A Different Kind of Draft for Montrealby Kasim Husain | September 21, 2016, 6:59 PM ET
With four second round picks, GM Kasim Husain's inbox was abuzz prior to the 2016 entry draft. "If I had a nickel for how many times I've been told this is a 'weak' draft, well, I'd have enough change for a coffee. But, still, though, the point stands... Funny how there was so much interest in these picks if this was as weak a draft as all that," spluttered a bleary-eyed Husain, who rumour has it lost sleep mugging up for the highlight of this perennial SICHL bottom-feeder's calendar. Rather than accumulating later picks, the Montréal GM opted to put the team in position to pursue higher-pedigreed players, in contrast to the franchise's track record for trying to find diamonds in the rough during the later rounds in past years, including the likes of regular Jyrki Jokipakka (113th overall in 2012) and the up and coming Gustav Forsling, Rourke Chartier (101st and 108th overall in 2014), and Dmytro Timashov (105th overall in 2015).
Greater hope for the future comes primarily in the form of the 2nd overall pick, which the Millionaires earned the right to through the entry draft lottery, leapfrogging Denver and Chicago. Their prize was Patrik Laine, a hulking Finnish winger with a powerful skating stride and an SICHL-quality release. More futures were added to the organization over draft weekend in the form of the team's nine selections, including: by position, three forwards, three defencemen, and two goaltenders; by nationality, four Canadians, two Finns, two Swedes, and one Czech.
2nd overall, Patrik Laine: the Tampere product plays for Tappara in the SM-Liiga, but is sure to lace up the skates for the Millionaires come 2017-18. "He's physically ready, and we expect he will pot a lot of goals off passes from Sam Reinhart and Jonathan Drouin," enthused Husain. While many have likened the winger to famed one-timer triggerman Brett Hull, the comparison the team reportedly likes is Vancouver Island Norsemen star Jamie Benn. Some sources suggest Husain would have been disappointed if the Kansas City Krunch had picked Laine 1st overall over franchise centre Auston Matthews, but a team spokesperson quickly quashed those rumours.
32nd overall, Samuel Girard: the pint-sized blueliner had a banner year for the QMJHL's Shawinigan Cataractes, being named the league's best defenceman and most sportsmanlike player, and earning the equivalent of the latter honour for the entire CHL. Elite speed and puckhandling suggest Girard has the tools to produce as a powerplay quarterback at the next level, and if he can adequately hone his defensive skills, his ceiling is as a top pair offensive defenceman.
43rd overall, Libor Hajek: this Czech defender might be a good complement to Girard down the line, as he combines a mobile game with sound defensive instincts and punishing physicality. Defence may be his bread and butter, but the Millionaires hope that he can make good on some untapped offensive ability during his second season with the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.
46th overall, Filip Gustavsson: word filtered out that the Millionaires had targeted a goaltender early after GM Husain appeared anxious when Carter Hart was picked late in the first by Denver. The team's top brass held their nerve and exactly 23 picks after Hart was picked 23rd, the Millionaires added Gustavsson, a talented netminder out of Lulea HF with size and technique. One of his upsides is how coachable his weaknesses-athleticism and rebound control-are for a young goalie, and he will contend for Sweden's crease in the World Junior championship.
51st overall, William Bitten: with the pick acquired from the Toronto Titans in exchange for Joe Colborne earlier this week, Montréal picked a talented forward out of the OHL's troubled debut franchise, the Flint Firebirds. The young centreman displays the two-way play to make it as a centre at the pro level despite his smaller 5'10 build. Bitten's combination of speed, backchecking and creativity in the offensive zone suggests he might do more than make up for the production lost via Colborne's departure in a few short years' time. He is expected to improve substantially on his point total from last season of 65 points in 67 games.
60th overall, Jonathan Dahlen: the son of former Grande Prairie Gremlin Ulf, more than SICHL bloodlines attracted the Millionaires to this winger. "I'm a little afraid we ticked off the league's commissioner when we informed him we were taking Jonathan," commented Husain, who was drafting two spots above the Fredericton Express's pair of picks at 62nd and 63rd. Dahlén slid into the third round somewhat surprisingly for a player with projectable offensive skill as both a shooter and a passer, having led Timra IK of Sweden's Allsvenskan in scoring with 29 points in 51 games despite being the second-youngest player on the roster.
77th overall, Jack Lafontaine: after trading four late round picks to acquire Nova Scotia's third round pick and a 5th rounder (traded back to the Schooners for a 2017 pick in a draft day deal), the Millionaires selected their second netminder of the draft in the University of Michigan commit. The Toronto product owns a projectable frame at 6'3, and put up gaudy numbers for Janesville of the unheralded NAHL, including a 0.931SV% and 1.61GAA. If he can replicate those stats while tending goal in the NCAA, expect his stock to rise quickly.
105th overall, Markus Nutivaara: a 21-year-old reentry, Nutivaara was the first of two consecutive fourth-round picks that concluded Montréal's draft. A mobile defenceman who plays a heady and safe game for Kärpät of the SM-Liiga, there are echoes of the Jokipakka pick in this overage selection. He is expected to be signed to an entry-level deal shortly and make his North American pro debut for Charlottetown next year.
106th overall, Maxime Lajoie: last but not least of the Millionaires' picks is this 6'1 blueliner for the WHL's Swift Current Broncos, whose draft stock fell in part due to lingering effects of a bout of mono. Lajoie carried the mail on D for a young squad last season, and with some good health and an improved supporting cast for 2016-17, there's every possibility Lajoie will turn in a performance this season that will have teams kicking themselves for passing on this great-skating two-way defenceman.