Welcome to the final piece devoted specifically to Montreal's third overall selection at this year's NHL Entry Draft, now just over two weeks away. We talked about who to take at pick #3, we looked at the possibility of trading down if the Habs don't like who is on the board there, so what's left?
From fans on Twitter and forums, to radio talk show hosts, to television personalities, much has been made about the possibility of Montreal trading up to the first overall selection to draft Nail Yakupov. There are questions about Mikhail Grigorenko's compete level, Alex Galchenyuk's repaired knee, and Filip Forsberg's offensive output, so Yakupov by default may be the closest the draft has to a "sure thing" offensively. If Montreal doesn't walk away from a draft where they hold a third overall selection with an impact player, fans will be quick to turn on the new front office regime, so perhaps the safest route for Marc Bergevin, Trevor Timmins, and company would be to pony up another asset or two to be able to take the consensus best player available.
What would it cost to get Edmonton to swap down to third overall, where they will still be able to take the guy widely believed to be their man in defenseman Ryan Murray? The most commonly discussed scenario would see Montreal giving up picks 3 and 33 for the first overall pick, which is considerable when you look at who may still be on the board at 33 for the Canadiens (coincidentally, we will look at that right here in Restocking the Cupboard #4 next week). Personally, I'd be ok with making that sacrifice to add the kind of superstar we haven't seen in Montreal in ages. But before we dig a little deeper into this, let's look at Yakupov's game.
Tantalizing skill and plays with an edge, what's not to like? Well, at 5'11" and 190 lbs, though not Brendan Gallagher-sized, he doesn't bring the kind of frame that many would like to see Montreal adding. He's a winger, and likely ready to step into the big league right away, so he could fill an immediate need beside Tomas Plekanec, but doesn't address the problem this team has had for years in the need for a big offensive center, something far more difficult to address via free agency or trade than a scoring wing.
Yakupov is a strong, agile skater, able to burn defenders with shifty moves. He has a quick release which makes him a threat on every rush and shows the ability to create time and space for himself despite his small stature. He's basically the complete, electrifying package offensively. Some have concerns about his play in his own end, but those that doubt Yakupov point to incongruities between his size and style, wondering if his physical play will be successful against bigger and older opposition at the pro rank, and concern that it may lead to an injury-plagued career. Still, no one doubts he is the most talented player available on draft day.
Some have suggested that picks 3 and 33 are too much to give up for Yakupov. That the Canadiens should offer picks 3 and 51, or 3 and a defenseman like Yannick Weber, Raphael Diaz, or even a Brendon Nash. I just don't see that as being enough for Edmonton because, while they would still get their man at 3, the Columbus Blue Jackets won't sit idly by and let another club snatch Yakupov from under their noses (ignore what those who suggest they won't take him because he's Russian say). That means that even if swapping picks with Montreal is no skin off Edmonton's back, Columbus will bid the price of landing Yakupov up, so frankly, I don't even know if picks 3 and 33 will be sufficient to get it done.
Now where do I stand on the possibilities? If Montreal is planning on taking Alex Galchenyuk (my preference, who by the way, led all prospects in last week's NHL Combine Anaerobic Test, a gauge for the most explosive skating) third overall, then I'd probably rather hold on to picks 3 and 33. If Yakupov can be had for pick 3 and a toss-in like one of the defensemen I mention above - a highly unlikely scenario - then I'd be in favour of the move, as the team will still add two other solid prospects in the second round. Even despite his size, though, at this point, I would far and away rather the team give up what it costs to nab Yakupov than use the top pick on either Forsberg or Grigorenko.
There is another topic worth mentioning, which is the idea of using the third overall selection as a trade chip to land an established or previously-drafted player. As opposed to trading up or down, the Canadiens would altogether forego a first round selection to bring in someone they like better than the prospects available. The most commonly mentioned name when this is discussed is that of Jonathan Huberdeau, the Saint John Sea Dogs star who was taken one year ago, also third overall, by the Florida Panthers. Huberdeau, who could also fill the "need" for more French-speaking, home-grown talent with the Canadiens, was limited to just 37 games this season, but had a near 2.0 points-per-game average, with 72 on the year. He brings decent size at 6'1", 171 lbs, has a good friendship with Canadiens' prospect Nathan Beaulieu, and unlike the players to be drafted in a few weeks, can play in the AHL if he isn't deemed NHL-ready in the Fall, though most believe he will be.
The problem here? There is no reason to suggest that the Panthers would consider moving Huberdeau, who they inked to an entry-level deal last Fall, and even if they would, it is doubtful that any of the players available third overall this year would be sufficient bait to have them bite. After making the playoffs this season, Florida will be looking to add to its roster, which a guy like Huberdeau can do, rather than delaying by taking on a less-ready youngster. If you want Huberdeau, you're talking a name like P.K. Subban going back the other way. Maybe Florida would consider an offer like the third overall pick AND a Lars Eller. In my books, it just doesn't add up.
Other players talked about as potential returns for the third selection include Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jarome Iginla. In the first two cases, it would take considerably more than the pick alone, which would be a huge gamble for Getzlaf who can become an unrestricted free agent just one year from now. I'm not ready to sacrifice that much for a guy like Nash either, who while he could make a great addition, has production just a notch below the "superstar" type I'm hoping for. I think any talk of Iginla is a non-starter for all, given his age and declining production. A team very close to a championship might make such a move, but certainly not a team in Montreal's position. In sum, I just don't see the Canadiens dealing this pick away as realistic. They will select a top prospect in the first round.
We've now covered pretty much all possibilities for the third overall pick. My preference remains either selecting Alex Galchenyuk, or trading up for Nail Yakupov, either of which would make me happy at night's end. Next week, we turn our attention towards the other Montreal selections, offering suggestions and predictions for each, before our final installment - the week of the draft - will be a full 30-team Mock Draft of the first two rounds.