Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Photo by Canadiens.com)

by Mike Ries, Staff Writer, AHL Report

As a follow up to the article that I penned to last season titled “Refilling the Habs Prospect Well,” there is an air of optimism throughout the Canadiens organization and their rabid fan base.  Montreal sorely lacked depth in the organization at the centre position as well as on defence.  Both needs were addressed with selections from the past two drafts.

At the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, there was heavy emphasis on defencemen (4) and centres (2) not to mention my steal of the draft in goaltender Cayden Primeau with the 199th pick. Now each prospect is one year closer to embarking on their professional careers with some making an impression on the Canadiens management staff at the recent development camp.

In 2018, we know that the Canadiens selected the best centre in the draft in Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third pick overall.  Best described as a slick playmaker, Kotkaniemi has huge offensive upside, in my opinion. He could be the first line centre that Montreal has coveted for well over 10 years. 

If I am reading the signals correctly, indications are that Jesperi will be given an  opportunity to make the Canadiens out of training camp this fall.  Depending on where Max Domi is slotted, either on the wing or possibly at centre, Kotkaniemi could find himself at  the second or third line centre spot.  It’s a huge amount to ask for a young player who will take time to adjust to the smaller ice and more physical play.  But could he follow the path that Victor Mete did starting the season in Montreal last season?

The Canadiens had three picks in the second round and, in my opinion, struck gold with the trio! Having said that, it will be a few years before they have a realistic shot at cracking the NHL lineup. 

Jesse Ylonen, selected with the 35th pick overall, possesses great hands and has NHL-calibre skating ability.  Ylonen still needs to develop physically, gain strength and fill out his frame. I estimate that the young winger will be NHL-ready within two seasons projecting to a second or third line spot in the NHL.

Alexander Romanov, taken with the 38th pick overall, is a strong skater who can move the puck and can be an effective player running the power-play. Some evaluators criticized his size and lack of consistency moving the puck. My feeling is that size is really not an issue in the new NHL. 

Romanov needs work on the defensive side of the puck from what I have seen, but that could come with experience as he develops.  In my opinion, he is projected as a bottom pairing defenseman in the NHL. 

Jacob Olofsson, selected 56th overall, played in the top tier league in Sweden last season. Olofsson is another slick skating centre who could keep up with the pace of the NHL already. But he needs to focus on his scoring and finishing ability. Improving his  consistency will be the key for Jacob.

The Habs focused on players with character and a physical side to their game as the draft moved on with two picks in each of the third, fourth and fifth rounds. 

Samuel Houde was selected in the fifth round of the draft with the 133rd pick overall. To me, Houde stands out to me as the sleeper of the Habs 2018 draft. The young centre is   entering his third year with Chicoutimi of the QMJHL. Houde is a slow-developing player who has yet to reach his potential as a solid playmaking pivot. The 18-year-old has a strong upside and may be a surprise for the future.