Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes was clearly not worried about how any draft rankings or mock drafts predicted the way things would play out. Seldom do things play out at the NHL Draft the way they are predicted before hand.
That trend continued this year when players like Ryan Leonard and Matvei Michkov were touted as near-locks to be the Canadiens’ selection at fifth overall. Kent Hughes had his focus elsewhere and took to the stage before selecting Austrian Defenseman David Reinbacher.
Fans were divided, but like any other draft, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Now that the dust has settled, and scouts, opponents and analysts have given their analysis on Reinbacher, he took to the ice for Canadiens prospect development camp in Brossard, Quebec. Such marked Reinbacher’s first time suiting up in his new team’s threads.
With Reinbacher on board, the Canadiens certainly have some interesting pieces that will occupy the blueline in the future. Reinbacher, Lane Hutson and a few other young guys will form a young, mobile core that will turn a new leaf. The Canadiens’ blueline has long been older, slower and more veteran-savvy.
Now, the Canadiens have some interesting options. A plethora of young, highly talented prospects with aspirations to patrol the blueline in the future, some of whom are already there. Barring a trade, there is a nice group, with an extra or two that might take turns in, and out, of the lineup.
I thought predicting how the pairs might balance out could be interesting. So let’s dive in. Let’s say this is 2-3 years down the road.
Pairing 1 – David Reinbacher and Lane Hutson.
This potential pairing is intriguing for an array of reasons. First, they are two newer prospects in the Canadiens fold, Reinbacher from the 2023 Draft and Hutson from the 2022 NHL Draft. But more than that, they seem like an ideal pair that would balance one another out, allowing each other to play to their strengths.
Hutson is a mobile, offensive, undersized defenseman that isn’t prone to defensive mistakes. He provides intrigue with his elite hockey IQ, his elusive edgework and his ability to find open ice and exploit it in creating offence at a torrid pace; as evidenced by his brilliant numbers in his NCAA rookie season. Hutson is unlike any other defence prospect in the Canadiens’ pool, and should he hit, the Canadiens will have an incredible offensive defenseman.
Reinbacher, for all intents and purposes, is quite the opposite of Hutson. Reinbacher is a powerful skater, that plays the defensive side of the game particularly well. His decision-making and smart defensive stick bode well for the young Austrian, and he showed well as an 18-year-old in the Swiss pro league this past season. He has some untapped offensive potential still marinating, and another season in Switzerland will be tremendous for his development.
Pairing 2 – Logan Mailloux and Kaiden Guhle.
This one may leave many scratching their heads, considering the fact that this pair has a blend of size, speed, smarts and potential elite offensive prowess. However, for the sake of balancing each pairing with a lefty and righty, Mailloux and Hutson just wouldn’t work, and as it looks right now, Reinbacher and Guhle are the more defensive-minded defenseman so they are kept separate.
Mailloux has the shot, the skating and the mind to create offence, be it with a breakout pass, or a heavy, accurate shot. He isn’t exactly a defensive juggernaut, but fret not, Kaiden Guhle will balance out this pair. Guhle will provide smooth, beautiful skating and smart defensive play to cover for his partner. Don’t sleep on Guhle, as he can and will provide offence as well. Both big, quick and smooth skaters, this second pair will be a beautiful complement to the top pair.
Pairing 3 – Justin Barron and Arber Xhekaj
Now this is all opinion, and I am no professional. But the third pair could cause a commotion, and I believe these two players would make for a great pairing with size, grit, offence and strong transitional play. Justin Barron and Arber Xhekaj.
Barron is a smooth skater, who has some offensive potential still brewing, and should he hit on it, he could be a very solid third-pairing defenseman. He has a good shot, skates his way out of trouble and has a penchant for making crisp breakout passes. Xhekaj, on the other hand, provides a what you see is what you get approach. He will run through you for his team, but he also has a little offence that is still developing; he skates well and has a sneaky snapshot. With a little defensive work, he could provide a nice blend to a pair with Barron.
Matheson, Harris and whoever else the Canadiens may draft between now and say 2026-27, could be swapped in and out as well. But this top-six of defensemen could be something special to watch for years to come. And a great supporting cast for the crop of talent being built up on offence.
There are no guarantees in hockey, but this could be a fun group of blueliners to watch in the future. Not everyone loved the Reinbacher pick, but he could be a big part of a incredible group of defensemen in the near future for the Montreal Canadiens.
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