Top 5 Best First-Round Fits for Montreal Canadiens at 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Interestingly enough, this will mark the first time the Montreal Canadiens are choosing as late as 26th in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. It’s also the latest they’re picking in general since 2008, when they traded away their first selection to the Calgary Flames for Alex Tanguay and ended up taking Danny Kristo 56th overall in the second.
While the Flames effectively wasted that 25th-overall pick on forward Greg Nemisz (just as the Habs did their 56th) in what has turned out to be just an average draft class, Habs fans will be pleased to know that quality Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis was taken at No. 26.
Between then and Kristo’s selection, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson was also taken. Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders defensemen Vyacheslav Voynov, Justin Schultz and Travis Hamonic were also available. Perhaps most impressively, so was New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan.
So, while this year’s draft is considered pretty shallow in terms of the talent available, there’s still a chance the Habs can hit a home run late in the first round. Here are the five best fits for the Habs who could realistically still be available come their first selection.
5. Brendan Lemieux (LW)
Generally speaking, teams should always be wary of choosing sons of past NHL greats (Eric Chouinard, anyone?), but the Montreal Canadiens can rest easy should Brendan Lemieux still be available at No. 26. Father Claude was arguably never really an NHL star…just a pest.
Coincidentally drafted at No. 26 by the Habs in the second round of the 1983 draft, Claude did surprisingly have eight 50-point seasons (including one in which he actually scored 81 to lead the New Jersey Devils), but he was never an all-star.
He was a good player who did whatever was necessary to win when it mattered most (notably even capturing the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1995). One can make a good case that traits like determination (and the ability to annoy) are more easily passed down than raw skill. In such an instance, the Habs should seriously consider son Brendan.
At 6’0”, 206 pounds, the Barrie Colts left winger at the very least has NHL size and a knack for scoring goals. He netted 27 this past season (53 points) in 65 games and could be a good fit on the Habs like his father was before him (before he wasn’t any longer and got traded to New Jersey in 1990 for journeyman Sylvain Turgeon).
Ranked 28th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting (via TSN.ca), there’s also a very good chance the Habs draft him as well.
4. Travis Sanheim (D)
While the Habs do have several young defensemen poised to reach the NHL in 2014-15 (some combination of Nathan Beaulieu, Jarred Tinordi and Greg Pateryn), that only means their cupboards will be all the more bare of blue-line prospects and that they could use the services of one Travis Sanheim.
Ranked 30th overall by International Scouting Services (via TSN.ca), the Calgary Hitmen defenseman has rocketed up the charts. In Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, he was ranked just 167th…among North American skaters. By the end of the year, he was 53rd.
At 6’3”, 189 pounds, Sanheim is a big, puck-moving defenseman who scored 29 points in 67 games. If the Habs are OK with going off the board a little in order to get bigger (as they did last year to get Michael McCarron), Sanheim looks like a good (better) choice.
3. Conner Bleackley (RW)
If International Scouting Services’ final rankings (via TSN.ca) are anything to go by, Red Deer Rebels forward Conner Bleackley should be the best player available by the time the Habs choose at No. 26.
At 6’1”, 192 pounds, Bleackley has decent size and put it to good use, notching 68 points (29 goals) in 71 games this past season.
Listed as being able to play both right wing and center (and noted for being able to play both offense and defense), Bleackley is very versatile. He also served as head coach Brent Sutter’s captain in Red Deer and was one of just three draft-eligible players to wear the "C" in the Canadian Hockey League.
If impressive company is anything to go by, it’s worth noting the other two were Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart and Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad. While that is indeed impressive, touting him as an energy forward with great leadership makes him sound a lot like the next Kyle Chipchura, who never has been—at all—in his NHL career after the Habs drafted him in the first round a decade ago.
All in all, Bleackley sounds like a safe choice, a player who might very well make the NHL but as a bottom-six forward.
2. Nikolay Goldobin (RW)
While he doesn’t have ideal size (his listed height of 6’0” is slightly generous), Sarnia Sting right winger Nikolay Goldobin does have something going for him should he still be available at No. 26: built-in chemistry with current Habs forward Alex Galchenyuk.
The two played together for half a year during in his rookie season in 2012-13 before Galchneyuk moved on to the NHL. That season, he impressed with 68 points and 30 goals in 68 games. The following season, without Galchenyuk at all, he led his team in scoring with 94 points (38 goals) in 67 games.
As such, Goldobin has a lot more going for him than just chemistry with Galchenyuk. He has skill and loads of it, while drawbacks include a lack of defense to his game.
Put simply, if Bleackley is a safe choice at No. 26, Goldobin, should he still be available, would be a high-risk, high-reward one.
His level of skill dictates he shouldn’t last as long as late into the first round, but the Habs similarly have something going for them. ISS (via TSN.ca) ranks him as the 28th-best prospect. Central Scouting (via TSN.ca) ranks him at No. 24 among North American skaters (even though he’s Russian). And yeah, he’s Russian, meaning teams might shy away from him, leaving him ripe for the Habs’ picking.
While normally speaking Habs fans might have similar concerns, his history with Galchenyuk might just be the basis for the start of a fruitful NHL career (and a lethal one-two punch up front).
1. Ryan MacInnis (C)
Kitchener Rangers forward Ryan MacInnis has a little bit of everything. He’s got size at 6’3” and 185 pounds, bloodlines (being the son of Al) and a two-way game that oozes skill and tempers the pressure on him all at the same time. Most importantly, he’s got a chance at being available at No. 26.
Ranked 25th by International Scouting Services (via TSN.ca) and as the 20th-ranked North American skater according to NHL’s Central Scouting (via TSN.ca), the St. Louis native projects as a two-way forward with offensive upside.
He likely won’t develop to the degree of becoming an Anze Kopitar, but perhaps the next Stephen Weiss is more of a realistic extrapolation according to coach Troy Smith (h/t to Yahoo Sports writer Neate Sager)
More to the point, MacInnis may not project as a player like his father, but, seeing as he plays an entirely different position, no one should expect him to.
He is a center and even though the Habs’ most pressing organizational need is arguably on the right side—depressingly even after Montreal drafted a very similar player last year in American right winger Michael McCarron who hasn’t developed up to expectations yet—MacInnis does seem to have elite potential that’s hard to ignore.
He may have notched just 16 goals and 37 points in 66 games this season, but that was good for third-best on an offensive-challenged squad and just nine points off the team lead. He also co-led the Rangers with six power-play goals, which is perhaps more of an indication of his two-way potential.
He’s essentially a safe pick, with whom you know what you’re going get. But, if he ends up being a surprise, it’s going to be a very pleasant one. One gets the feeling just the opposite is true of the others on this list.