s got the same determination”. If he makes it to the NHL, his real life value could be higher than his fantasy impact.
3rd Round, 71st overall – Jordan Harris, D
A very mobile and offensive-oriented defenseman, Harris represents a long term project for the Canadiens. He should be playing at least the next three seasons in the NCAA at Northeastern University. Despite being below average size for his position, Harris can still show great puck moving and decision making through competition. Now the challenge for the Haverhill, MA native is to bring those abilities to the NCAA and hopefuly, one day, the NHL.
4th Round, 97th overall – Allan McShane, C
The best way to describe McShane is “Not flashy but effective”. The 5-11 center flirted with the 1 point-per-game mark this season in the OHL scoring 65 points in 67 games. He also got 6 points in 5 games for team Canada at the U18 WJC when the Maple Leaf got stunned in the quarterfinals. His skating his above average while not excessively fast. His hockey sense is right where it should be too and he can make plays everywhere and under all circumstances on the ice. To have any hope of making his way to the NHL, McShane will need to work on his consistency.
4th Round, 123rd overall – Jack Gorniak, LW
The 5-11 Left Wing will play his next hockey seasons in the NCAA with the University of Wisconsin. Let’s be realistic here, Jack Gorniak is no Andrei Svechnikov… But he could still have a sustainable professional career thanks to his tireless way of playing. Gorniak will almost never surrender on any play and gives it all on every shift. He may never be a ticket seller and shouldn’t have the greatest fantasy upside, but he could still be valuable to a AHL or even NHL team one day.
5th Round, 128th overall – Cole Fonstad, C
Fonstad could somehow be seen as a steal in the fifth round as not many well-known pre-draft rankings had him after the 108th rank while some had him as high as 62nd overall. The center who ended up playing more games as a left wing in 2017-18 racked up 73 points in 72 games last season compared to 26 points in 59 games the year before. The fact Fonstad moved to the left side surely helped this jump in his offensive production. His size is about the biggest concern surrounding his fantasy and NHL upsides, but just like the Habs did, there wouldn’t be much to lose acquiring him very late in a deep dynasty format or even adding him as a free agent and waiting for him the climb the ladder.
5th Round, 133rd overall – Sam Houde, C
There he is, the first Quebec-native player selected by the Canadiens in the 2018 amateur draft. The 6-0 center scored 32 points in 54 games for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens of the QMJHL. We’re talking long term project here. Unless you’re related to him, don’t rush the acquisition in any fantasy format just yet and wait for his 2018-19 junior season before making any further decision.
7th Round, 190th overall – Brett Stapley, C
The British-Columbia-native had a couple interesting seasons in the BCHL with 50 points in 2016-17 and 59 points in 2017-18, both in 52 games played. He committed to the University of Denver for the upcoming years and should remain a free agent in your fantasy league, no matter how deep it is.
The Habs invited 40 players to dev camp this year, including a few names from above and a few you’ve heard before:
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi
- Joni Ikonen
- Jacob Oladffson
- Ryan Poehling
- Jesse Ylonen
- Will Bitten
- Cameron Hillis
- Sam Houde
- Jack Gorniak
- Cole Fonstad
- Jeremiah Addison
- Alexandre Alain
- Allan McShane
- Michel Pezzetta
- Jake Evans
- Hayden Verbeek
- Antoine Waked
- Brandon Hagel (tryout)
- Alex Katerinakis (tryout)
- Antoni Rinaldi (tryout)
- Joel Teasdale (tryout)
- Cale Fleury
- Simon Bourque
- Jordan Harris
- Josh Brook
- Scott Walford
- Jarret Tyska
- Adam Plant
- Michal Moravcik
- David Skleincka
- Otto Leskinen (tryout)
- Cameron Lee (tryout)
- Michael McNiven
- Etienne Marcoux
- Cayden Primeau
- Stephon Dhillon (tryout)
- Sam Harvey (tryout)
- Gabriel Mollet-Hill (tryout)
INS AND OUTS
- Phillip Danault (has signed 3-year deal)
- Jacob de la Rose (has signed 2-year deal)
- Michael McCarron
- Kerby Rychel
RFAs not qualified:
- Daniel Carr (has signed with VGK)
- Jeremy Gregoire
- Tom Parisi
- Logan Shaw
- Zach Fucale
- Alex Galchenyuk (trade)
- Ales Hemsky (UFA)
- Chris Terry (UFA)
- Adam Cracknell (UFA)
- Max Domi (trade)
- Matthew Peca (UFA)
- Tomas Plekanec (UFA)
- Kenny Agostino (UFA)
- Michael Chaput (UFA)
- Xavier Ouillet (UFA)
- Joel Armia (trade)
- Simon Depres (tryout)
A lot of roster holes will be filled by the additions on the list above, but this was expected considering the lack of prospects expected to make the jump next season. McCarron and de la Rose may become full-timers, but much of the Canadiens’ firepower up front will be in the hands of outside hires so to speak.
Thanks for reading, check back next month for our August 31-in-31 Series that dives deeper into each organization’s prospect depth charts and players development towards making the big jump!