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'It's very important these next two days that we're on top of our game'

The Canadiens plan on taking a 'best player available' approach to the Draft this year as opposed to focusing on specific positions

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL / canadiens.com

VANCOUVER - During his annual pre-Draft press conference on Thursday, assistant general manager Trevor Timmins confirmed that "in-depth work [was done] on at least 20 prospects" for the 15th overall selection.

That's in sharp contrast to the number of prospects Timmins and the rest of the Habs' amateur scouting staff had to consider when they were exploring their options last June at the No. 3 spot in Dallas.

"This is a totally new ballgame compared to last year," said Timmins. "Picking at 15, the pool of prospects is much larger than if we were picking at three. We have to know a broader spectrum of prospects. We're looking for players that are highly competitive, confident and motivated, those types of personalities."

According to the longtime member of the Canadiens' brass, the club isn't targeting a specific position with their first-round pick, and the same principal applies to the other nine selections they currently have at their disposal.

"With the number of prospects we've acquired over the last two years, three years, if you look at our depth chart, now the cupboards are getting stocked in all the different positions, so there's not a strong emphasis on any one position at this time," explained Timmins. "We can pick the best player available."

Video: Trevor Timmins shares his plans ahead of the Draft

No doubt securing the services of certain types of prospects at Rogers Arena would be a huge bonus, though.

"We've put high-asset value on offensive defensemen and centers," affirmed Timmins. "Centers can always play the wing, but scoring wingers as well. They're part of that package with high-asset value."

Timmins wasn't about to talk about any specific players on their radar heading into Round 1, of course, but he did reiterate that their top pick likely won't be suiting up with the Canadiens anytime soon.

"We don't expect that player to play for us this year, maybe not even next year. You need to have patience and let the players develop," insisted Timmins. "They're all different. They all develop at different rates, but we have a strong development team that we believe can help our young players grow, develop, and get to reach their man-strength or maturity."

The bottom line is that leaving the Lower Mainland with a good crop of youngsters is all that matters at the moment.

"It's very important these next two days that we're on top of our game and we make good picks," indicated Timmins. "I always say you can't analyze a Draft before it happens. You have to wait four, five or six years down the road, but I think there's good quality in the first round. Even early into the second round there's going to be some quality prospects available."

Before Timmins fielded questions, general manager Marc Bergevin met the media to shed light on several topics.

Early on, he confirmed that defenseman Jordie Benn would likely be testing the free-agent market come July 1.

"We've tried to bring him back, but we couldn't agree on a contract," said Bergevin, regarding the 31-year-old blueliner. "That's his choice to try free agency. That's the route that's going to happen, I believe."

Bergevin also updated the status of pending restricted free agents Joel Armia, Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon and Michael McCarron.

With respect to Armia and Lehkonen, Bergevin confirmed that both will be back with the Canadiens next season.

In Hudon's case, Bergevin is hopeful everything will work out for the best.

"If we didn't think he was worth keeping, I would not qualify him. We qualified him," said Bergevin, on the Alma, QC native who boasts 13 goals and 39 points in 110 career games with Montreal. "Two years ago, he came out of nowhere and made our team. I hope he could do it again."

Like Hudon, McCarron was also presented with a qualifying offer.

"We invested a first-round pick with him. There are things that we like from him," mentioned Bergevin, who selected McCarron 25th overall in 2013. "He could be placed on waivers if he doesn't make the Canadiens, but again it's training camp that will determine his future with the team."

On the free agency front, Bergevin emphasized a cautious approach this time around coming off the club's third-largest season-to-season point improvement in franchise history.

"I like the direction the team is headed. We took big steps forward. We're continuing in that same direction. We put an emphasis on youth and speed. The progress of the team last year surprised a lot of people and we're going to stick with youth and speed," emphasized Bergevin, citing the 25-point improvement between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns. "Every year there are good teams that miss the playoffs, and if you're going to miss the playoffs and change everything and throw everything out the window, I think that's dangerous. I think we're young, we're fast, and we have a lot of good things to show for it."

On that topic, Bergevin singled out the likes of Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Max Domi and Ryan Poehling as prime examples of players who will surely be an integral part of the organization's future.

"If they progress the way we think they are, I would hate three years from now to have to move one of those kids to make room for a guy that just signed a week from now," said Bergevin. "I have to be very smart, but I'll look at all the options."

Video: Marc Bergevin on the Draft and pending Free Agency

If possible, Bergevin would like to add a defenseman and some help up front come Canada Day.

"If it can make our team better, I sure will," said Bergevin. "I think if we can squeeze out a couple of more wins here and there, we should be in good shape."

A backup for starter Carey Price could be on his shopping list, too.

"For sure I'd like to give Cayden [Primeau] some time in Laval. Charlie [Lindgren] has showed at times that he could be a good backup. It's something I'll be looking into," noted Bergevin. "But I'll also look at the market and what's available, what's the price, and I'll make a decision about it."

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