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Future Watch – Montreal Canadiens: Pivot to pivots

Centers were the Canadiens' center of attention at the draft as they attempted to fill their void down the middle.
Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Terry Wilson/OHL Images

B+ / 10th overall

The 2018 draftrepresented a change in the Canadiens’ strategy as they moved away from picking the best player available and addressed their needs. It started in the first round when the team passed on highly rated prospects like Brady Tkachuk, Filip Zadina and Quinn Hughes to select Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Canadiens have been weak up the middle for the better part of a decade, but seven of their 11 draft picks in 2018 were centers, and they also acquired 2017 first-rounder Nick Suzuki from the Vegas Golden Knights as part of the Max Pacioretty trade. Habs GM Marc Bergevin said Suzuki was the key to the trade.

MIN_Trend

1. Nick Suzuki (22nd overall)
C, 19, 5-11, 183 – Guelph (OHL)
53–32–54–86–12
Trade (Veg), Sept. 10, 2018
The vision of the smooth-skating Suzuki as a top-six center has blurred. While he continues to rack up points in the OHL, he failed to take advantage of an opportunity to make the Canadiens with a mediocre camp. He was returned to junior while Kotkaniemi, a year younger than Suzuki, stayed in the NHL. Suzuki was also underwhelming at the WJC. While he has skill, his lack of size may be a problem at the next level. He might be better suited to playing on the wing.
FW18| 3 (Veg) – NHL | 2020-21

2. Ryan Poehling (28th overall)
C, 20, 6-2, 200 – St. Cloud State (NCHC)
30–7–21–28–34
2017 draft, 25th overall
Poehling has improved over his three-year-collegiate career. He took advantage of a Jack Hughes injury to play a larger role for Team USA at the WJC and was named tournament MVP. Poehling is more of a playmaker than a scorer, but he had five goals and eight points in the tournament. The question is whether Poehling wants to leave school before he graduates along with his older twin brothers Jack and Nick. The decision may be easier if top-ranked St. Cloud wins the NCAA title.
FW18| No. 1 – NHL | 2020-21

3. Alexander Romanov (45th overall)
D, 19, 5-11, 185 – CSKA Moscow (KHL)
43–1–3–4–12
2018 draft, 38th overall
Montreal may have scored the steal of the draft by selecting him in the second round. “He can play in the NHL right now,” Bergevin said. Central Scouting had Romanov ranked 115th among European skaters. He was named top defenseman at the WJC. Romanov has one year remaining on his KHL contract, but he has the skills to thrive in the NHL. He is an excellent skater with an accurate slapshot and moves the puck well. He can hit but must guard against taking himself out of the play.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2021-22

4. Cayden Primeau (60th overall)
G, 19, 6-2, 199 – Northeastern (HE)
20–9–1, 2.19, .929
2017 draft, 199th overall
The Habs traded for a seventh-round pick so they could select Primeau, whose stock fell after a spotty run in the USHL. Two seasons into his NCAA career, Primeau is being touted as a solid prospect. He has size, athletic ability and good genes – his father, Keith, played 909 games over 15 NHL seasons. Cayden has made progress with his glove and puck tracking. He helped Team USA win silver at the WJC and was nominated for the Hobey Baker. He’ll play at least one more year in college.
FW18| No. 10 – NHL | 2023-24

5. Noah Juulsen (99th overall)
D, 21, 6-2, 193 – Laval (AHL)
3–0–0–0–0
2015 draft, 26th overall
The scouting report says Juulsen “plays the game right,” but staying healthy has been an issue. His NHL debut was delayed last season with an ankle injury in a rookie tournament. He was contending for a top-four role this season when he was struck in the face by a puck twice in a Nov. 19 game and sustained a facial fracture. He returned to action three weeks later but was sent to Laval after five games. Vision problems stemming from the injury forced him to shut it down in late December.
FW18| No. 3 – NHL | 2019-20

6. Josh Brook
D, 19, 6-1, 192 – Moose Jaw (WHL)
52–15–51–66–73
2017 draft, 56th overall
Offensive D-man thrives in transition game. He creates offense with precision passes.

7. Jesse Ylonen
RW, 19, 6-1, 172 – Pelicans (Fin.)
48–12–12–24–6
2018 draft, 35th overall
World junior gold medalist will take another year in Finland to bulk up.

8. Cale Fleury
D, 20, 6-1, 211 – Laval (AHL)
42–5–9–14–19
2017 draft, 87th overall
First year pro has impressed Canadians with his poise on blueline.

9. Jacob Olofsson
C, 19, 6-2, 196 – Timra (Swe.)
34–3–6–9–2
2018 draft, 56th overall
Playing against men. Has a two-way game not often seen in younger players.

10. Joni Ikonen
C, 19, 5-11, 172 – KalPa (Fin.)
13–5–5–10–6
2017 draft, 58th overall
Speedster is back on track in Finnish top league after off-season knee surgery.

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