The Montreal Canadiens go into this week’s NHL draft on a bit of a winning streak. Three of their last four first-round picks include forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who made the Canadiens as an 18-year-old; Noah Juulsen, a promising defenceman who has been plagued by injuries; and college standout Ryan Poehling, who made a good impression with a hat trick in his only National Hockey League appearance to date.
The fourth is former St. John’s IceCap forward Nikita Scherbak, who is no longer in the Canadiens’ system, but has appeared in about three dozen NHL games with Montreal and Los Angeles Kings.
The Canadiens are drafting in the middle of Friday’s first round at No. 15, which means they are unlikely to find a player who can step into the NHL next season. But there are some attractive prospects who could be available at that spot.
Scoring has been a problem for the Canadiens in recent years. While Montreal did a good job playing at even strength last season, the team connected on only 13.2 per cent of its power plays. It was the second-worst mark in the NHL, ahead of only Nashville.
Here’s a look at three forwards who conceivably could be on the Canadiens’ radar and could add some punch to the Montreal offence in the future.
The British Columbia Junior Hockey League is a prime source of talent for U.S. colleges and has been a launch pad for future NHL players, including Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Paul Kariya and Glenn Anderson.
That’s the route being taken by Newfoundlander Alex Newhook, who is set to head to Boston College this fall, and who is ranked in the top 20 by almost all draft predictors, with a few slotting the 18-year-old in the top 10.
Newhook, who was born and raised in St. John’s, travelled across the country looking for better competition. After a stop at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ont., he landed with the BCHL’s Victoria Grizzlies. In his second season in the junior A circuit, he was the runaway leader in the scoring race, with 38 goals and 102 points in 53 games, finishing 18 points ahead of the next leading scorer. He added another 24 points in 15 playoff games and led Team Canada at the world under-18 championships with five goals and five assists in seven games.
The scouting report on Newhook is that he is a smart centre with good speed, great hands and he makes good decisions with the puck.
Newhook is only 5-foot-11, but he weighs a solid 190 pounds and he figures to get stronger playing at Boston College, which has a history of developing smaller players — think Brian Gionta and Johnny Gaudreau. If Montreal drafts him, Newhook will follow the same path as Poehling, developing his skills against older players until the Canadiens feel he’s ready for the NHL.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the younger brother of Canadiens prospect Nick Suzuki, who was a key of part of the trade that sent Max Pacioretty to the Vegas Golden Knights.
At 6 feet, Ryan is a slightly taller version of his older brother. Both players have blazing speed and good puck sense. Ryan is strong on the forecheck and is able to create scoring opportunities from this ability. But there are also questions about both brothers’ ability to handle themselves in heavy traffic.
Ryan had 25 goals and 50 assists in his first season of major junior hockey with the Barrie Colts. His production tailed off in the second half of the season, but could be attributed to the fact that the Colts weren’t a very good team and the talent pool was further diluted when they became sellers at the OHL trading deadline.
When Cliff Fletcher traded Brett Hull from Calgary to St. Louis, he famously remarked: “All he can do is score goals.”
The same might be said of Kaliyev, who is regarded as the purest goal scorer in the draft. He had 51 goals and 51 assists for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL. He has good size at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, but also has a reputation as a floater.
The one thing that should attract the Canadiens’ interest is his ability to score from the right faceoff circle on the power play. Twenty of his goals last season were scored from that spot.
The Montreal Gazette