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Draft 2024: top-10 prospects (mid-season) | Part 1: positions 1 to 5
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot

A promise made, a promise kept! Today, we present you with the first part of our “mid-season” top-10 for the June draft!

My assessments are based on the various viewings I’ve done over the past few months (Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament, full league games, CMJ, etc.) and on the information I’ve been able to accumulate and subpopulate on these players from all over the place.

Note that this is not a mock-draft per se, an exercise we’ll be doing much closer to the actual draft when we know the final NHL team rankings.

For the top-10 as a whole, however, we’ve taken into consideration some of the NHL club trends we’ve noticed over the years.

And for your local enjoyment, we’ll slip in a few words about the Tricolore here and there…

Let’s start today, appropriately enough, with positions 1 to 5.

1- Macklin Celebrini
In a way, Celebrini is as consensual a #1 as Connor Bedard was last year. I’ve yet to see anyone put him anywhere but #1. Some even think he could be a better NHL player than Bedard, because he’s more complete. It’s simple, name any quality, Celebrini has it, and in pretty good quantity at that!

At 17, he dominated the CMJ and crushed the competition in the NCAA with Boston University as the league’s youngest player… Two names come up quite often as comparables: Crosby and Toews. That says a lot about the youngster’s professionalism, leadership and skill level.

If the Habs win the lottery, Celebrini’s selection would, for all intents and purposes, ensure (fairly quickly) the success of Hughes and Gorton’s rebuilding plan. Clearly, this is a future concession player, a future superstar. Just what the Habs are sorely lacking, despite Slafkovsky’s impressive and intriguing rise to prominence. Need we say more about Celebrini for the purposes of this list? No. But there may be more to say about the next player…

2- Ivan Demidov
Let’s start by asking a few questions: If Demidov were playing in North America, would there be a real battle for #1 right now? Does the fact that Demidov is Russian create an unfavorable prejudice against him in the scouting world?

In terms of raw talent, Demidov (Demi-dieu?) may well be ahead of Celebrini. He may not be as fast in a straight line, and his shot may not be as good, but he has better hands, superior creativity and unrivalled lateral mobility. His incredible balance on skates is also noticeable. Highly engaged and dynamic, he seems propelled by a tireless engine, always attacking the available space with greed.

Like Celebrini, Demidov has the profile of a true game breaker. Give him the puck and he’ll make the difference. He literally crushes everything in his path in the MHL, the Russian junior circuit, and could/should undoubtedly play in the KHL on a regular basis on an offensive trio, as evidenced by his staggering statistics of 45 points in 23 games, including 29 in his last 10! By way of comparison, as the Journal de Montréal recently reminded us, Nikita Kucherov had 43 points in as many games in the MHL the season after he was drafted in 2011…

But, as we all know, things are rarely simple and “normal” when it comes to development in Uncle Vladimir’s country… Demidov’s contract – an individual said to have a much nicer trade than a certain Matvei Michkov – fortunately ends in 2025 with St Petersburg.

In the meantime, a debate as to whether Celebrini is really better than Demidov could still take place over the coming months. To be continued…

3- Cayden Lindstrom
It would take some nerve not to draft in the top-3 a hard-working, talented 6’4, 216 lbs lbs center who skates like the wind and scores at will in the WHL. Who’s to say that, at the end of his career, Lindstrom won’t be the chosen one of 2024 to have made the biggest impact in the NHL? Stranger things have happened… In any case, despite the presence of 16-year-old Gavin McKenna, the “generational future player”. Medicine Hat, his junior club, hasn’t been the same since his injury and hand surgery: 8-6-2 without him, 19-8-2 with him, Grant McCagg recently reported on his podcast.

With a good training camp, he could make the jump straight to the NHL next year, and no one would be surprised. At least as good as Byfield at the same age, he’s a better scorer, has better hands and a meaner streak. His coach even recently mentionedthe name Eric Lindros to our former colleague Nicolas Cloutier to describe Lindstrom’s style of play…

At this point, if the Habs don’t win the lottery, the wet dream of many fans would be for Lindstrom to miraculously slip into the middle of the top-10 at the draft. ” Fat chance “, as they say in Serbo-Croatian…

4- Artyom Levshunov
When you do this exercise, you realize that it’s around 4th place that the “real fun begins”, if you know what I mean. The obvious and certain top talent of the big forwards is already gone, and it’s from here that you can truly say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, that “man is the measure of all things”, that ” alles ist relativ “, etc.

A very good skater, perhaps just a little less elegant and mobile than Parekh and Dickinson, Levshunov, a right-handed native of Belarus, 6’2 210 lbs, seems physically stronger than the other two. Like Parekh, he is resolutely an offensive defender, but with a slightly more “pro” style at the NCAA in Michigan. Creative, his risks are generally well calculated and his vision of the game excellent. Defensively, his reads aren’t always perfect, but we love his play along the ramps, his pivots and his puck retrievals.

Levshunov has a very good chance of breaking into the top-5, as we see on several lists. In my opinion, he’s the most complete back in the 2024 auction, subject to a few defensive adjustments. A more offensive version of Reinbacher, but less solid defensively. We could easily see a club like the Blue Jackets selecting him at this rank, as they’ve replenished the attacking coffers quite a bit in recent years, but they could also turn to the next guy on my list…

5- Zayne Parekh
For a “new-style”, highly offensive defenseman, Parekh nonetheless displays obvious defensive qualities, starting with his anticipation, 360° mobility and very good balance/physical strength for his size (6’0, 181 lbs). In terms of raw offensive talent, Owen Beck’s team-mate is perhaps the best defender of the crop, and he seems to be given all the latitude Saginaw wants, playing a kind of depositionlesshockey, at least with Parekh on the ice.

The offensive engine of his team, there’s no denying his stats, but above all there’s no denying his vision and calmness with the puck. He also hides his intentions very well. Sometimes, however, I find him a little too calm, even nonchalant without the puck. He almost gives the impression of playing in pyjamas (handy for sleeping on the ice because he plays so many minutes!) and is not very robust in general.

But here’s a future PP1 quarterback for any club and a first-pair defenseman. He could, if desired, be accompanied by a slightly more restrained left-handed player, an option that could perhaps interest the Habs, should the need arise…

Partial conclusion
I think the top-3 is likely to become increasingly consensual over the coming months. It remains to be seen whether we’ll see a debate between Celebrini and Demidov. Not impossible, but it’s a pity that Demidov plays in Russia…

As for her, it’s from the4th rank that the great waltz of defensemen could begin, and at present, there’s no consensus on the order in which they’ll be drafted.

I thought it best to go with two right-handers with a high level of talent to start with, as right-handers are rarer and top talent is the most important quality to prioritize at the beginning of the draft. But left-handers Silayev and Dickinson also have their fans…

And the Habs?
Assuming the Tricolore falls a little, and the Senators and Sabres come out on top at the end of the season, the Habs could well draft 5th if they don’t win one of the two lotteries. Would they then draft another right-handed defenseman so early in the draft after opting for Reinbacher last year, or would they turn instead to a forward, an even more glaring organizational need?

Are Levshunov, Pareks and the other 2024 defensemen so superior to Reinbacher and the available 2024 forwards that we would once again turn to a mid-top-10 back?

If Bobrov and company were to select a forward, would it be a ” reach ” like Timmins’ 2018 selection of center Kotkaniemi? Or might a forward simply deserve to be drafted as early as 5th-6th next June?

We’ll be back next Saturday to answer these questions!

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