Habs Mailbag: Expect Canadiens GM Kent Hughes to be busy at NHL Draft

Tanking down the stretch for chance at a higher draft pick isn’t a good plan for Habs. Just look at what’s happened with the Buffalo Sabres.

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If you have a question you’d like answered in our weekly Habs Mailbag, you can email it to [email protected]

Any idea what kind of moves Kent Hughes is going to make at the draft?

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Eric Colasurdo

Thanks for the question, Eric.

I would expect Hughes will make a similar trade to the ones he did at the last two drafts in order to acquire Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook.

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At the 2022 draft, Hughes sent a first-round pick (13th overall) and a third-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire Dach. The Blackhawks used those picks to select centre Frank Nazar, who has 14-23-37 totals this season at the University of Michigan, and winger Gavin Hayes, who has 17-18-35 totals in 24 games this season with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds.

At last year’s draft, Hughes sent a first-round pick (31st overall) and a second-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Newhook. Colorado used the first-round pick to select defenceman Mikhail Gulyayev, who has 4-8-12 totals in 64 games this season with the KHL’s Omsk Avangard. The Avalanche traded the second-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who took winger Ethan Gauthier. He has 33-31-64 totals in 59 games this season with the QMJHL’s Drummondville Voltigeurs.

For the third straight year, Hughes will have two first-round picks at this year’s draft and it would be very surprising if he doesn’t trade at least one of them (probably in a package deal) to acquire a forward under age 24 with offensive potential.

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Hughes holds 12 picks at this year’s draft and 12 more next year. In 2025, he has two picks in the first round, two in the second and three in the third. Those 24 picks, along with an abundance of young defencemen with the Canadiens or already drafted, give Hughes a lot of cards he can play when it comes to making trades at the draft table.

Do you not think it would be way better for the Habs’ development to win 15 of their last 20 games and go into next season with guns blazing rather than tank for a draft pick that may or may not help you a few years down the road? Cheering for them to lose is pathetic and an insult to their integrity.

Dennis Lanthier

I am with you on this one, Dennis. I’m not a fan of tanking — especially when there is a draft lottery.

Professional hockey players want to win and you don’t want a losing atmosphere — or an acceptance of losing — to get into a locker room because it’s very hard to wash away. Just look at the Buffalo Sabres, who are probably going to miss the playoffs for the 13th consecutive season despite having 10 first-round picks at the last six drafts, including the No. 1 overall pick twice — Owen Power in 2021 and Rasmus Dahlin in 2018. The Sabres also had the No. 2 overall pick in 2015 (Jack Eichel) and 2014 (Sam Reinhart).

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Some people might forget that the Blackhawks weren’t the worst team in the NHL last season — they finished 30th overall, ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks — but still got the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery and took Connor Bedard.

It’s better for the Canadiens’ development as a team to win as many games as they can down the stretch (it won’t be 15) and then let the balls fall where they may in draft lottery.

Hi Stu. The Habs are rebuilding well. But aside from Lane Hutson (who’s a question mark because of his size), how will they ever be a contender without some elite players?

Sid

Hi, Sid.

Canadiens management is hoping some of the young players they already have — including Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky — can become elite. They definitely need to find more forwards who can score if they want to contend for a playoff spot — never mind a Stanley Cup.

It’s difficult to acquire elite players in a trade, which is why drafting well and player development is so important in this rebuilding process. But if an elite player was to become available in a trade, Hughes has young players and draft picks available and he will also have $12 million in salary-cap space freed up after the 2026-27 season when the contracts for Brendan Gallagher and Josh Anderson expire.

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