Montreal Canadiens: What Makes A Rebuild Work?

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

The Montreal Canadiens rebuild is upon us, and it seems obvious that Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton's vision for the team is to get younger.

A direct result of getting younger, and growing a young core for the future, is trading veterans. I have faced a ton of flack for suggesting that certain veterans get traded from the team. I don't believe an explanation to be necessary, but I like to keep the relationship with the A Winning Habit viewership healthy.

With that we march onwards and upwards, a trend the the Canadiens are looking to follow as well. Simply put, if a player in the current lineup garners interest, who happens to be a little older than the core, Hughes should listen. The youth are pushing through, and the battle tested way to build a contender is through drafting and asset management.

There are a few prospects who aren't very far away from pushing towards NHL roles, and the ones who aren't quite ready can take an Uber over to Laval. Mike Matheson, David Savard, Sean Monahan and Josh Anderson are just a handful of names that make sense to move when their value is high. Anderson has been dragging his feet through the mud, and Savard just returned from injury, but Matheson and Monahan could command a lot of interest.

Hughes has shown a willingness to move players, and ensure they go where they are most comfortable. Not only does he respectfully trade players, but he also gets great returns. Tyler Toffoli, Artturri Lehkonen, Ben Chiarot and Jeff Petry are just a few examples.

The Canadiens could stand to gain a lot, if they can get their hands on an additional 2024 first-round pick or two. There are no guarantees with later picks, but if there's a player available that Hughes wants, having his own first paired with an additional first and maybe a prospect like Jordan Harris could prove crucial. There are some very skilled players available for the 2024 Draft, and if the Habs can get a top 10 pick that would be great, but trading into the top three to five range could be massive for the Canadiens.

In my personal opinion, aside from Macklin Celebrini it is anybody's guess who goes where from number two and on. The real draft begins after Celebrini gets picked, and if the Habs had the opportunity they would no doubt select him. But being realistic, it's more likely that the Canadiens pick between 2-10.

There are some pieces put into place on the blueline, with Kaiden Guhle, Jayden Struble, Logan Mailloux, Lane Hutson, David Reinbacher and Justin Barron. So too, the Habs have some forwards that will carry the torch -Nick Suzuki, Kirby Dach, Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky and Alex Newhook. Now that is only five forwards, and there are guys like Jesse Ylonen, Emil Heineman and Joshua Roy with potential to help out in the top nine.

But one more piece, a player that can put the puck in the net, just like Caufield can. I would rather move a Monahan or a Matheson for a high pick or a close-to NHL-ready prospect. There are a ton of under-25 players that could feel nice in Montreal, and there are some intriguing prospects available in the first round of the '24 Draft.

Stock Up On Your Picks

There are a plethora of forwards who will likely have their names called early at the draft, and one of them would be great. But if Hughes plays his hand properly, the Habs may have two selections in the top 10-15 range. Ideally a goalscorer with some size and strength would fit right into the top six, to grow with the current top five under-25 players.

With that said, I think there is a group of five players that the Canadiens would come out of day one of the draft with a smile on their face. It's tough to move on from players, and you don't want to rush young players, but this young core is battle-tested, and will only benefit from promoting the young guys into bigger roles. Not that it matters, but the group of five guys features three Canadians, one American and a big Slovakian.

The five players that I would like to touch on quickly, hail from the United States, Russia, Finland and two from Canada. Each player has the skill, but such different tools could impact an NHL roster sooner rather than later. The best player available will be the smartest route, but as I am no scout, I can only say who I think that is.

Ivan Demidov

Demidov has the size and strength to be a very skilled power forward, and he's had the luxury of playing against the best of the Kontinental Hockey League. While he has been playing the majority of his time in the MHL, Russia's second-tier league, he has proven very adept at playing against men. Demidov has the slick mitts, and sick release of a Matvei Michkov or Nikita Kucherov, along with the size and strength to make plays around the net.

Cayden Lindstrom

I think Demidov is the most talented player, but Lindstrom isn't far behind, and he is 6'5". There are 6'5" players who play smaller, but Lindstrom isn't one of them, he is big, mean, skilled and rugged. Very nimble on his skates, and strong on his edges, his skating allows him to exploit defences with his great offensive zone toolkit.

Konsta Helenius

Helenius has been an absolute marvel as a 17-year-old in the top Finnish league, Liiga, and it has seen his stock rise dramatically. With Jukurit, Helenius has been on somewhat of a tear, especially considering the level of competition. He has 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) through 28 games and appears poised to improve his draft ranking with a big World Junior's tournament for Finland.

Cole Eiserman

Eiserman based on pure shooting talent, has sat in many top-five rankings for some time. He needs to iron out his play away from the puck, and his compete level has been questioned. But if he keeps rounding out his offensive game, he could be the best goal scorer in the entire draft.

Berkly Catton

Catton, like Helenius, is only 5'11" and 160 lbs, so that doesn't exactly address the size issue. But Catton is oozing with skill, and he plays with the heart of a lion. The Spokane Chiefs product has been the team's offensive catalyst, with 19 goals, and 22 assists in 27 games.

To speak it plainly, the Canadiens will benefit from moving on from assets and letting the core push take on bigger roles. This will challenge the most important players, and give them a chance to lead the team. And the increased pool of picks for Hughes will only allow the team to continue building a championship caliber roster.