The National Hockey League draft is tomorrow night in Philadelphia, and the Montreal Canadiens currently hold the 26th overall selection in the first round. As is the case with each draft, there are many “safe” prospects who play a sound defensive game but don’t bring much offensively and then there are the high risk, high reward types, who could lead your team in points in a few years, or be playing for Magnitogorsk in Russia.
A couple of high risk players who went early recently include Nikita Filatov and Nik Zherdev, who both showed flashes of offensive talent, but ultimately couldn’t cut it in the hard hitting NHL. Sure, the Columbus Blue Jackets would look much better today if they made better choices with their early picks, but sometimes a young player’s skill level is just too good to be ignored.
The player getting the most attention as a high risk but potential game changing player at this year’s draft is Josh Ho-Sang. The dynamic forward for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League has an immense amount of talent and skill, but appears to be falling to the bottom of the first round of most draft rankings.
Ho-Sang led the Spitfires in points with 85, and had the ninth most points of any draft eligible player in the Canadian Hockey League. He has tremendous speed, and his skill with the puck is off the charts. There is no question his talent level is on par with those who will be picked in the top five of the draft, but he might not even go in the first round at all.
The reason that Ho-Sang is prepared to hang around for most of the first round and possibly into the second round, is that there are questions about whether or not he is a selfish player. He regularly tries to do too much by myself, and does not rely on his linemates and teammates to help him out on the ice. He also has a bit of an attitude that hockey executives do not seem to enjoy seeing in their players. A general manager would prefer his players keep their mouths shut unless they are firing off endless clichés about team play and hard work. Ho-Sang likes to speak his mind, and this does not endear him to NHL management teams.
The question becomes, are you willing to overlook Ho-Sang’s one man shows and focus on the elite skill he has, or do you take a safer pick who will likely be a third line player at best?
The Canadiens have made plenty safe first round picks in the past, including Chris Higgins, Kyle Chipchura and Louis Leblanc. All of them were pegged to be third line contributors for sure, as their smarts and defensive play would ensure they could crack an NHL lineup. Higgins had a few good seasons on offensively weak Canadiens teams while playing on a line with Saku Koivu, but ultimately found his niche as a third liner. Chipchura has never been more than a dime a dozen fourth line player and Leblanc is yet to make any mark at all at the NHL level.
This just goes to show that even safe picks at the NHL draft are not a guarantee. So if you can’t be sure even if you go with a safe pick, why not take the risk, go for the home run and take Ho-Sang if he is available at 26?
Over his two season OHL career, Ho-Sang has scored 129 points in 130 games as a 16-17 year old player. Before joining the Spitfires, Ho-Sang was a teammate of Connor McDavid and there was little to choose between the two phenoms playing for the Toronto Marlboros of the Minor Midget League in Ontario.
McDavid outscored Ho-Sang in the OHL this season, with his 99 points, but the surefire first overall pick in next year’s draft also had the league’s top two scorers, Dane Fox and Connor Brown as linemates. With all due respect to Brady Vail who was a Montreal Canadiens pick in the 2012 draft and played on a line with Ho-Sang this season, he is not on the same level as Brown and Fox. This isn’t to say that Ho-Sang is going to be a better player than McDavid who is a phenom, but it does show the elite level of Ho-Sang’s offensive ability.
Sure, taking the highly skilled Ho-Sang is a gamble, and the media spotlight in Montreal may get the best of him every now and again. But, every draft pick is a gamble, especially when you are picking at 26th overall, and the Canadiens have a great management group and veteran leadership that could help teach the young player the ropes of playing in the media center of the hockey world.
I have had enough of the safe first round picks that keep playing on third and fourth lines for other NHL teams, or not making the league at all. Why not take a home run swing and go all in on one of the most skilled players in the entire draft?
If I were running the Montreal Canadiens, and Ho-Sang’s name was staring at me when the Habs turn to select came along, I would run to the podium and pick a guy who could be the most talented player to lace up for the Habs in many years.