The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has begun its training camps and hockey families across Canada begin development camps prior to their local tryouts at all levels — the traditional start of the hockey season is in full swing. Oddly, the NHL is about to begin the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and offseason moves have been occurring simultaneously.
With the NHL Entry Draft now scheduled for October 6-7, it is a good time to review who could be available to Montreal Canadiens general manager (GM) Marc Bergevin when he steps up to his online podium when the team is scheduled to pick at 16th overall.
Bergevin has used 28 picks since the 2017 Draft to fill the prospect pool at all positions, with 12 picks in the 2020 Draft – four of those picks in the top 60 – he has the luxury of focusing on systemic needs as well as Best Player Available (BPA).
While fans can point to a player picked at 16th overall like Mathew Barzal, who is emerging as a legitimate NHL star, it is not usual, or even expected, to find game-breakers at that point of the draft. However, it is possible to find quality support players such as Jakob Chychrun or Nikita Zadorov who play important roles for their respective teams.
Systemically, the Canadiens lack high-end skill, they lack a game-breaker. Selecting at 16th overall, it is unlikely that Bergevin will be able to find a star. That being said, it is likely that assistant GM Trevor Timmins and his draft team will be able to target players able to add scoring from the wings.
Possible Draft Targets
Connor Zary is listed as a center, but it is easier to move a center to the wing. Doing so also provides insurance as there is another player in the system who is comfortable with the position and can fill in at center in case of injuries.
Bergevin would jump at the chance to select Zary if he’s available. The Canadiens are in need of more scoring skill in the prospect pool and Zary provides that, having just finished the seasons scoring 38 goals and 86 points while finishing tied for third in the WHL with 15 power-play goals. The 6-foot, 181-pound, left-handed center will not solve any issues for the Canadiens in the next few seasons. However, his addition would add to a very deep pool of talented centers and add a scoring touch the franchise craves.
As a late 2001 birthday, Zary’s 200-foot game is further ahead than some other 2020 draft-eligible centers. However, that is the exact style of player the Canadiens have focused on in recent drafts.
“Remarkably consistent performer in all three zones. Never had a stretch of more than one game where he went pointless.”
His ability to generate offence by transitioning from his solid defensive play to attacking the high-danger areas in the offensive zone translates well to the NHL. His consistency may be the one aspect of his game that would convince them to choose Zary over any other available player.
Rodin Amirov is a left-handed winger capable of playing either side of center. He’s a 6-foot, 168-pound winger, meaning there is room to grow onto his frame, and that will be necessary for him before he will be NHL capable. The good news on that front is that he is under contract with Salavat Yulaev Ufa through to the end of the 2020-21 KHL season, giving him a full season of development.
Canadiens fans would need to temper expectations as it is likely he would need two or three seasons in lower leagues before making the leap to the NHL. Once he does arrive in North America, having other Russians such as Alexander Romanov on the roster would make his transition into a new language, culture and style of play easier.
My colleague Matthew Zator at The Hockey Writers wrote a more in-depth analysis that is worth the read.
Amirov has had trouble putting up points at the KHL level in the past, likely due to limited ice time, but has dominated at lower levels in Russia. Last season, he scored 10 goals and 22 points in 17 games played in the MHL. He played for Russia at the IIHF Under-18, scoring six goals and nine points in seven games, winning a silver medal and making the tournament all-star team. He was also part of the bronze medal-winning Russian team at the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Amirov is expected to be a key piece of Russia’s 2021 World Junior Championship team to be held in the Edmonton bubble this year.
He has a high work ethic and skill level. He may reach his full potential and blossom into a top-line winger. If he doesn’t, his defensive abilities would make him a safe pick as he can become an NHL capable player in the middle six of most NHL teams playing a style similar to former Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty.
Amriov is an elite stickhandler and is incredibly reliable when entering the opposing zone. He cleans up a lot of mistakes for his teammates and quickly transitions into attack mode. Amirov owns an excellent shot-release combination and fires pucks off the pass as accurately as any forward within his peer group.
Bergevin and Timmins have been able to stockpile 28 draft picks in the last three entry drafts to restock the prospect pool. Thanks to that, there are several good prospects in every position, which will allow the Canadiens to focus on their need for scoring this draft. The 2020 draft pool is well stocked with scoring wingers who can be added to the Candiens’ cupboard.
Winning the play-in series versus the Pittsburgh Penguins and moving back from a top-10 pick to 16th means it is less likely the player selected will be NHL ready for a few seasons. No matter who is selected at 16th overall, management and fans will need to be patient as that player develops their game.
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