Before the 2018-19 season even begins, there will be some conflict between divisional foes. The Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings are both coming off disappointing seasons and are looking to reinforce their franchises with their own high draft slots as well as acquired picks. Both teams are hoping to cash in on several picks in the first and second rounds to find multiple players that will grow to become regular NHLers. However, they may have to battle each other to do so.
The Athletic’s Craig Custance published an article this week about Detroit’s possible plans and potential targets for a trio of picks in the 30’s. His colleague Arpon Basu was quick to respond with his own article about Montreal’s potential marks with their two picks in the early second round. Basu also added that the two teams share similar organizational needs. Among them, both the Canadiens and Red Wings could use a top-flight center and defenseman in the pipeline.
With no suitable centers available when either team picks in the first round – the Habs at #3 and the Wings at #6 – what those teams do early on could dictate their priorities in the early second. Many expect that Montreal cannot pass up the elite forward talent that is winger Filip Zadina. The Canadiens (or Red Wings) could reach for center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, but it is unlikely. They could also take a defenseman, as there are plenty of supremely talented names available in this draft. After Rasmus Dahlin presumably goes first overall, most consider Quinn Hughes to be the next best name. Of course, Detroit is the heavy favorite to take the University of Michigan product if he’s still on the board. If Montreal chose to steal him, it would be the first conflict between these two teams.
Things heat up even more later on though. Detroit has a second first-rounder at #30, courtesy of the Tomas Tatar trade with the Vegas Golden Knights. While this is a prime position for the Wings to trade out of, they could also simply make the pick. It is here that the Red Wings could beat the Canadiens to one of the top available centers. Both Custance and Basu list Ty Dellandrea as a prime target in the late first and early second, and Basu also offers Isac Lundestrom and Jacob Olofsson as candidates if either is still available. Then, in the second, Detroit picks again at #33, the pick they received from the Ottawa Senators through the New York Rangers in the Brendan Smith deal. So while the Habs get the first shot at selecting ahead of the Wings early in the first round, Detroit then has the next three consecutive picks ahead of Montreal. Here, it would be easy to see the Red Wings double up on defensemen, aiming for a more physical specimen. Both Custance and Basu tab K’Andre Miller as a likely target, while Basu also lists Mattias Samuelsson and, if he’s still there, Jared McIsaac. Both writers are also intrigued by the boom-or-bust talent of defenseman Ryan Merkley, another swift puck-mover like Hughes. Don’t rule out Detroit looking his way as well. Finally, Montreal gets their next shot at #35 and Detroit picks right after at #36. Montreal may again have to pick up the scraps at #38, the selection they landed from the Chicago Blackhawks along with Phillip Danault in the very favorable Tomas Fleischmann/Dale Weise trade in 2016.
Montreal also has picks #56 and #62 later in the second round, leaving open a very real opportunity that they could change this whole dynamic by packaging multiple second-rounders – in a draft that many feel is homogeneous in the #20 to #60 range – to move back into the first round and ahead of Detroit at #30. It would then be the Canadiens who could take the best available center or defenseman and put the Red Wings in a tough spot.
It’s always a good time to see two Original Six teams battle on the ice, but the war for position brewing between Detroit and Montreal in the upcoming draft could be just as fun to watch.