Canadiens Should Target Incredible Prospects Not Picks at Trade Deadline

Canadiens Should Target Incredible Prospects Not Picks at Trade Deadline

The Montreal Canadiens are going to be sellers, of that there is little doubt. As of Jan. 28, the club sits nine points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final wild card position and would need to leapfrog over five other teams to get there. Realistically, general manager (GM) Kent Hughes will be busy taking calls.

This doesn’t mean Hughes should go all in for futures, he could speed up the rebuild process by targeting prospects or young NHL-ready players in return for his top trade assets. In a seller’s market, Hughes can trade one of his veterans and get a first-round pick in 2024, but a buyer’s pick would fall in at 24th overall or later, that is why targeting a young NHL-ready prospect would have more value to Montreal.

Canadiens Can Generate a Bidding War

The Canadiens have several assets on the block, some, like Joel Armia will not fetch Hughes much of a return. David Savard has value, but it would not be that high. Mike Matheson, who is on pace for a career season in terms of points (57), has significant value. But it is unlikely he will be moved at this trade deadline, although, he would get a king’s ransom if he did. The likeliest scenario that sees Hughes get a first-round pick, or in this case, a prospect or young player of similar value is Sean Monahan, and with the number of buyers in search of a top-six center or forward, there will likely be a bidding war.

Monahan’s versatility and ability to contribute at both ends of the ice make him an appealing trade deadline target for several clubs. Some have speculated his value sits around a second-round pick or equivalent, however, veteran centers on pace for close to 60 points in a season with his size, faceoff skills and defensive acumen tend to fetch much higher, especially when it is likely to be a seller’s market when it comes to top-six centers.

The 29-year-old is having a solid season with 13 goals and 35 points in 49 games. That puts him on pace for 59 points over a full season. He is also a pending unrestricted free agent on a contract that carries a $1.985 million cap hit. If any team interested in his services has any financial constraints due to the salary cap, the Canadiens could be convinced to retain salary as they have one more retention slot available this season. But it would add significantly to his value as the trade market for Monahan will be hot, and there will be teams willing to take on his contract without retention. Also, Hughes may need that last available retention option to trade a different contract out, which complicates matters.

Canadiens Targeting Youth

But that leaves a final question, what kind of young player do they need, and who could fit in with the current core group? It is no secret the Canadiens need offence, specifically top-six forwards. While the biggest gap in their system is an elite offensive talent that can be termed a “game-breaker”, the players Montreal is willing to trade out at the deadline are not going to get an elite player, so the focus will be on top-six talent to add more scoring to a roster in need of more goals.

Zachary L’Heureux

The Nashville Predators are a bit of a surprise this season, the first under new GM Barry Trotz, who sit one point out of a playoff spot. They have significant cap space to deal with but are a team in transition, so are not likely to go “all-in” with a massive salary, so a reasonable one like Monahan’s makes sense. They are also in need of a center, and Trotz has said that he expects to be active at the trade deadline. Which makes sense, the Preds didn’t go out and sign forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist in the offseason just to get close and stand pat at the deadline. Nashville has the draft picks (four in the top 60), but they also have something Montreal could want, an offensive forward in Zachary L’Heureux.

L’Heureux is a highly aggressive forward, who plays a physical style. He is skilled, highly competitive and has agitator qualities, but he has had issues with his discipline. In his rookie season with the American Hockey League (AHL) Milwaukee Admirals, he has 11 goals and 28 points in 38 games but leads his team significantly in penalty minutes with 110. The 5-foot-11 forward has built a reputation as a talented two-way player with an excellent shot who can beat opposing defensemen one-on-one with a skilled deke, well-timed pass or by lowering his shoulder and driving to the net. He has excellent puck protection and possession skills, with an ability to out-battle larger defenders down low and along the boards. He is also trusted defensively as he kills penalties on the Admirals’ top unit.

Montreal does require a strong two-way player. They can use a player that can throw opponents off their game with an abrasive style, and he is a Quebec-born player, so that is a bonus. But in the Canadiens’ system, he would need to be able to play more on the line, and not step over it so regularly.

Brennan Othmann

The New York Rangers will be shopping for a center now that Filip Chytil is out for the season. Despite their injury challenges, they sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division, are only two seasons removed from a conference finals appearance and are considered a Stanley Cup contender. According to Elliotte Friedman, they are looking at Montreal to solve their issues at center. As soon as he uttered those words, there were probably some Canadiens fans dreaming of nabbing their 2023 first-round selection Gabe Perreault, however, that is highly unlikely. But Brennan Othmann is a possibility.

He is known best for his excellent shot but is a creative playmaker who can play a possession game. He is a skilled agitator and a physical player with a good work ethic and hockey IQ. His two weaknesses, skating and defensive game, have both improved significantly while with the Hartford Wolfpack of the AHL where he has earned a top role with the club and has scored 10 goals and 29 points in 35 games so far in his rookie professional season. He has even earned a short-term call-up to the NHL. The strength of his game, the reason Montreal could find a fit for him, is his offensive game.

Dylan Holloway

The Edmonton Oilers are hot right now, having won 16 consecutive games with no signs of slowing down, and that run has placed them firmly into the third spot in the Pacific Division with a five-point lead over their divisional rival Los Angeles Kings who hold the top wild-card spot. Despite all that, there are needs, and NHL insider Frank Seravalli has identified several for the Oilers. They are a third-line center and a second-line right-winger.

Monahan, who Oilers fans know well from his time with the Calgary Flames, could be a good fit. The issue is how to make it work financially, as the Oilers are pressed up against the salary cap ceiling, which would increase the payment Edmonton would need to pay for Montreal to retain salary. Dylan Holloway did not make much of an impact in the limited role and minutes that he has played, but recently, has started to earn more ice time and was reassigned to Bakersfield in a strategic move by the Oilers during their nine-day break.

Part of what makes Holloway a good fit is that he is an outstanding skater. He has drive and is highly competitive. He has a willingness to play in the tough areas of the ice in front of the net and along the boards, winning most of his puck battles. He’s a two-way power forward who can bring some grit to the lineup. At 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, he has the size Hughes covets. Also, he has a history and proven chemistry with Cole Caufield as he played center on his line at the University of Wisconsin for a season. That shows he can drive the play, and can be used at both wing and center, while also helping on the power play. He is the most NHL-ready of those mentioned here, and because Edmonton owes it to their stars to go for it this season, Monahan would be an immediate upgrade while Montreal can give Holloway the role and ice time he needs to take the next step in his development.

Targeting young NHL players or prospects already in the professional ranks helps Hughes stagger the arrival of young players to the roster, giving him a better opportunity to assess them as he plans for his salary cap requirements in the future. Targeting these types of players allows management to better gauge their potential as they have more of a sample size to view as opposed to a late first-round pick who is 18 years old. This strategy would also help to speed up the rebuild process.

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