Rather than tell him who the Montreal Canadiens plan to select with the first pick in the NHL draw, general manager Kent Hughes joked that they would get all three Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley.
If the Canadiens want to make a splash, they could end up with two.
It’s uncertain who will become No. 1 for the first time in nearly a decade when the Colorado chose Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon in 2013. In the wake of MacKinnon leading the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup, the Canadiens face a potentially franchise-changing decision in their first roster in 42 years and hosting the draft in Montreal.
“If there was one player with a perfect track record, it would be a pretty easy decision and we would probably have already announced what we were going to do,” Hughes said on Wednesday. “All we can know, be it Shane or Logan or Juraj, we want to know how much they can live with the pressure of playing in Montreal.”
Wright has been playing with pressure for years, under the microscope in the Ontario Hockey League as the long-projected top pick in this draft. He racked up 94 points in 63 junior hockey games last season.
The Canadian center believes he is NHL ready and wants the push of being picked first by the Canadiens at Bell Center 51 years after they selected Guy LaFleur in the same slot.
“I’m competitive,” Wright said. “I always want to be the first, I always want to be the best. I think it doesn’t matter what position you are in, wherever you are, it’s always your goal and you always want to be the first. You want to be the first chosen being a man and that’s always been my way of thinking.”
Dan Marr, head of NHL Central Scouting, has said Wright and Slafkosky, a major striker from Slovakia, are the most likely candidates to play in the league next season. Slafkovsky has drawn comparisons to the late Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Olympics after scoring seven goals in seven games.
Slafkovsky reiterated on Wednesday that he would fit well on the left wing with Montreal centers Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield† When asked if the Canadiens wanted to catch him, the charismatic 18-year-old replied: “I don’t know. You have to ask them.”
Since Hughes doesn’t tell, the teams with the following choices must prepare for multiple scenarios. The New Jersey Devils have gotten a significant number of calls about second-choice trading, but they’re willing to make it depend on what Montreal does for them.
“We mapped it out,” said GM Tom Fitzgerald. “In the end, Montreal picks a player and then we have to make a decision.”
The Arizona Coyotes are third, the Seattle Kraken fourth and the Philadelphia Flyers fifth. Arizona may have a tough choice between Cooley, an American center from Pittsburgh, and Cutter Gauthier, who grew up in the Phoenix area.
The dominoes that start with the top pick can take the draft in many different directions.
“Obviously we’ll tick off four names before naming one, assuming we stick with 5,” said Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. “I can see scenarios where almost every player could be available at 5am.”
There is also a scenario where the Devils could do something surprising as Czech defender David Jiricek and Slafkovsky Olympic team-mate Simon Nemec are also among the top prospects available. Just like nine years ago, then the long-awaited top pick Seth Jones fell to four, that could happen to Wright.
Or Wright could go first, as most in hockey have been expecting for a while.
“There is no clear number 1,” Fitzgerald said. “Most of the years you’ve had someone, so that’s why it’s unique. They are all very good players, many different positions. But in the end they could all be the same, with similar ceilings in our view.”
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Who is number 1? Uncertainty about top choice in NHL draft originally appeared on NBCSports.com