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NHL Draft: Who will be the pearls starting at No. 17 this year?
Credit: Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images
An interesting theory has emerged from the mouths of experts such as Simon Boisvert and Grant McCagg following the trade between the Islanders and the Hawks, which saw the latter jump from 20thto 18th place.

Could it be that the Hawks, having done their homework for the upcoming draft, have determined that after the 18th spot, we’re entering much more uncertain territory? That there would be a kind of disconnect after the top 18? That, by the same token, they decided to make this trade to give themselves a better chance of getting their hands on a particular player at No. 18? A player probably ranked in the top-15 on their list?

It could indeed look like that…

That said, every year, a certain number of impact players are drafted at the end of the first round as well as in the second round, but they’re not legion. In fact, we often hear that it’s a long second round after the top-15/top-20…

Kent Hughes is undoubtedly analyzing the option of trading positions 26 and 57 to obtain a young player a la Newhook or to move up a few ranks, as Mathias Brunet discussed earlier this week.

But first we need to get a feel for what the Habs have in store at these levels and the percentage of impact players available.

To do that, let’s take a look at what the years 2017 to 2021 looked like from the 19th spot – possibly the highest the Tricolore could draft if they tried to advance – to the end of the second round.

The year 2021 may still be a little too new for some to begin our analysis, but one of the NHL’s players of the hour, Wyatt Johnston (23rd), is clearly already a steal, and his Dallas teammate Logan Stankoven (47th) also looks set to become one.

Then there’s Olen Zellweger (Anaheim, 34th), as well as Josh Doan (Arizona, 36th) and the man who will accompany him on his new adventure in Salt Lake City, J.J Moser (60th). And let’s not forget Matthew Knies in Toronto (57th). All wise choices…

There will undoubtedly be more gems to come in the next few years (goalkeeper Jesper Wallsted, Minnesota, 20th?) but for now, 3 years after this draft, we’re talking about 6 or 7 potentially “impact” players out of 44 selections (around 15%), i.e. players worthy of the top-6 forward, top-4 back or #1 position in front of the net.

And no, Mr. McCagg, I still don’t believe Oliver Kapanen (Montreal, 64th) will become one… and I still have pretty big reservations about Logan Mailloux’s (31st) NHL ceiling, despite obvious physical and athletic attributes…

A number of players selected from Dawson Mercer (18th) onwards have made it to the NHL and are getting off to decent starts, but we’re still struggling to find any who we can say will definitely become impact players worthy of the name.

Braden Schneider (19th) is fulfilling his promise as a defensive player in New York. Hendrix Lapierre looked pretty good when he finally arrived in Washington this year, and is looking more and more like the good2nd-line center I saw in him in 2020. The speedy John Peterka in Buffalo (34th) isn’t bad, surprisingly better than his compatriot Lukas Reichel (Chicago, 17th). Finally, it’s probably Brock Faber, since traded from the Kings to the Wild, who wins the “grand theft” title at 45th.

Let’s be generous and add Tyson Foerster (Philadelphia, 23rd), Connor Zary (Calgary, 24th) and Luke Evangelista (Nashville, 42nd).

So we’re talking about 8 impact players between 19th and 62nd (Seattle wasn’t there yet!), or 18%.

Not too bad…

What happens after Thomas Harley (Dallas, 18th) in 2019?

Answer: Nothing… or almost nothing.

You’ll have to look to the Senators’ Shane Pinto (32nd ) for another semblance of an impact player. As far as I’m concerned, Philip Tomasino and Nils Hoglander don’t qualify for this title.

Two players out of 43 selections = 5%! Aouch!

Several flops, even in the top-15 in 2018. And it obviously doesn’t get any better after that.

Kandre Miller (NYR, 22nd), Alexander Romanov (Montreal, 38th) Kiril Marchenko (Columbus, 42nd), and Sean Durzi (Toronto, 42nd) are the only ones worthy of impact player status, and some will no doubt find us generous…

A big 9%.

Five clubs wandered after Nick Suzuki was selected by the Golden Knights before Josh Norris, Robert Thomas and went out back-to-back at ranks 19 and 20.

Then it was Dallas again, at No. 39, who took the ball out of the stadium with Jason Robertson.

If we exclude Filip Chytil (21st), who remains a very good3rd line player in a strong club, as well as Morgan Frost and Eli Tolvanen, who haven’t broken anything yet at the age of 25, that gives us just three impact players in 43 selections, good for 7%.

Pretty slim…

Will the Habs find another Lane Hutson?

If we round up and combine the probabilities for the two picks, the Habs have about an 11% chance of drafting an impact player either 26th or 57th at the end of June. Its chances are better at the end of the first round than at the end of the second, of course, but let’s light a few candles…

It already gives us an idea of Lane Hutson’s value to Montreal (62nd in 2022), who seems to have a very good chance of joining the top-4 in the very near future. But we can also assume that Mesar and Beck’s chances of playing a key role in the city of the orange cone are practically nil…

Incidentally, my colleague Marc-Olivier Beaudoin and yours truly are already in the process of drawing up a thunderous mock draft which will be published in a few weeks’ time. We already have our first 16 recorded selections and – surprise! – we’ve found that the task becomes a lot harder from the second part of the first round onwards! It’s not exactly the same quality of players, the same level of certainty.

So we can understand why the Hawks wanted to move up a few spots with their second selection! By the way, Marc-Olivier already seems to have his own idea about Chicago’s potential target at No. 18:

For my part, I haven’t yet finished analyzing all the prospects outside the top-15/top-20 until the end of the second round. I’ve still got a few hours to put into it this week, but I’ve already made up my mind about some of them.

Sacha Boisvert, the best Quebec prospect of the draft, with his shot, his skate, his physique, his hockey IQ and his work ethic, certainly has a chance of becoming a good second-line center, or an excellent third-line center. If he’s available at No. 26, I don’t think the Habs will hesitate for long. But, barring a magic wand from Hughes, don’t count on it, Boisvert is likely to be gone already…

I’d be very surprised if he was drafted in the top 16 because of his attitude, his personality and his fairly loathsome character, but in terms of raw talent, Trevor Connelly, can become an impact player… if he ever gains physical and psychological maturity…

Secondly, if it worked with Lane, why wouldn’t it work with Cole Hutson, who’s practically his twin on the ice? Hutson has absolutely nothing to envy in terms of raw talent to the 6 defensemen whose names we always hear in the top-15, the Dickinsons, Parekhs, Levshunovs, Buiums and others. Slightly stronger than his brother, Cole now holds the record for the most points among defensemen in USNTDP history. Second-best US player at last U18 after eventual first overall pick of 2025, James Hagens. Hutson is one of the players most likely to become a star outside the top-18, a very safe choice , in my opinion…

Small, feisty winger Teddy Stiga, the USA’s 3rd best player at U18, will certainly have a chance of breaking into a top-6 in the not-too-distant future. Golden hands, disconcerting agility on skates.

If he doesn’t crack the top 16, Norwegian left-handed defenseman Stian Solberg, smoking at the last World Senior Championship, will certainly turn heads. A more robust version of Habs prospect Adam Engstrom (92nd, in 2022), who’s already no one-armed man.

Terik Parascak, WHL Rookie of the Year with a 105-point season, often finds himself in discussions late in the first round. He makes up for a slightly deficient skating stroke with an outstanding sense of the game and undeniable offensive attributes (shooting, passing, hockey IQ…), it would be very difficult to pass over this player at 26th…

Perhaps more rightly than wrongly, very few consider Justin Poirier in the 26th spot, but if he’s still available at the end of the second round, a 51-goal scorer at age 17 in the QMJHL – unheard of since Crosby! – and 69 goals in 85 games including the playoffs (18 goals in 17 games!!!), the Habs had better make no mistake about passing on him!

The Hockey News totally disrespected him in its Draft Edition by not even finding him a small place in its top-100! At worst, Poirier, a kind of young Donald Audette – small but very strong with a blistering shot – could become a solid top-9 contributor and play on the second power-play unit. I’d be very curious to know whether this same Audette, now a scout for the Habs, appreciates Poirier’s game and, if so, whether he’ll be able to sell him around the table…

In short, with these seven “potential” impact players starting at #17, we’d already be in for a “big year” statistically speaking. We’ll stop here for now.

But that’s just for now!

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