Montreal Canadiens: Habs Must Think Outside The Box To Acquire Impact Forward

2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Let’s get straight to the point, the Montreal Canadiens need impact forwards. I don’t mean solid two-way character players who play the right way. I’m talking bona fide, game breaking, first line talent. The type of players that can create something from nothing and generate instant offense.

The Habs foundation is set up nicely in most other areas. On the back end, you can already envision a top four of Lane Hutson, David Reinbacher, Kaiden Guhle and Logan Mailloux. Between the pipes, Samuel Montembeault appears to be a great short-term option while Cayden Primeau and Jacob Fowler continue to develop. While on the fringes, there is no shortage of great young options for the bottom six forward group and 5-7 slots on defence.

Nick Suzuki and Kirby Dach appear to have the makings of a good 1-2 punch down the middle but Juraj Slafkovsky and Cole Caufield are the only other legit top-six forwards in the pipeline.

So while general manager Kent Hughes has done a decent job of team building thus far, there is an obvious and glaring need to acquire more high-end skill at the top of the lineup. I believe Hughes to be a smart man so I would expect this to be the primary focus going into his third offseason.

However, getting a player of that calibre in this year’s draft will be easier said than done, especially if the Canadiens stand pat. They are currently projected to pick in the 6-12 range and need to take a proactive approach to ensure they fill the gaping hole in their organizational depth chart.

Outside of projected first overall pick Macklin Celebrini who is sure to be gone, there could be a few elite offensive players that are still available when the Canadiens hit the podium. Ivan Demidov, Cole Eiserman and to a lesser degree Berkly Catton all have major scoring upside. It is imperative that the Habs get one of these guys.

Hughes needs to be aggressive and cannot take the risk that one will just fall to the Habs at their current draft position. He must be willing to sacrifice additional assets to go up and get that player. Walking away from the table with another defenseman or gritty third-line type because that was the best player available would be a failure in my opinion.

I suspect Hughes will also be on the hunt for a more seasoned forward to add to his core a la the Dach and Alex Newhook trades. That’s fine and dandy but armed with a multitude of picks both this year and next, he should be able to both move up in the draft and also acquire NHL-ready talent. This is not an either/or situation, he needs to have his cake and eat it too and should be exploring all avenues to get that accomplished.

I would also love to see Montreal implement a more radical draft strategy in the later rounds. A year ago, the club selected three goaltenders in the same draft. Why not take a similar approach this time around with forwards? Swing for the fences on a bunch of high-ceiling skill players, there is more than enough depth elsewhere that little harm would be done even if they strike out.

A lot of flowers are being thrown at Hughes’ feet lately for his asset management and deservedly so. However, if Hughes is a new-age executive who is on the cutting edge of analytical thinking, he should know that at a certain point, you have to start leveraging those assets for difference-making talent.

It's Super Bowl week, so to use a football analogy, sometimes you have to go for it on fourth and goal instead of playing it safe and taking the points. One first-liner is better than two third-liners just like one touchdown is better than two field goals. Don't settle, Kent. Don't play scared. Play to win.