It’s well known that the Montreal Canadiens are looking for a franchise changing center. Usually when you have a top-three pick in a draft, a team can fill their biggest hole right there. However, that isn’t the case in the 2018 NHL Draft as the top of the draft is loaded with wingers and defenseman. Most of the centers are expected to go after the top-10. The Canadiens need help there as they have attempted to convert several players to the center position, including Jonathan Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk, but neither has made a successful conversion. If the team could add a couple of legitimate centers, it could hasten their turnaround.
Recent reports suggest the Canadiens have found themselves getting attached to Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who most mock drafts have going after the 10th pick. Admittedly, he has risen up draft boards over the past year after a season in Finland’s top league, SM-liiga and put up 10 goals and 29 points as a 17-year-old among men (ironically he played the wing position there). In fact, at the combine this week, Kotkaniemi said that Canadiens were one of three teams to take him out to a steak dinner this past week. Assuming the Canadiens’ interest in him is genuine, the Canadiens have some critical decisions to make in the next few weeks. Kotkaniemi, who has two years remaining on his contract in Finland, has said there is an out-clause and he could come to North America, depending on the team that drafts him. Regardless, whatever Montreal does with the No. 3 pick will alter the rest of the draft, according to the Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey.
One option is to take Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick regardless of the prospect rankings. Afterall, the Columbus Blue Jackets did the same thing in 2016 when they surprised many by taking Pierre-Luc Dubois with the No. 3 pick then. That worked out pretty well. The downside is the team would likely pass on some top talent in either winger Andrei Svechnikov or Filip Zadina (whoever Carolina doesn’t take at No. 2) as well as a number of stud defensemen like Adam Boqvist, Noah Dobson or Quinn Hughes. Montreal needs help at both positions as well.
The second option is for Montreal to trade back and pick up Kotkaniemi at a more reasonable spot and pick up more assets. Unfortunately, several other teams like Kotkaniemi as well, including the Detroit Red Wings (No. 6) and the Chicago Blackhawks (No. 8). By the way, both teams were the only other teams to take Kotkaniemi out to a steak dinner this week. However, earlier in the week, general manager Marc Bergevin said he was reluctant to trade back in the draft. Director of player personnel Trevor Timmons countered that Saturday, suggesting the team could go up or down with all their extra picks in this draft.
Assuming the Canadiens do want to add a center in the draft, then the team will have a big decision to make in the coming weeks about which route they intend to take.