Montreal Canadiens Drafting Philosophy: Best Fit vs. Best Player Available

It's that time of year again: draft season, and the Montreal Canadiens have another high draft pick in the 2024 NHL Entry Draft. And, of course, that means we finally have a concrete number to aim for and debate about until late June. Should the Habs shoot for the stars and nab the best player available, or look at holes in the prospect cupboard and find the player that fits in best?
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages
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But as we all know, it takes a team to win the Cup, and that is something that Carey Price sadly never accomplished and the Montreal Canadiens haven't done since 1993. And while that can't be put upon one thing, strength down the middle has been a big weakness, and wouldn't Kopitar have looked great in a Canadiens uniform?

Anze Kopitar
Los Angeles Kings v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Yes, Carey Price had many great seasons, but the offense continually let him and the team down, and they never reached the promise land. They came close in 2014, before Price was injured in a play involving Kris Kreider, and then making the Final in the pandemic shortened 2021 before being thoroughly outplayed by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Alex Galchenyuk had the one 30 goal season, Max Domi had a near point-per-game year, but those were just flashes in the pan, and the solid production of Max Pacioretty for years just wasn't enough. Not to mention years of the best centre on the team being David Desharnais, or jamming the aforementioned Galchenyuk into a role that he wasn't suited for.

Or for examples outside the team, the San Jose Sharks had a fantastic forward core for years with Pavelski, Thornton, Couture and Marleau with Burns and Vlasic shoring up the back-end, but never got over the hump. Or the modern day San Jose Sharks, the Toronto Maple Leafs, always missing that one crucial piece, be it a goalie, or defense, or grit, depending on the year.

Looking back at Stanley Cup winning teams, they have depth and incredibly balanced teams. And unequivicoally, the best way to build a team is through the draft.

So what's the best way to go about this? Well, it is a little bit of both. Generally, scouts will have tiers of prospects. For example, Macklin Celebrini is by far the best prospect this year, so he is in a tier of his own. But below that, you might have Demidov, Lindstrom and Catton on the same tier and not really have one above the other. And then, whichever ones are available you choose from those.

Zeev Buium
2024 Frozen Four - Denver v Boston College / Richard T Gagnon/GettyImages

That way it keeps you honest on the best player available. Like if your entire second tier of prospects have been picked but Zeev Buium, a defender is the last pick in that tier, you really have to consider him, because in your opinion, all other players are a step below them.

Besides, there are no sure things, and there are some high profile prospects that will not pan out. Everyone has question marks and no team has a 100% hit rate.

And excess is always a good thing to have. Leveraging a position of strength into trades for a position of weakness is always a good strategy. To get quality you have to give up quality, and NHL general managers are savvy, and difficult to pull the wool over their eyes. I guess we will have to see where Marc Bergevin goes and hope.