The Montreal Canadiens biggest decision at the 2023 NHL Draft will come early. They hold the fifth overall pick and could very well have the choice of taking Matvei Michkov, who is perhaps the second most talented player in the draft, or passing on him for a player who could help the team sooner.
Michkov is signed in Russia for three more seasons, and teams in the top five of the draft may not want to take a gamble on a player from Russia knowing it will be at least three years before he can help them. We will have to wait until draft night to see their decision.
Of course, teams make a lot of decisions during the NHL Draft. While the Canadiens first choice will get most of the attention and headlines, they do have difficult decisions to make in every round. With the NHL combine going on last week, teams had the opportunity to meet with players, interview them and see them take part in physical and medical testing.
Some interesting tidbits often come out of these meetings, and the Canadiens may have tipped their hand a bit with a few prospects they are quite interested in selecting. General Manager Kent Hughes spoke very highly of USA prospect Ryan Leonard. Another prospect, ranked outside the first round, mentioned he was feeling the love from the Canadiens lately as well.
Anthony Martineau of TVA Sports was at the combine, and he spoke with Mathieu Cataford. The Halifax Mooseheads forward mentioned he was feeling a lot of interest from the Canadiens in recent months. He also says he is a versatile player and compared his own style of game to Patrice Bergeron and Dawson Mercer.
I don’t know about the Bergeron comparisons, mostly because I don’t think any prospect can be reasonably compared to one of the best defensive players of all time, but Cataford did have an impressive season with the Mooseheads.
The Chateauguay, Quebec native did not turn 18 until March, when the QMJHL regular season was winding down, but he still produced 31 goals and 75 points in 68 games during his second Junior season. He added five goals and 13 points in 21 playoff games as the Mooseheads made a run to the QMJHL final.
Making his numbers more impressive is the fact that the Mooseheads extremely deep offense pushed Cataford to a second or even third line role during the season. Halifax had an incredible top line that featured Josh Lawrence, Alexandre Doucet and Jordan Dumais who finished first, second and third in league scoring. Nashville Predators first round pick Zach L’Heureux joined them on the first power play, which played stayed on the ice for much of the two minutes, if they didn’t score and end the power play early.
This means Cataford was not adding offense with the man advantage and was creating at even strength, usually on a good line with Markus Vidicek and Attilio Biasca, but rarely with the big guns on the first unit.
Cataford is ranked somewhere between the middle of the second round and the third round depending on the scouting service. Craig Button of TSN released his latest rankings earlier today and had Cataford at 50.
The Canadiens pick at 5th and then either 31st or 32nd in the opening round. Cataford will not be a first round pick, but the Canadiens also have the 37th pick, a third round pick and three picks in the fourth round. If they don’t take Cataford 37th, you just might see them package their third and a fourth to move up and try to get him sometime in the second round as they clearly have interest in the high scoring, two-way forward with the Mooseheads.
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