Shane Wright NHL draft lottery Habs Montreal Canadiens

2022 NHL Entry Draft Lottery: What Habs fans need to know

All about potential future Hab Shane Wright and other picks up for grabs in tonight’s crucial event.

Are you a Habs fan who doesn’t give a shit about the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs? You’re in luck, as today could be much more exciting than that.

Now that their calamitous 2021–22 season has come to a close, the Canadiens’ priority has shifted to the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. GM Kent Hughes has recently said as much, as he and VP of Hockey Operations Jeff Gorton were recently in Germany scouting draft-eligible prospects at this year’s IIHF U18 World Championships.

The 2022 NHL Entry Draft, where teams draft players in junior leagues across North America and Europe (eligible players need to be 18 years of age by Sept. 15 of this year, and 20 at the oldest by Dec. 31). This year, Montreal will be playing host to the first in-person draft since the Before Times™, as players will wait to hear their name called at the Bell Centre from July 7 (first round only) to 8 (all subsequent rounds). Montreal was supposed to host the 2020 Draft, but this of course was delayed two years by the ongoing pandemic.

Though the top picks in any given draft are given to the teams lowest in the standings each season, that doesn’t mean the very worst team (in this case, the Habs) get the first pick automatically. First, the NHL holds a lottery for the top pick, which will broadcast tonight at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet in English and TVA Sports in French. While the actual draft will be in-person, the draft lottery will be conducted remotely.

How does it work?

Whether you agree with this system or not, your chances of getting the top pick in the draft improve depending on how badly you sucked in the previous season.

Among each of the 16 teams who missed this year’s playoffs being drawn in the lottery, only two will be selected as winners. One team will be drawn for the first pick, while another will be drawn for the second pick. Teams not selected will be placed in order based on where they finished in the prior season’s standings.

This lottery is different from previous years, where three teams could be drawn. Teams can also only win the lottery a maximum of two times in the span of five years — that said, previous years’ lottery wins will not be counted, as this is the first year where the rule will apply.

However, the first team only gets the first pick if they’re within its range (teams ranked 32nd to 22nd in the standings). Should a team ranked 17th to 21st win, the Habs will have won the first pick by default.

The Canadiens have the best odds of landing the first overall pick, at 18.5% (the second-highest team, Arizona, only have a 13.5% chance). However, our chances of actually getting first overall is 25.7% when you factor in that the teams slated to pick 12th to 16th can’t move up to 1st.

Nonetheless, the Habs’ chances of not getting that pick are still greater than us actually getting it — they stand a 55.7% chance of dropping down to the third overall pick. Luckily, their dead-last finish this season guarantees them not being able to drop any further down than that.

Who could the Habs pick?

Assuming you weren’t living under a rock this past season, the Habs were utter dogshit — going to their first Stanley Cup Final in a generation last summer to rock bottom this season. This is thanks in large part to a cocktail of long-term injuries (notably to Carey Price and Shea Weber), misuse of young players like Cole Caufield early in the season, and the old-school approach by head coach Dominique Ducharme that led to him and longtime GM Marc Bergevin being canned in late November, with Gorton and Hughes being brought on to usher in a new era for the bleu blanc et rouge.  

Though the latter two have made some shrewd transactions in recent months, notably trading Ben Chiarot, Artturi Lehkonen and Tyler Toffoli for young prospects, Gorton and Hughes will get to truly start building the team in their image this summer. This starts with the upcoming draft, for which the Habs have 14 selections across seven rounds (including two in the first).

So who could they go for with their first one? If they get the first pick, the golden goose will be Shane Wright, a centre for the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. An elite two-way player with one hell of a wrist shot, excellent hockey IQ and a strong 200-foot game, Wright is a relative no-brainer at the first pick — even if he lacks the generational upside of next year’s projected first overall pick in Connor Bedard. Nonetheless, Wright could develop into an elite first-line centre, making for a slick one-two punch down the middle between him and Nick Suzuki.

Of course, 10 other clubs will be competing for his draft rights in tonight’s lottery. I ranked each possible scenario on my Twitter account.
Shane Wright and the 2022 NHL Draft Lottery

Should the Habs wind up with the second pick rather than the first, the best consolation prize is probably Logan Cooley, a centre for the U.S. National U-18 Development Program. The Pittsburgh native is also a potential two-way 1C, and could be a difference-maker at both ends of the ice in a Habs jersey. Most recently, he landed 10 points (three goals, seven assists) at the U18 World Championships for the United States.

Although Wright and Cooley are the consensus 1 and 2 by most pundits and fans, the worst-case scenario is still falling to the third pick. Habs fans may not be too happy with this for two reasons: 1) the last two players we picked at that spot were Alex Galchenyuk in 2012, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi six years later (neither of whom are still with the club, nor have they lived up to the expectations associated with their draft number), and 2) the third spot in this year’s draft is where the ranking starts to get more interesting.

Two options at that spot come from Slovakia. One is Simon Nemec, a right-handed defenseman known for his poise, intelligence, and positional awareness. His offensive capabilities and skating have so far translated well against men in his own country.

Another is Juraj Slafkovsky, a left-wing power forward who has shown flashes of becoming a star, including his MVP-winning performance at the Beijing Winter Olympics despite a modest season against men in the Finnish Liiga.

Slafkovsky in particular was recently name-dropped by Gorton, implying interest in the young Slovak forward. That said, Nemec is projected to be a top-pairing RD (drawing comparisons to players like Dallas’s Miro Heiskanen), and those are generally hard to draft and especially difficult to acquire by trade. 

Both Slafkovsky and Nemec are projected to be quality NHL players, it’s just a matter of which one could become more valuable to their team. Nemec could slot in on the right of Alexander Romanov or Kaiden Guhle (especially if we decide not to sign last year’s controversial first round pick, Logan Mailloux, to play for those honours), while Slafkovsky could line up with Suzuki and Caufield on their left wing long-term.

A wildcard option at the third spot is Matthew Savoie, of the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice. The Edmonton native with a francophone last name is one of the draft’s most skilled, dynamic players, and finished seventh league-wide in scoring this past WHL season. However, he comes with two big caveats: 1) he’s projected by some to be more of a winger than a centre at the NHL level, and 2) many of his points in the WHL were on the power play. As a result, he could find himself falling even though he was projected to go as high as 2nd overall earlier in the season.

Should we still go with a right-shot D, our best option other than Nemec is David Jiricek, from HC Plzen in the Czech Republic. Despite dealing with injury setbacks, he projects to be an extremely reliable defenceman at the NHL level on both ends, and carries top-pairing upside.

Final thoughts

Wherever they land in tonight’s lottery, the Habs will need to go with the young man they feel is the best player available regardless of positional need. A strategy prioritizing need over BPA is one that Bergevin and former head amateur scout Trevor Timmins liked to use, and hasn’t worked out particularly well. 

Roster needs will always change over time, and having multiple promising youngsters in the same position is never a bad problem when a trade could be made to fill a hole. The success of this draft will be measured by how close to elite they become in the NHL, no matter which parts of the game they excel at most. After all, as André 3000 once said, “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather.” ■

For more on the 2022 NHL draft lottery, happening on Tuesday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m. ET, please click here.

For more Montreal sports coverage, visit the Sports section.