It will literally be years before anyone knows how the 2022 NHL Entry Draft turns out for the Montreal Canadiens. However, general manager Kent Hughes can get a head start making it a success on July 7, when the Habs pick first overall, in Montreal of all places.
Ultimately, the stars are already aligning for the Canadiens to make history. After all, they’re the first host team to own the first pick since 1985, after having won the NHL Draft Lottery. They just need to draft a star (at least) to seal the deal.
Until the Canadiens know for sure who they’ve got in the player they draft though, there are a few things Hughes can do to tilt the balance in his favor, at least in the eyes of the media and fans. Here are the top 5, ranked from least to most important:
5. Get Canadiens Comfortably Under Cap Ceiling
The Canadiens don’t absolutely have to trade away cap space at the draft, which is why it takes the last spot on this list. It would still be nice, especially following the acquisition of Evgeny Dadonov and his $5 million cap hit, which puts the Habs close up to the cap ceiling, with several key restricted free agents (RFAs) still to be signed.
Names like defenseman Jeff Petry ($6.25 million) and Josh Anderson are at the top of the list of players likely to be dealt for cap space. Petry’s had one skate out of town for months after having requested a trade, with Hughes having gone on record as willing to accommodate him (from ‘Jeff Petry open to remain in Montreal, but Canadiens might have other plans,’ Montreal Gazette, April 30, 2022). Anderson ($5.5 million) is more of a recent addition, with reports surfacing the Canadiens have gotten calls about the power forward.
Now, cap space does need to be cleared. It doesn’t have to happen at the Draft, though. The two benefits would be that it would firstly be ahead of free agency, giving Hughes a cushion with which to work, and that secondly any such move could conceivably jump-start the rebuild effort by seeing (more) picks coming back the other way.
4. Optimize 14 Canadiens Draft Picks
True, the Canadiens already have 14 draft picks, which is obviously a lot, literally double the amount with which they started. However, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, especially when fewer and fewer draft picks develop into NHLers with each subsequent round.
Ten of those picks are in thankfully the first four rounds, but, after picking first, the Canadiens only pick next at No. 26. It’s not a horrible position by any stretch, but, amid reports the Habs are trying to gain another top-10 pick, it’s not nearly close enough for Hughes’ purposes to (in theory) get the Canadiens back to contending in relatively short order.