Habs GM Hughes on draft: ‘You want the best player available’
For Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes, the team’s draft philosophy is centred on taking the best player available.
The Canadiens hold the fifth overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft on June 28-29 in Nashville. A number of prospects have emerged as potential candidates for the team at No. 5, including centres Will Smith and Dalibor Dvorsky, wingers Matvei Michkov and Ryan Leonard and defenceman David Reinbacher.
When it comes to team needs in the organization, Hughes admits a player’s position factors into the final draft decisions.
“I think at the end of the day, you want the best player available,” said Hughes at the NHL Combine on Thursday. “But, if we're talking about different shades of the same colour - for example, if we were comparing a left-shot defenceman to a right-shot defenceman and we thought they were both of equal talent, we'd probably take the right-shot defenceman.
“It would be a factor, the same as if it were a right-shot or a left-shot winger, or if it were a really good goalie and we felt we didn't have enough depth in the organization," Hughes said. "But ultimately, we're going to go with the most talented player.”
In Hughes's first draft as general manager last year, the Canadiens selected Slovak winger Juraj Slafkovsky first overall. They also took forward Filip Mesar in the first round (26th overall) in 2022 and have a second first-round selection in 2023 at either No. 31 or No. 32, depending on if the Florida Panthers win or lose in the Stanley Cup Final.
With interviews between teams and prospects currently ongoing at the Combine in Buffalo, Hughes addressed the notion of how the team weighs drafting a player based on talent versus character.
“They're all important aspects, whether it's their character, their skating stride, their competitive spirit, their hockey IQ, or their on-ice abilities,” said Hughes. “Those are all components we evaluate, but that doesn't mean that every player has to be 9/10 in each category. There's always going to be one who has a stronger character or a stronger competitive spirit, and another who has a better hockey IQ.
“We weigh everything in the balance. We have 12 forwards and six defencemen on the ice every night in Montreal and they aren't all identical.”