Kent Hughes and David Reinbacher Habs Montreal Canadiens

Habs draft David Reinbacher and fans are PISSED. Should they be?

“Drafting Matvei Michkov would’ve been massively important for our franchise. Instead, we went the safe and wholly unsexy route by selecting Austrian right-shot defenseman David Reinbacher. The pick turned Habs Twitter into a virtual war zone.”

I can’t deny it: the Habs had a golden opportunity on their hands.

Drafting a possible future Kirill Kaprizov in Matvei Michkov (picked seventh by the Philadelphia Flyers) — even with a minimum three-year wait in the picture — would’ve been massively important for our franchise, and so would’ve picking a potential future Matthew Tkachuk in Ryan Leonard (selected eighth by the Washington Capitals).

Instead, we went the safe and wholly unsexy route by selecting Austrian right-shot defenseman David Reinbacher fifth overall. The pick turned Habs Twitter into a virtual war zone. If you’re looking for nuanced, non-emotional takes about this selection on Elon’s bird app, good luck because you’ll have to wade through a lot of these ones first. Especially on the team’s official Twitter account

There are even tweets making the rounds comparing Reinbacher to Adolf Hitler, which is flat-out unacceptable and should be condemned to the harshest degree. This is the type of fan mentality that makes free agents steer clear of this hockey club.

The pick is even causing the Habs to be branded as losers in the draft by journalists and prominent hockey YouTubers. Sportsnet’s Jason Bukala even said during the broadcast that he would’ve picked Leonard instead. You’ll also see people continuing to bemoan the price we paid to the Colorado Avalanche (picks 31 and 37 in the draft) to acquire Alex Newhook, a forward picked right after Cole Caufield in the 2019 draft.

The reception across the internet by Habs fans to picking Reinbacher has been hostile and histrionic to say the least, and that’s not even considering how many people tweeted photos of the “What?!” lady from the 2018 draft. Many online reactions from last night are the most toxic and vitriolic I’ve seen Habs Twitter over a draft pick not named Logan Mailloux in quite a long time. Juraj Slafkovsky didn’t have it this bad last year when we selected him first overall over Shane Wright. This fanbase and market chew players up and spit them out, and it’s disheartening to see regardless of those players’ actual on-ice talents.

For better or worse, the fan backlash is reportedly causing the Canadiens management to think twice about bringing him to North America this season.

Habs draft David Reinbacher and fans are PISSED. Should they be?

I really didn’t want Reinbacher before draft day, either, and tweeted as much on several occasions — calling us selecting him a “fireable offence” and bleeping his name out with asterisks. I actively feared us picking him over better offensive forwards, especially when pre-draft smoke began to gather around us possibly selecting him in ways that reminded me too much of the buzz in 2018 about us likely selecting Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It’s hard not to still feel that way. For some, this also feels like when the Philadelphia Flyers gifted us Caufield in 2019 by instead picking his U.S. under-18 development program teammate, Cam York.

After all, how often is it that choosing need over the perceived best player available actually works out?

Honestly, I can understand why people are livid. We need young, elite superstar forwards something HORRIBLE. My heart admittedly sank a bit when Carey Price said “David” (almost as much as it sank when he suddenly forgot Reinbacher’s name on the podium), because that instantly ruled out the guys I wanted.

This organization has been starved of pure, no-bullshit offensive talent for a generation or more. Having Caufield, Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach as your forward core is a very good start, no doubt. But as much as Kent Hughes is correct in saying those three have more to give, that core still needs a couple more significant pieces to be able to truly contend over the next few years in an offensively-stacked Atlantic Division.

Five rookie defensemen also suited up for the Habs last season, and we already have a solid foundation on the blueline with Kaiden Guhle, Lane Hutson, Jordan Harris, Justin Barron and the like. Fans are scared that this regime thinks they’re the smartest guys in the room and galaxy-braining important draft picks, just like Marc Bergevin’s regime did. Many of our amateur scouting staff are holdovers from the Bicep Club™ era, too.

There are legitimate questions to ask about whether Hughes & co rates our current core too highly. And it’s still hard not to feel like the Habs went for need instead of BPA, like this organization has done on the draft floor for years now. Quotes from Hughes’ presser also suggest as much, despite saying in the days leading up to the draft that he’d go BPA. Most of me wants to trust the process, but going for broke and aiming for a home run is always the side I err on if I’m the one making the draft choices.

So what are we actually getting in David Reinbacher? We won’t know the answer for years, as the kid is only 18 and still has a year of school to finish before coming over. But he’s one of the most NHL-ready players in this draft whose name isn’t Connor Bedard, so one can expect him to slot in with the Laval Rocket once he comes over. 

That aspect in particular probably worked to his benefit when it came time to make our selection. If he can steal a spot with the Habs in training camp for the 2024–25 season, even better, as long as we aren’t rushing and/or misusing him like past regimes did with Kotkaniemi, Alex Galchenyuk and Guillaume Latendresse.

What we do know is this: he’s been playing against men all year for Kloten in Switzerland’s top professional men’s hockey league, and doing quite well, too. His well-rounded style of play would theoretically also mesh nicely with the smaller, more offensively minded Lane Hutson, who was a revelation at Boston University last season. 

Reinbacher is a player who can be used in all situations, has great gap control and strong shutdown abilities, is equally skilled at moving the puck and playing in transition and is quite adept at killing net-front plays. He even gained experience this season patrolling Kloten’s power play, after not initially being expected to play that role. His competitive nature and willingness to challenge himself and take on new assignments surely endeared him to Hughes and many other NHL GMs.

He’s got all of this under his belt while being his team’s youngest regular player by far, and while not being able to legally drink in Quebec yet. It also helps that he’s a pretty charming kid.

Reinbacher’s game has been compared to Mattias Ekholm and Brett Pesce — legit top-four NHL blueliners without question, but not the types of players who can wow you with their puck skills and bang in goals like it’s child’s play. Perhaps they’re hoping to make a Moritz Seider, Roman Josi or Alex Pietrangelo out of Reinbacher, though that would require a whole lot of things going right in his development to come close to happening. Some have compared Reinbacher’s game to Alex Edler and Adam Larsson, which is… not so great.

This is partly why it’s hard not to feel like Kent Hughes, Jeff Gorton, Nick Bobrov & co went the safe and boring route when this seemed like a critical draft to take a home run swing on a game-breaking forward like Michkov, Leonard or Zach Benson (the latter of whom shockingly fell to 13th overall for the Buffalo Sabres). Having said that, Bobrov has close ties to Michkov’s main KHL club, SKA St. Petersburg, and probably has more intel about the kid than many others in the league. There’s likely an intriguing rationale on his side for why we passed on him.

Despite that, it does sting knowing how much the team would have benefitted from adding Michkov — a player projected to score 100+ points in his NHL career — on an entry-level contract in 2026 when he’s 22, and when he’ll be in a position to contribute right away. Even if it’s because the scouting team didn’t get to see him play IRL, as Hughes has suggested, that’s still a difficult sell. It’s hard envisioning this team competing again in the foreseeable future. We’ll likely be in next year’s lottery, too, and it’s hard not to empathize with people scared that we’ll pass on Macklin Celebrini and Cole Eiserman if we land the first overall pick.

Although Hughes claims in the post-draft pressers that Reinbacher was the best player available, Michkov’s superstar ceiling has been established far longer than Reinbacher’s possible top-pairing upside. Most fans, myself included, would’ve been perfectly happy to wait three years for Michkov to come over. It’s hard to blame Habs fans for being sick to their stomachs of the franchise so often eschewing the perceived BPA for a player who best suits a positional need.

But what we have to bear in mind is that we’re not the ones sitting in on interviews, or going to the combine, or travelling to watch him play, or doing the kinds of deep dives actual teams do for months on end that can’t be done by watching YouTube clips, reading scouting reports, or studying public draft ranking lists and mock drafts. We aren’t NHL scouts, even if some of us are full-time professional scouts online (and there’s tons of great work done by those people, to boot, such as on DobberProspects).

Reinbacher is a hugely risky and questionable pick, no doubt, much like picking Juraj Slafkovsky first overall was last year. And like the Slafkovsky pick, it’s a huge vote of confidence for our new prospect development staff. It’s also a shame we won’t see Reinbacher at this year’s World Junior Championships, as Austria were relegated in last year’s competition.

I completely get why people are mad. This fanbase has been traumatized by first-round bust after first-round bust over the last few decades. Reinbacher is an excellent defensive prospect, arguably the best in the entire draft class, but it’s also perfectly valid to bemoan the loss of a chance to draft a superstar forward. Contradictory truths can hold equal weight at the same time.

As long as fans’ criticism is aimed at the powers that be and not Reinbacher himself, I understand why not picking Matvei Michkov feels like a wasted opportunity — despite the extra patience necessary with selecting him — in a draft widely considered the best in years. But on the other hand, I’m not as certain as I initially was that this pick is the maddening waste so many Habs fans have already declared it to be.

Though I no longer feel as if this pick is a fireable offence for Hughes & co, it’s natural to feel perplexed as to why we didn’t go for Michkov or Leonard, both of whom would’ve brought significant skill and attitude to our lineup. We also won’t truly know what we have in Reinbacher for a while, partly since he’s a defenseman and, by nature, those take more time to marinate. 

For many Habs fans, this selection likely won’t even out unless Reinbacher becomes a Norris candidate one day and I fully get that from an emotional standpoint. But there’s still plenty of room for the baby-faced Austrian to continue growing and flourishing, so I’ll patiently follow his journey to the NHL now that he’s one of us.

Ultimately, fans asking for Geoff Molson to sell the team, complaining that we’re heading for four more decades of mediocrity and saying “fuck you, Caillou” in reference to Kent Hughes helps no one. There’s lots of time for this pick to prove to be the right one. Hopefully, in a few years, we can look back at our draft day tweets and laugh and cringe simultaneously. ■

Habs draft David Reinbacher and fans are PISSED. Should they be?

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