The Montreal Canadiens nabbed highly-skilled Russian forward Nikita Scherbak at the 26th spot in last night’s first round of the 2014 NHL entry draft. But does he fit?
Marc Bergevin flirted with media members in Philadelphia when he was caught talking to the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks one after the other in the minutes leading up to the Canadiens’ first pick. Since Montreal didn’t own a second-round pick it was rumored that Bergevin would have traded the 26th pick for two second rounders that all of those mentioned teams had. Bergevin pretty much confirmed this when he acknowledged Scherbak was the last player on their list they wanted in the first round.
Last player available that they wanted to pick does not mean he was last on their list, though. Bergevin told James Duthie that he believed Nikita would be taken much higher and is thrilled to have him fall to them.
As the draft moved forward it seemed like the Canadiens were going to draft a top-six talent. A very unpredictable first round –beyond the first five– had top-ranked European skater Kasperi Kapanen fall much below his projected spot. Kapanen’s drop got me more excited pick-by-pick. As a talented right-handed right wing, and with Gallagher being the only top 9 RH forward on the big team, he was exactly what I wanted the Habs to take.
Chicago traded up to pick 20th overall where I was sure they would take Kapanen to play alongside Finnish country-man and star prospect Teuvo Terravainen but they surprised most when they went a little off the board picking American-born Nick Schmaltz instead.
It was two picks later where the Penguins took Kapanen (as they should have) and my newly-formed dream had ended. I felt like a child who was given a lollipop but just before I was able to put it in my mouth and taste its sweet bliss, it was taken away from me.
Well there was still a right-handed right wing available in David Pastrnak. I acknowledged that Pastrnak may not be as gifted as Russians Scherbak and Goldobin who were still on the board but he has top-six upside and that is what the team needs.
And then arch-rivals Boston took him at 25.
I am not going to lie. I was very disappointed that both Kapanen and Pastrnak had gone just before the Habs had picked. It put me into a little bit of a funk because I truthfully didn’t want a left-handed prospect and that is all that was left. I was understanding that Russian wingers Scherbak and Nikolay Goldobin had the top-6 upside that Bergevin and co. were looking for and because of that one or the other had to be chosen.
The Canadiens selected Scherbak and although before Timmins called his name I was in a mood, the second I heard him be called I was overwhelmed with a good feeling and it put a smile on my face. My bitterness quickly turned to excitement and I rushed to re-watch a 2013/14 highlight reel that showcased his skills.
Scherbak has a slick shot and is clearly a sweet passer. He skates a lot like Alex Galchenyuk in that he slows himself down to pick the right spots. The Habs picked a stud with beautiful skill.
But I still am held back with my one and only gripe about Scherbak: he is left-handed.
Of all Habs prospects that have a solid chance at becoming full time Canadiens, only last year’s first-round pick Mike McCarron is right-handed. Scherbak joins Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, Jacob de la Rose, Martin Reway and Sven Andrighetto as left-handed prospects that have a chance at the Habs top 9.
Entering a group of very solid LH prospects can either hinder Scherbak’s chances at making the big club or hinder others’ that would have already been shoe-ins to make the team. All these prospects are left-handed and because of that it limits how many will make the club, as surely Bergevin will be looking for at least three of his top nine forwards to be right-handed. He tried going into last season with Briere, Gallagher and Gionta as right-handed right wings but when Briere didn’t work out he picked up Vanek to fill the void. He understands there is some importance.
Players fall into certain categories so they can only make the NHL (or maintain the spot on your NHL team) in the position they are meant to play. In other words no matter how bad Scott Gomez is he is a more productive top 6 center than a bottom six winger.
With Galchenyuk and Pacioretty more than likely being life-long Habs and assuming Bournival will be used as a serviceable top 9 LW for many years to come, (as well as at least one of Plekanec, Eller or Desharnais surely being with the Habs for 3 or more years) it possibly leaves two or three roster spots for those left-handed prospects — barring any previous full time NHLers like E. Kane entering the mix.
Excluding the right-handed McCarron, here is what I believe is the order of the above mentioned prospects by pure skill:
6. de la Rose
You can make an argument for any of Reway, Hudon or Lehkonen being 2-3-4 but Scherbak takes the cake of the Habs prospects.
However, here is the order of those six who I believe are shoe-ins for the Habs roster:
1. de la Rose (3rd line FWD)
2. Lehkonen (2nd-3rd line serviceable LW)
3. Hudon (2nd-3rd line scoring winger that could find himself on 1st line)
4. Scherbak (2nd line scoring RW with 1st line talent)
5. Andrighetto (2-3rd line serviceable LW)
6. Reway (2nd line scoring winger with 1st line upside)
Any change to this list has to do with timing.
If the Habs need a 2-3 line serviceable LW next year, then Andrighetto is closer than Lehkonen to playing for the big club. But if the Habs stick with Paci-Galchy-Bourni as their LWs then Andrighetto will play another year in Hamilton and Lehkonen may pass Andrighetto in the next year and Andrighetto won’t get a chance at the big club. The same can be said about Reway and Scherbak.
In the same breath, if Hudon doesn’t make the club next season because the Habs pick up a 2nd line scoring winger through free agency or trade, he may never find himself making the team because the Habs may need a Lehkonen or Scherbak type instead.
Scherbak is one of the top 10 most talented players in the draft and the Habs needed exactly that in their organization. He makes the prospects list become a little more confusing to judge where they will end up but Scherbak himself is almost surely going to one day be a full-time Canadien. Scherbak has sick skill and will look great beside Galchenyuk or Eller one day.
Scherbak also has what Bergevin wants most in his prospects and that is character. Seriously, he is adorable. Did you see his interview with James Duthie?
What a gem.