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What’s the realistic best-case scenario for the CH in the first round?

With the first round of the NHL Entry Draft just hours away, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s virtually impossible this year to determine WHO the Habs will select in the fifth round.

We keep going over and over – almost in a loop (!) – all the different players who might be available to Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton: Michkov, Smith, Reinbacher, Dvorsky, Leonard, lark… You know them as well as I do.

Without losing sight of these names, I think we need to take a broader view and analyze the multiple scenarios that could present themselves to Kent Hughes and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

You’ve probably looked at some of them. My colleague Charles-Alexis Brisebois mentioned several recently.

But of all these scenarios, which is the best?

Which would be most likely to make the Habs a better team in the medium and long term?

With this in mind, working from realistic projections, NHL clubs generally make their decisions on a utilitarian basis, that is, they put emotions and noise aside and try to be as rational as possible in seeking the optimal scenario, the one that will maximize the conceivable benefits while attempting to minimize the risks and drawbacks.

We won’t be able to analyze all the scenarios open to Hughes and Gorton in this article, but let’s try to identify those that seem both optimal and realistic, keeping in mind three key ideas recently expressed by the organization:

– Acquire stronger players
– Try to get three first-round picks this year
– Acquire solid prospects on the verge of establishing themselves or exploding in the NHL (Dach 2.0)
– Be more competitive next year

Some scenarios to eliminate from the outset

For the sake of realism, let’s eliminate the scenarios that would see the CH move up and draft between2nd and 4th place. These situations are extremely rare, for the simple reason that most of the time, in the top 3-4, teams don’t want to draft lower and risk ending up with lesser players or players they consider more risky!

If we start from the premise that, most of the time, the team that ends up with the best player wins the trade, nobody wants to be told two years later “you had the chance to select Super-player-Untel-whom-everyone-loved and you stupidly agreed to go down and end up with Joe Bleau and/or Paquet-de troubles-X!

Let’s also get rid of the idea that the Coyotes might offer the 6th and 12th overall picks to gettheir hands on the Habs5th and 31st. If we assume that Michkov probably wouldn’t even want to play in Arizona and that they’d lose the 12th pick in the deal, the ratio isn’t favorable enough for the Coyotes; the chances of “hitting a foul ball” at 31st are far too great compared to 12th.

Finally, for the sake of argument, let’s eliminate all scenarios involving the5th overall pick and Pierre-Luc Dubois (should the matter drag on until Wednesday evening). The odds of this year’s5th overall pick becoming a better player than Pierre-Luc Dubois in a reasonable timeframe are too high, and Winnipeg would be looking for “established” players anyway.

If Dubois were to land in Montreal any time soon, it would be by other means.

So let’s get down to business.

Some realistic scenarios

1. Canadiens drafted5th

Statistically, this is probably the most realistic scenario: clubs that can draft5th almost never trade their picks. It’s been 15 years since this happened. They usually see the player as the key to their franchise’s future, a (super)star in the making who they can pick up for free and owe nothing to anyone.

Bluff or not, Hughes himself has made it clear that he would be “very happy” to keep his5th-round pick.

Nothing original here. He’s maximizing the value of his5th-round pick by saying he’s willing to keep it, and he’s no doubt confident he’s drafting a future star player, one who could be very beneficial to his team at this level.

Scenario 1A: In my opinion, if he’s still available, his interview went well with the Habs, the risk is clearly worth it and Geoff Molson agrees (because yes, in Michkov’s case, you’d probably need the boss’s approval), we’d be crazy to keep the Russian out of the picture.

(Credit: Capture d’écran/Twitter)
It would be a real buzz around town if the CH drafted Michkov on Wednesday night!

If they’re available, the same could be said for Fantilli, Carlsson and Smith. Along with Bédard, these three other forwards round out this year’s Big-5 in terms of raw talent. They’re all pretty rare players who seem to stand out from the crowd.

Unsurprisingly, drafting any player from the BIG-5 in 2023 is, in my view, a realistic and probably optimal scenario for the Habs at No. 5.

Scenario 1B: The “other four” are all drafted, Michkov is still available, but the organization doesn’t like him for all sorts of reasons, and the offers from the clubs behind them to move up to No.5 aren’t worth it, as it’s estimated that coveted player X (Reinbacher? Dvorsky?) will no longer be available at No. 7 (Philadelphia), No. 8 (Washington) or No. 9 (Detroit).

We therefore decide to draft David Reinbacher or Dalibor Dvorsky.

To make a long story short, I don’t see Ryan Leonard in the same category.

In the case of Reinbacher, the CH would end up with the best defenseman in the draft, who is tall, talented and right-handed. In all likelihood, a future first-pairing guy, capable of playing 24-25 minutes a game. His statistics in Switzerland this season were almost identical to those of a certain Roman Josi, who played in the same league in his draft year.

Hard to argue with that!

Drafting the best defenseman available will always be a defensible idea, but optimal at #5 this year?
(Credit: Screenshot)

With current information, therefore, before the organization’s important meeting with Michkov, and if we momentarily rule out trade-down options (we’ll come back to this in a few moments), drafting David Reinbacher at No. 5 seems to me to be a fairly realistic scenario.

Optimal? Hmmm. Really not so sure…

We’ll come back to that.

In the second case, with Dvorsky, the organization would end up with the best center still available, a big player (6’1, 201 lbs), good at everything and excellent at U18 in his role as Slovakia’s leader. Dvorsky is also eight months younger than Fantilli and six months younger than Carlsson… Who knows if he won’t become as good as the other two within a few years?

And if Hughes were to seriously doubt that Pierre-Luc Dubois would ever land in Montreal, Dvorsky would be a nice insurance policy…

Dvorsky has been considered a consensus top-10 prospect for this draft for several years.
(Credit: screenshot

Finally, what superb news this would be for Juraj Slafkovsky, who could soon be playing with a compatriot whose style, not unlike that of his friend Sean Monahan, would complement him perfectly. And given the weight around the table that European scouts in this sector had last year, the possibility of the CH landing Dvorsky at No. 5 is not far-fetched. In the medium term, Dvorsky could just as easily become a better center than Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach or, at the very least, a player of the same caliber.

Again, it’s hard to argue with that.

But is that the best-case scenario at No. 5 if Michkov is still available?

2. Habs trade their5th-round pick and move down in the draft

Whether Michkov is available or not, but especially if he is available, here are at least three intriguing possibilities with the Flyers, Caps and Red Wings.

Scenario 2A : The Wings with relatively close picks #9 and #17 could give serious pause to CH decision-makers, who have often expressed a desire for three first-round selections this year. It’s indeed quite possible that Bobrov and his gang have two targets left in those ranks whose combined value would be greater than that of picks #5 and, say, #37 according to their analysis.

For example, maybe at #9 they could get their hands on, say, an Oliver Moore who would be #7 on their list, and at #17, maybe a Quentin Musty, #12 according to them, would still be available. But no matter which names we put here, you get the idea…

Add to that the possibility of drafting 6’6 Czech goaltender Michael Hrabal 31st with the Panthers’ picks and we’d have a WHOLE first round to sink our teeth into on Wednesday night, folks…

But more importantly, to move up to#5, the Wings would have to include a top prospect in the mix. Speaking of a 6’6″ goaltender, 20-year-old Canadian Sebastian Cossa, selected 15th overall in 2021, would fill a big gap in the Montreal organization and provide a nice insurance policy should Hrabal become unavailable at No. 31.

Alternatively, the highly versatile and universally appreciated Austrian forward Marco Kasper, selected 8th last year, could also be a very interesting option, but Detroit would really have to hold out for him at No. 5 to make him available…

Scenario 2B: For all the reasons we know, the Capitals could certainly be VERY aggressive in their pursuit of Michkov, and it would be very surprising if serious talks weren’t already underway with the teams ahead of them on the podium. In order to get their hands on Michkov and secure a star (Russian) player in Washington, the Caps may have to give up their 8th-place selection this year, their first-round pick next year and at least one solid prospect.

At No. 8, the CH would still have a good chance of acquiring one of the players they still hold in the highest esteem (put any name you like here). The Caps’ first-round pick next year also has a good chance of still being in the top-10. Then, to top it all off, get an interesting prospect like Hendrix Lapierre, a recent1st-round pick in 2020, who just won the Calder Cup with Hershey in the AHL, but hasn’t really blossomed in the pros yet.

Hendrix Lapierre in his Chicoutimi days.
(Credit: screenshot)

Lapierre, 21 years old and effective in both directions of the rink, doesn’t have as much potential as Kirby Dach, that goes without saying, but Hughes – as he expressed his wish this spring – would thus get another talented forward, perhaps a little underestimated, with already a few full seasons of development behind the tie and who nonetheless had an encouraging first campaign in Hershey in the AHL with 30 points, +7 in 60 games.

The big, but fragile Anthony Mantha and his big salary for yet another season could also be included in the deal one way or another. We know that the Caps would like to get rid of him… When healthy, he can undoubtedly help make the CH a more competitive club next year.

Scenario 2C: The Flyers could probably get their hands on a very good player at No. 7, but since they’re rumored to be planning a fairly lengthy rebuild with new GM Daniel Brière, they could also try their luck with Michkov or another Big 5 player available at No. 5.

To be credible, especially if they want Michkov, in addition to their 7th-round pick and a1st-round pick next year, the Flyers would absolutely have to give up big right-winger and former1st-round pick in 2020, Tyson Foerster, in the deal.

Foerster has always terrorized opposing goaltenders.
(Credit: Screenshot)

Foerster, 21 years old, 6’2 and 194 pounds, just broke the mold in his first AHL season with 20 goals and 48 points in 66 games with Lehigh Valley, in addition to recording 7 points including three goals in 8 games at the end of the season in Philadelphia. Although not the fastest, the burly Foerster possesses a fiery shot and is a veritable poison around the opposing net.

The Habs would thus get their hands on their famous “almost established NHL top prospect”, a strong player of the type they openly intend to acquire, and would still find themselves with a coveted 7th-round pick in Reinbacher, Dvorsky (or Leonard, if you’re so inclined), for example. In a scenario including Michkov, next year’s first-round pick would be the icing on the obligatory sundae to beat the Caps’ and Wings’ offers.


In short, logically, selecting one of the remaining members of the Big 5 at No. 5 would of course be a realistic and fairly optimal scenario for the Habs.

But if the polarizing Michkov is still available at No.5 and the Montreal organization, including owner Geoff Molson, doesn’t like him for all sorts of reasons, for the first time in 15 years, Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton could well be tempted to “trade down” to the top-10 of the draft.

And that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, far from it!

As we’ve been able to analyze, these realistic trade-down scenarios, especially if they include Michkov, seem to be the ones that would most maximize the value of the5th-round pick, especially when compared to the idea of passing on Michkov and directly selecting a Reinbacher or a Dvorsky.

These trade-down options with the clubs mentioned, even if not 100% accurate, could all theoretically improve the Habs in the medium and long term by best meeting the various desires expressed by the organization, i.e. to get their hands on more first-round picks (ideally this year, but we wouldn’t say no to a potential top-10 next year), acquire solid prospects who already possess a certain maturity and, if possible, grow the roster at the same time.

It remains to be seen whether any clubs will take the bait and be prepared to pay the price.

Talk to you after the draft!

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