Despite speculation, the Montreal Canadiens stayed put at ninth overall and selected the incredibly skilled Mikhail Sergachev. | Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig, USA TODAY-Sports
The Montreal Canadiens began the NHL Draft with a bang, trading Lars Eller for two second rounders and then trading their two second in this year’s class for Andrew Shaw. At number nine, they snagged Mikhail Sergachev, who I believe was the best player available.
Although it initially stung to lose a pair of second rounds, Montreal maximized value by adding the dynamic Will Bitten at 70th overall, a player I have ranked 25th in my personal rankings. Bitten was a Montreal Canadiens fan growing, and most of his family lives in Montreal–a match made in heaven.
Then the Canadiens selected the elite skating blue liner, Victor Mete, 100th overall. In the fifth round, the Canadiens selected Casey Staum, an unheralded Minnesota HS defender who was a finalist for the Mr. Hockey Award.
Trevor Timmins and his staff headed back to the OHL in the sixth round, nabbing tough-as-nails centre Michael Pezzetta. To close out the draft, the Canadiens traded their 2017 seventh rounder for Winnipeg’s 187th overall, and used it to pick towering Swedish defender Arvid Henriksson.
It’s meaningless now, but I believe the Canadiens did a great job this draft year.
All CHL statistics in the article are courtesy of , the best website on the internet.
Draft: 9th overall, 1st round
Team: Windsor Spitfires | League: OHL
Height: 6’2″ | Weight: 222
Sergachev’s skill level resembles a high-end forward, with a physical edge and solid defensive game packed into a 6’2″ 220 lbs+ frame. | Photo: NHL.com
Mikhail Sergachev was this year’s winner of the OHL’s Defenceman of the Year Award–the youngest ever winner of the award. Not only was he the best defenceman, he was one of the league’s best and most consistent players after a bit of a slow start. In last 48 games of the season Sergachev racked up an outstanding 50 points.
Compared to the other top-five scorers among defenders, as well as Jakob Chychrun and Olli Juolevi, Sergachev’s production was incredible:
Sergachev’s high-end skill is immediately noticeable. An elite skater, Sergachev’s explosive power generation quickly transitions into a smooth stride with elite top-end speed. A uniquely agile player, Sergachev’s edge work propels his skating ability to the upper echelon of defenders.
The high-end skating ability allows Sergachev to explode off the blue line regularly. He loves challenging forecheckers or exploiting open ice to walk deeper into the offensive zone, giving him a vast array of options. A true scoring threat from the point, Sergachev can overwhelm goalies with booming power one shot, then feather a shot through traffic the next. Perhaps Sergachev doesn’t shoot as much as he should, which is a scary thought considering his 17 goals this season.
Sergachev is also fabulous puck distributor, who runs the powerplay with ease. He methodically dishes the puck to create lanes. After he activates off the blue line, his ability to find teammates resembles a playmaking forward. His pinches rarely go poorly, pointing to excellent decision-making. With hands that rival many of the top forward prospects in the 2016 draft class, Sergachev is a complete offensive threat.
In transition, few defenders are as effective. Sergachev’s vision can shred apart teams, but even more special is his puck rushing ability. He’s poised under pressure, allowing him to suck a forechecker then leave him in the dust as he fakes and dekes his way up the ice. A true master of the carry-out zone exit and carry-in zone entry.
Without the puck, Sergachev makes great reads and quality decisions. He’s quite good with his stick, which makes him a difficult defender to beat one-on-one. Well-balanced and powerful, Sergachev makes sure his opponents feel it with hard body checks and physicality. Gets his stick in lanes well, and doesn’t hesitate to block shots.
Questions about Sergachev’s defensive zone commitment be damned, he’s a legitimately good defensive player. He will have to improve his positioning during sustained pressure scenarios and improving his slot coverage.
DEV uses past comparable players to analyze the likelihood of a player becoming an NHLer and their potential NHL production.
Overall, it will be key for Sergachev to improve the little details–such as boxing forwards out and more proactive positioning–but the upside is sky-high. Not only a potential top-pairing candidate, but a potential all-situations #1 defender. He could make an impact in the NHL as soon as next season, although I think he returns to Windsor for one more year.
Draft: 70th overall, 3rd round
Team: Flint Firebirds | League: OHL
Height: 5’10” | Weight: 168
A bright spot on the disastrous Flint Firebirds inangural season, Will Bitten’s tenacity, speed, and skill could make him a quality NHLer in the near future. | Photo: Jake May, MLive.com
“Mr. Everything” for the Flint Firebirds this season, Will Bitten pushed through the team’s adversity and won them many games this season. With 50 primary points, Bitten was among the OHL’s top draft eligible players and far and away the leader on his team. Even more encouraging: His even-strength primary point production was right on par with Alexander Nylander, Logan Brown, and Max Jones.
A true speedster, Bitten’s short, powerful stride slingshots him up the ice. The elite top-end gear and explosive acceleration are matched by excellent positioning and anticipation, which makes him a constant breakaway threat, even on the penalty kill.
Primarily a playmaker, Bitten is able to utilize his skating to create space. He finds seams with ease, and has the passing ability to exploit them with forehand, backhand, or saucer passes. Bitten loves to drive down the wing, sell the shot, and then slide the puck across the crease. He senses opportunities and will turn the smallest amount of space into a dangerous scoring chance.
Bitten was backed a 20% shooting rate this season, which is cause for concern. His goalscoring ability is quite good, and his ability to pick his spots from medium-to-long-range has improved. However, he’s at best as an in-tight finisher. Utilizing his hands that are almost as quick as his feet, Bitten can embarrass goalies on breakaways. His deceptively quick open-blade hands-in-front release point masks a minor power deficiency in his shot.
Don’t be fooled by his listed height or weight, Bitten is a high-energy player who thrives in the tough areas of the ice. A great forechecker who anticipates the play and creates turnovers, and an even better backchecker. As a centre, he does a good job helping out his defenders. As a winger, he has the rare balance between positional play and pressuring for chances. He wins battles and fights through checks well, and is never deterred from his game.
DEV uses past comparable players to analyze the likelihood of a player becoming an NHLer and their production.
All-in-all, Bitten is an excellent player who could become one of the OHL’s top producers as soon as next season. He lacks a true standout tool beside skating and hockey sense, but every ability is quite great. Bitten is a well-balanced, versatile player, but will have to improve his strength and shot power. Bitten could become an average second liner with speeds or perhaps a luxury third liner in the NHL.
Where Bitten plays next season remains undetermined. After the ownership disaster in Flint, there’s reportedly no chance that Bitten returns to the team. With Flint’s #1 Vili Saarijarvi already shipped to Mississauga, perhaps Bitten is the next in line to be traded.
Draft: 100th overall, 4th round
Team: London Knights | League: OHL
Height: 5’10” | Weight: 165
Victor Mete was arguably the London Knights’ top defender during their post-season run to Memorial Cup victory. | Photo: Mark Spowart, ICON SPORTSWIRE
With 38 points in 68 games, Ivan Hlinka Gold, a J. Ross Robertson Cup, and a Memorial Cup, Victor Mete had quite the season.
Mete contributed 20 of 38 points at even-strength and 16 on the powerplay. Mete wasn’t utilized consistently on the top powerplay unit, as him and Olli Juolevi often rotated. Mete steadily saw his role increase, climaxing in the playoffs and Memorial Cup as he was tasked with shutting the opposition late in games. There’s no doubt that Mete’s production was smothered by the firepower of the London Knights.
Mete’s best trait is his elite-level skating. He’s owns a perfect stride, giving him elite top-end speed and acceleration. His edge work is also exceptional, which allows him to make powerful lateral movements across the ice.
The defensive zone is definitely an area that Mete has really shown to improvement in. He’s really tough to beat, as he constantly engages forwards with aggressive gap control. It’s rare to see him to get beat one-on-one. Down low, Mete is a physical and fearless player despite often being mismatched in size. He has a tendency to run around in sustained pressure scenarios, and also needs to make slot entrances tougher for the opposition. Going forward, Mete will have to add strength, but in the OHL it’s not a major concern as he does a good job winning battles.
An excellent transitional player. He’s a gifted stickhandler who makes breakouts and zone entries look easy. Once gaining the zone, Mete will carry the puck straight to the net and challenge defenders on the way. A “fourth forward” of sorts, he will join the rush and sneak into open ice to wreak havoc in high-danger areas.
In the offensive zone, Mete is hit-or-miss. In peak form, Mete explodes off the blue line to create chances down low. On the rare occasion that he get burned from his pinches, his skating ability typically allows him to get back into position. He showcases quality vision and smart puck distribution as he flies around the ice.
However, Mete lacks a quality point shot. It’s not solely a lack of power, but also that he doesn’t properly create space for himself. He will have to mix in more fake shots, head fakes, and 9-3 skating to create lanes, which should help him get more pucks on net.
Mete has good upside as an NHL defender, size concerns aside. He’s an elite skater at the NHL level already. Furthermore, his ability to carry the puck out and create off-the-rush chances is great. In-zone offensive ability, such as during the powerplay, needs improvement, but the necessary foundation of skills and smarts are there. A potential #4 defender whose transitional ability could make him a unique piece.
Draft: 124th overall, 5th round
Team: Team Southwest/Hill-Murray | League: USHS (Minn. HS)
Height: 6’1″ | Weight: 181
Casey Staum will join the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints next season, where he could immediately have a big role. | Photo: Minnesota Hockey Prospects
After going with three well-known prospects, the Canadiens for a lesser-known Minnesota high schooler in Casey Staum. Staum missed much of the season with a leg injury, but performed well enough to be named a finalist for the Mr. Hockey, Minnesota high school hockey circuit’s player of the year.
Skating is by far Staum’s best asset. Although lacking a separation gear, Staum’s four-mobility is high-end. With great lateral agility, Staum aggressively closes the gap and maintains quality positioning. He doesn’t stand out as being particularly good in battles, but he does a good job blocking lanes and protecting the slot with his body.
Staum isn’t dynamic from the back-end, but he has some decent tools that could really improve with minor tweaks. A quick stickhandler in tight spaces along with above-average vision gives him a variety of puck-moving abilities. Staum was Hill-Murray’s top powerplay quarterback, where he showcased a willingness to shoot often and good distribution abilities.
Going forward, Staum will have to improve in all aspects of his game. Just one element–skating–stands out as being noteworthy. However, by picking better shooting lanes, improving his offensive timing, and decision-making, Staum could make himself a good prospect in the near future.
Next season, Staum will head to the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, where he could be immediately be given a large role with the team losing their entire top-four. In 2017-2018, Staum will join the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Draft: 160th overall, 6th round
Team: Sudbury Wolves | League: OHL
Height: 6’1″ | Weight: 192
Named an alternate captain halfway through the season, Pezzetta was the heart and soul of the Sudbury Wolves this season. | Photo: Tyler Brownbridge, WIndsor Star.
A first rounder in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, Pezzetta comes from a quality hockey pedigree. Although this season was saw Pezzetta contribute little offensively, he has been on the stuck on one of the OHL’s worst, if not worst, teams in the past two seasons. While the Wolves scored more this season (a mere 180 goals), they were once again the league’s most porous defence, giving up a staggering 327 goals. With little scoring depth, and Pezzetta being more of a complimentary piece, it’s no surprise his numbers were underwhelming.
An “ultra-physical” player, Pezzetta is constantly looking for seismic collisions–sometimes to a fault. He’s a highly effective forechecker with his physicality, awareness, and puck-hounding nature. Along the boards, few are more fearsome in the OHL, as he already possesses a legitimate mean streak in just his second OHL season.
Pezzetta is also a dedicated defensive player. Although he will need to improve his faceoffs, he is quite good at picking up assignments and aiding around the net. He proactively gets in lanes, constantly scanning the defensive zone for opportunities to help out.
Pezzetta’s above-average skating ability allows him to play his intense style. He’s a technically-strong skater with a quality top-end gear. However, he lacks in the agility and acceleration departments.
Pezzetta certainly has skill, but hasn’t necessarily demonstrated it consistently. Pezzetta is more of a passer than shooter. He consistently distributes the puck well, and will even mix in a high-skill pass from time-to-time. He’s not a talented shooter as he lacks goalscorer’s instincts and accuracy, but he does get great velocity into his shots. Every now and then, he will showcase a nifty move or separation speed which points to their being more upside there. Down low, Pezzetta makes smart decisions and thrives will battling for possession.
Going forward, Pezzetta will have to unlock the skill that gets masked because of (a) his style, (b) his situation, and (c) his development. He’s a decently skilled player, it’s just not showcased consistently enough. His relentless style and defensive acumen are both excellent traits, but are most likely not enough to get him to the NHL alone.
Regardless, Pezzetta is a worthwhile project in the sixth round. If taps into the offence, he could become a solid fourth liner who brings more than just energy to the table.
Draft: 187th overall, 7th round
Team: AIK J18 | League: J18 Elit/J18 Allsvenskan
Height: 6’5″ | Weight: 209
One of the most fascinating prospects the Canadiens possess, Henrik is a defence-first player who has the foundation for offence. | Photo: Vincent Ethier.
It’s hard not to be excited about Arvid Henrikson. The Canadiens Swedish scout begged the team to trade for another pick in the draft to select Henrikson. A near unknown, Henrikson played at four different levels this season, predominantly playing at the J18 level, a tier below the J20, where most draft eligible Swedes get selected from. He also earned six games with AIK’s J20 squad and one game with the senior team.
First and foremost, Henrikson is a punishing defensive defenceman. Henrikson defends well off the rush, using his surprisingly good edge work to close the gap and his long reach to disrupt the puck carrier. With a desire to punish opposing forwards, Henrikson is constantly looking for big collisions along the boards or to rag doll forwards across the ice. During sustained pressure scenarios, Henrikson proactively closes down lanes and evaluates his options. He doesn’t spend much time in the defensive zone.
Unlike many tall, young players, Henrikson’s skating is actually quite good. Henrikson’s acceleration looks fairly clumsy, but smooths out as he approaches top speed. Four-way mobility is good, as he pivots with ease and generates decent power going backwards. He does have tendency to glide too much, which often gets him in trouble.
With the puck Henrikson is average at best. His very passive approach to in-zone offence is inherently problematic, but even in his own zone he consistently misplays the puck. Every now and then, he will flash above-average stickhandling ability or vision. His head is always up, looking for options, but his puck skills prevent him from exploiting them. He’s not much of shooter, which is reinforced by his rather uninspired attempts towards goal.
Surprisingly, Henrikson is utilized as a forward on the powerplay and during empty-net situations. Not just as a net front presence, Henrikson is often carrying the puck and even leading the rush, and he does both fairly well–quite the contrast from his puck handling as a defender.
It’s clear that Henrikson is a long-term project. A defender with the size, mobility, and physicality combination that teams desire. The foundation for improving his offensive ability is there, given the fact that his head is always up and as a forward he does show a decent amount of skills.