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Habs: What to do with the 26th place pick? Six scenarios analyzed
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We’ll never say that the Canadiens’ late first-round pick (Jets) is more important than the decisive pick they’ll make at #5, but we’re likely to see the dividends sooner.

Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton are more than open to the idea of trading the 26th overall pick.

Think about it for a second.

While many thought there was no rush last year, they traded crisp picks at 31st and 37th and the no less likeable Gianni Fairbrother for an established young forward: Alex Newhook.

It’s now a year later, the hourglass is a little emptier, and Kent Hughes has already compromised himself multiple times this winter and spring, saying he wants to see his club fighting for a playoff spot as early as next season.

We’ve heard it. The players have heard it. Everyone knows it.

But unless I’m mistaken, the young prospects who will always be sitting in the stands in 26th place won’t be helping him fight for a playoff spot as early as 2024-2025.

It’s a no brainer.

Of course, no matter what happens in the next few days – draft, trade, free agent market – the Habs will have to let their core macerate for a few more seasons before it matures. But, as we said last week, the Canadiens may only be one or two players away from completing that famous core of 12-13 players worthy of aspiring clubs.

Basically, we’re missing another elite player to back up Slafkovsky in this category and, as we pointed out in our conclusion, we’re also missing another star or impact player to get into the big leagues.

This player could be acquired by letting the 26th selection go. But it could also be that certain teams are more interested in other assets up Kent Hughes’ sleeves.

I don’t often talk about trades, but with the draft just hours away – the best time to make a splash – let’s analyze a few scenarios to determine which are the most realistic and desirable for the Tricolore.

Rutger McGroarty
We already spoke briefly about Rutger last winter, following the Sean Monahan trade. Cheveldayoff and Hughes kept things simple, trading only Monahan for the Jets’ first-round pick, rather than going for a more “structural” deal.

But it’s certainly safe to assume that Hughes had sounded out his counterpart for the burly, talented McGroarty, incidentally born on exactly the same day as Juraj Slafkovsky.

Comparing the Cutter Gauthier trade for Jamie Drysdale and a second-round pick, it recently emerged that a Winnipeg journalist could see Montreal offering Justin Barron – brother of Jets forward Morgan – along with his late 1st-round pick in return for McGroarty.

That’s one possibility – Mailloux would be another – but perhaps a club like the Blue Jackets will be more aggressive in offering David Jiricek, 6th overall pick in 2022. McGroarty is, among other things, a former teammate of Fantilli’s at Michigan…

Could Hughes then retaliate, even offering Kaiden Guhle? We’ll have to wait and see. It could depend on the 5th place pick…

No matter, the 20-year-old American, who can play wing or center, is a charismatic young leader who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, and would fit in with the organization’s culture and timing (which is still under construction).

In short, McGroarty would fit the Tricolore’s needs perfectly and would be VERY high on my list.

Martin Necas
I don’t think it’s worth spending a lot of brain juice here. The Habs won’t interest the Canes with the 26th pick and won’t give away their5th pick and total for Necas, nor should they be that interested in paying a big long-term contract to this somewhat enigmatic player.

Hughes will likely leave clubs like the Devils and Sabres – and their 10th and 11th round picks and bank of prospects – to battle it out for the Czech’s services.

Unless the Habs are willing to part with Mike Matheson or Kaiden Guhle, I don’t really see any possibilities here.

Trevor Zegras
Here’s a file that doesn’t die easily. Zegras – for better or worse – is a VERY good friend of Cole Caufield. Regardless of his frustrating final season and laborious World Championship, he remains a talented forward capable of 60+ points.

For their part, the Habs have Logan Mailloux, a very strong and offensively talented right-handed defenseman who could fill the Ducks’ short-term needs by partially replacing the loss of Jamie Drysdale on their roster.

At $5.75 million for two more seasons, the contract for Zegras, just 23, is also very digestible for the Habs’ finances.

If his prior research into the dividend didn’t disabuse him of any doubts, here’s a nice little gamble for Hughes. The two teams would exchange two players with rather imperfect reputations…

And the addition of the 26th round pick could be partly offset by one of the Ducks’ second-round picks, either 35th or, more realistically, 58th.

Patrick Laine
On the surface, the big and talented Laine, with his contract expiring in 2026, would also be a nice little gamble for the Tricolore.

Very open to the idea of trading him, Jackets GM Don Waddell himself has indicated that teams want to talk to Laine before going any further. But that’s impossible as long as Laine is under the players’ association assistance program…

This seems like an issue that could be settled later in the summer, or even at training camp…

If Waddell’s goal is to make a “hockey transaction”, the Habs practically only have defensemen to offer him, while we know that they’re looking for forwards, especially if they lose one of Laine’s calibre…

Dvorak and Armia for a bit of depth? Yeah, well

But if Waddell offers Jiricek to the Jets and gets McGroarty in return, he’ll have to replace Jiricek.

That said, we don’t know who he’ll be drafting at #4, while Columbus’ intentions remain a total mystery just hours before the draft…

We’ll keep you posted. There will be plenty of action in Columbus this summer!

Trade the 26th place pick and another asset for an earlier draft?

Every year, for all teams, a prospect listed in their top-10 will still be available a little later.

Now, with its 26th round pick and several good young defensemen just about worthy of the top-20 in their respective drafts, the Habs seem to have what it takes to interest a few clubs. Particularly mid-ranking clubs that have narrowly missed the playoffs or need immediate help on the blue line but aren’t willing to sacrifice their future.

This is where players like Xhekaj, Mailloux, Barron, and even Struble and Harris come into play.

For such a player, Guhle could perhaps also be part of the discussion, but without including the late first-round pick.

Imagine if, for example, the Habs selected Zeev Buium, possibly the best defenseman in the draft, at #5, and followed it up with Michael Brandsegg-Nygard, who seems to be the most complete and ready winger in the NHL, a few minutes later!

Canadiens drafted 26th

In 5-6 years’ time, we’ll certainly be able to say that so-and-so was still available at this position and has become a star player. However, as of June 27 or 28, 2027, it’s hard to say with any certainty which one it will be.

But personally, if nothing good comes up on the trade market and players like Cole Hutson, Teddy Stiga, Sacha Boisvert or Terik Parascak are still available and wanted by the Tricolore, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. They’re all good bets and players who could reach the NHL in a very reasonable future.

Andrew Basha, as selected by colleague Marc-Olivier Beaudoin in our mock draft?

Hmmm, not my favorite, but we recognize his talent…

Feel free to continue the discussion with me on Facebook or Twitter!

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