The NHL Draft is just a couple of days away and for the first time in over a year, Hab fans have a reason to be excited. A dismal season has left them with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. This is why many Hab fans were in favor of the team tanking and finishing low in the standings.
Now, the Montreal Canadiens have a chance to take a huge step in building a championship caliber team. While it won't be done in one draft alone, they can certainly add a cornerstone to their franchise. Granted, this year's draft class is one of the weaker ones in recent memory in terms of talent, the Habs can still land a great player. The beauty of the draft is no one truly knows how good these prospects are and anyone can either be a success in the NHL or a bust.
The Canadiens simply cannot afford to whiff on this draft, as it's Marc Bergevin's first major personnel decision and can set the course for how the next three to five years of his tenure go. Barring a major shocker, there are a select few prospects the Habs are seriously considering drafting. Here are the chances that each of them are drafted by the Canadiens.
Prospects listed are in ascending order of their chances landing with the Habs.
Conventional wisdom has it that Sarnia Sting forward Nail Yakupov is on top of everyone's big board.
His offensive talent is just too much to overlook. He's an explosive forward and is the type of game-changer the Canadiens have been coveting for such a long time.
Now obviously, with Yakupov being No.1 on the big board, odds are the Edmonton Oilers will draft him first overall, or someone will trade up to get him. That will be the only way the Canadiens will have a chance to grab him.
Even if the Oilers surprise a few people and draft someone else first overall—which would likely mean a defenceman—there's no way Columbus will pass on him at No. 2. So, unless Montreal wants Yakupov so badly that they'd be willing to part with a top prospect or one of its top players, Yakupov just won't be in the cards for them.
Nonetheless, as Lloyd Christmas would say, "So you're saying, there's a chance." Yes there indeed is a slim chance but nothing more.
Odds: 2 percent
With Mikhail Grigorenko's stock having fallen in the past few months, he should be available when the Canadiens are on the clock.
There's much debate on Grigorenko as to how far he's fallen. Some have him going in the top five, whereas some have him slipping out of the top 10.
I have a feeling someone in need of a talented forward will roll the dice on him. His size and talent give him the potential to be the draft's best player, but his weak work ethic and inconsistency are red flags for teams.
The Habs have been plagued by forwards with poor work ethics and/or inconsistent play over the last decade (Andrei Kostitsyn, Alex Kovalev, Chris Higgins, Michael Ryder, etc.,). I just don't see them going that route and risk taking another one.
They'll want a hard worker with talent and there are other prospects who fit that bill.
When you look at the current Canadiens management team, you see hard workers. Marc Bergevin earned his NHL reputation as a hard worker as a player and then a scout. Martin Lapointe was a hard worker in the NHL. Coach Michel Therrien is a hard-nosed coach who demands a strong work ethic. Grigorenko just doesn't seem to be a fit here.
There is an outside chance they overlook the concerns around him, but that's doubtful.
Odds: 5 percent
This is an interesting one.
The Montreal Canadiens organization is loaded with young defencemen. Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Morgan Ellis, Darren Dietz are just some of their top prospects. At the pro level, they have P.K. Subban and veterans Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges.
There's the old saying "you can never have enough good young defencemen," and Murray would be surrounded with some great talent in the back end with Montreal.
Markov's always a concern health-wise, and Murray's game is moving the puck and setting up teammates. He's also consistent in his end and has great leadership qualities. Adding him would give the Habs a chance at having the best defence corp in the league three to five years from now.
However, the need for a top-six forward is just too much to overlook for another year.
As much as defencemen are important, the Los Angeles Kings won due to the depth on their top two lines. While the Kings are strongly built down the middle, the Canadiens are incredibly thin at center. That's the biggest difference between the Habs' 15th-place finish in the Eastern Conference and the Kings winning the Stanley Cup.
Murray is a safe pick in this draft. However, there are just too many other teams for which defence is a higher need, which is why Murray will play elsewhere.
Still, you can't rule out the possibility of the Habs continuing to stockpile young defencemen.
Odds: 15 percent
Filip Forsberg has all the makings of a power forward.
He plays hard, goes to the net and has some size on him. He can continue to build on his 6'1"-185-pound frame. At 17, he's one of the draft's younger players, but patience may very well pay off for the team that drafts Forsberg.
The Canadiens have an overload of small forwards and can use some size and someone who won't be pushed around.
Forsberg can bring that to Montreal.
Erik Cole plays that role effectively for the Habs now, but he's also 33 years old, and you wonder how many more years Cole has left at power forward. By the time Forsberg is ready to play that role, Cole's best days will likely be behind him. It's not a bad option at all to make sure the role is addressed for the long run.
Forsberg is a great option for Columbus, as well, as Blue Jackets may very well trade Rick Nash. They'd need a replacement for him and Forsberg's style of play would fit nicely with what Columbus will need if it trades Nash. Even if it does keep Nash, would it not be nice to give him some help?
Need and talent are both there for the Habs if Forsberg's around. The need for a center is greater, but let's not forget Forsberg's versatility to move around at forward.
Don't be shocked if Forsberg's a Hab come Friday night.
Odds: 25 percent
The most likely pick, due to his talent and the need at the position for Montreal, that Sarnia Sting centerman Alex Galchenyuk will don the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge on June 22.
Galchenyuk has amazing hands, can play a two-way game, has great offensive upside and makes people around him better. He has size as well at 6',1/2" and 185 pounds with room to grow into his frame.
Pretty much everything you want at center ice.
Character is not a concern either with Galchenyuk. He's an interesting young man, as well. He's American born; his father played for the Russian Super League. He's lived in Germany, Italy and France, as well as the States, and has spent the last two years in the OHL with Sarnia.
He's been around and will be able to handle the pressure of playing in Montreal.
The concern is the torn ACL he suffered in the preseason last year. Galchenyuk passed fitness tests with flying colors at the NHL combine, so the knee does not seem to be an issue right now.
He's worth the risk—if there is one—because he's a playmaker with scoring ability. He'll work hard and quickly win over the fans in Montreal. Actually, he's the consensus pick for Hab fans already and with good reason.
He may be the answer for the Canadiens down the middle.
The Habs have not had a true No. 1 center in over two decades, and they simply can't go another year without addressing the position, especially when drafting this high. You don't know when the team will get another opportunity to address this need through the draft. Addressing the need through a trade or free agency means spending a ton of cap money and possibly parting with top assets.
There is a chance that the Blue Jackets will take a center to play alongside Rick Nash, but if Galchenyuk is available, there's no reason for the Habs to pass on him.
I'm happy to admit that he's my personal choice for the Habs. He'd bring excitement to the fanbase and to the organization. If he's around, I'm confident he'll be the pick.
Odds: 45 percent
There are of course other prospects with an outside chance of being drafted by the Habs—Matt Dumba and Griffin Reinhart are among other highly touted players.
The whole beauty of the draft is that we just don't know. While we have some fine amateur scouts, no one knows what every general manager in the NHL is thinking.
It will be fun to watch the drama unfold in Pittsburgh on June 22. Hab fans should enjoy this year's draft and hope that next year, their team will be picking much later in next year's draft.