How will Kent Hughes acquire a top forward?

The surplus of defence in the Habs fold, should be leveraged to bring in a forward who will elevate the offence.
Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens
Florida Panthers v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes and the vice president of hockey operations have spoken openly about their wishes to improve the team this offseason.

Without having to think very much, the Canadiens will add 12 new prospects to their pool. Of the 12, only two have a close chance of playing in the NHL in 2024-25, although it isn't very likely. The remaining 10 will go back to their respective leagues; each with an offseason gameplan to prepare for their draft-plus-one season.

So, with that in mind, if Hughes and Gorton have immediate plans to improve the team; it could come by way of signing a big fish free agent from July 1st onwards. However, it will be tough to entice a player to sign in Montreal before the club proves to be competitive enough to compete in the 2025-26 playoffs. That is why I think that a trade is more likely; which is something that Hughes has shown zero shyness in pulling off, especially on the draft floor.

Heading into the 2024-25 season the Canadiens will have Mike Matheson, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble on the left side of the defence; with Lane Hutson likely to be in the mix also. On the right side, there are David Savard, Johnathan Kovacevic, Justin Barron and possibly Logan Mailloux and David Reinbacher making decisions tough. With six spots and one extra for a seventh rotational defender, there are too many players and too few places for them.

Alex Romanov was moved during the 2022 NHL Draft, along with the Habs' 98th overall selection for the 13th overall selection from the New York Islanders. Hughes subsequently dealt the 13th overall pick along with their 66th overall selection to acquire Kirby Dach. This was one example of the Canadiens general manager leveraging an organizational strength to address a need.

Gianni Fairbrother, along with the Canadiens' 31st and 37th overall pick were dealt to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Alex Newhook during the 2023 NHL Draft. This time Hughes used a surplus of early-round draft picks to add an age-specific forward to the Habs young core. The picks may have brought in two high-potential forwards for the future, but Newhook is a sure thing and has proven he can be an everyday NHL player.

Those are two examples of players brought in to help beef up the Canadiens' offence while showing confidence in the group of blueliners and the depth of the prospect pipeline. If another player can be acquired either at the draft or before the start of next season, it is likely to happen soon. The Rocket are likely to have a strong blueline, just like the Canadiens regardless if a player is moved; which is why I believe it will be done.

I'm not sure who is ranked ahead of who for the following two players, but whichever one is deemed to be more valuable should be moved. Jordan Harris and Jayden Struble are two guys that I can see being dangled for a big trade. Then throw in the pick that the Habs acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in the Sean Monahan trade and maybe a prospect - Sean Farrell, Filip Mesar or Luke Tuch.

Details can be ironed out for sure, but such a package would help out a team for sure, whether they facilitate an additional trade or keep all of the pieces. Looking across the NHL, there are a few players that would be ideal targets. Take into account that the Habs core is roughly 24 and under, with Nick Suzuki turning 25 in August.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a great group of young forwards and that makes them an ideal team to contact. Their blueline is solid, but adding Harris or Struble into the mix, along with a good forward prospect would help absorb the impact of losing a forward. I would target Kent Johson, who is only 21 years old and has an abundance of skills, that would pair well with the Habs' top six.

The Anaheim Ducks are another team whose offence is up and coming, and though their defence of the future is pretty solid; adding in an everyday NHLer to help the young defenders acclimate would be a smart move. Plucking the player I have my eye on out of Anaheim would likely be a bit more costly than the package I proposed, but Hughes does have multiple first-round selections for 2025 that could be enticing. Trevor Zegras would be the perfect addition to Montreal, he has a big personality like Cole Caufield and the Habs don't have any player with his skills on their roster or in the prospect pool.