BUFFALO -- The Montreal Canadiens won't trade the No. 3 pick at the 2018 NHL Draft unless they are blown away by a trade offer, general manager Marc Bergevin told NHL.com on Tuesday.
Montreal's most pressing need is at center, a position that is rather thin at the top of the draft. At the same time, quality point producers likely will be selected in the top five, a group led by three forwards: Andrei Svechnikov, who had 72 points (40 goals, 32 assists) with Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League; Filip Zadina, who had 82 points (44 goals, 38 assists) with Halifax of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; and Brady Tkachuk, who had 31 points (eight goals, 23 assists) with Boston University.
The Buffalo Sabres hold the No. 1 pick and are expected to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin from Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League. The Carolina Hurricanes have the No. 2 pick, and the Canadiens have No. 3.
In a wide-ranging interview at the 2018 NHL Scouting Combine, Bergevin discussed his philosophy entering the draft, the pressure on him after the Canadiens missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs and his refusal to end the experiment of playing Jonathan Drouin at center.
The Canadiens finished with 71 points this season (29-40-13), 26 points behind the New Jersey Devils for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
You maintain a reluctance to trade the No. 3 pick for assets. Why?
"You pay a hefty price to get that pick. Obviously having the season we had, that's what gave us the right to pick that high. It's certainly not the goal when your season starts. But after all the pain and suffering, people will say, 'Will you ever trade that pick?' You know what? I learned from a comment [then-Chicago Blackhawks GM] Dale Tallon made when I was in Chicago. He said: 'You know what? You know how much we suffered to get that pick?' And I believe at the time it was third overall and it was [center] Jonathan Toews. And the next year, it was [forward] Patrick Kane (with the No. 1 pick). So it's not a fun time for our fans to suffer the way they did this year, but we're going to get rewarded in Dallas with a pick we feel will make our team better in the long haul. That's the price to pay."
This is not a deep year at the top of the draft for centers, which is a need for you. Has the draft evolved to the point where teams just take the most talented player available and go from there?
"You know, you're always looking at players who are 17, sometimes a late birth. You project. When you pick, you have to project from now who will be the best player. That's why the draft is not so easy. Is there a player right now at No. 3 who is going to be better than the rest? Well, that's our job to find out and to decide. But as we speak today, there's no [center] Sidney Crosby, there's no [forward] Alex Ovechkin. Rasmus Dahlin, the word is that he's going to go first, and rightly so. But after that, you have to decide and project. Doesn't mean the guy is the best player today; it's who will be the best in five years. That's why in the draft, teams pick other players who weren't projected to go in certain spots. Sometimes a team will pick someone with an early pick and you'll say, 'Wow, that was a surprise.' And then down the road, you find out that, yeah, it was a really good pick."
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The pain and criticism among the fans is always magnified in a hockey-crazed city like Montreal. How much pressure is there to get things turned around?
"Without a doubt, obviously this is going on my seventh year and we haven't achieved our ultimate goal. But we've had some really good seasons and we had a really good playoff run one year [in 2014] and you could feel it in our city. They say Montreal is the worst city when you don't win, but here's a fact: it's one of the best, if not the best, when you win. In the scheme of things, everyone goes through peaks and valleys. In a Canadian market, sometimes things can be more difficult, at least in terms of the valleys, but at the end of the day we all live for the ultimate. And there's no better place to win than a Canadian market. I can only speak for the one I'm in. It's one of the best, if not the best."
When healthy, players such as goaltender Carey Price, defenseman Shea Weber and forwards Jonathan Drouin, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk form a legitimate nucleus on your roster. Barring an unlikely trade, you are going to get a top-five player in the draft. Keeping that in mind, what is your blueprint going forward?
"Obviously the game today is based around speed, speed, speed. Look at the teams that are having success; speed is the foundation of their game. In that regard, I don't think we are that far off. I think we do have a fast team, but we have to do some tweaking. Some of our top guys had down seasons too, so expectations are higher both from the outside and on themselves. It's important that they find their games again. If they do that, we'll be back in the mix."
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You experimented with Drouin at center last season, a position where you are noticeably thin. Will you continue to try him there?
"As we speak today, there is a lack in the middle. [Drouin], well, I would say in the first half he had a hard time adjusting to center. As the season progressed, well, is he the perfect centerman? Is he Sidney Crosby? Of course not. But can he fill a role at times? Yes he can. We'll have to address some of our needs, sure. At the same time, there is a perception that [Drouin] failed there. I'm not ready to say that. He played some center in junior and he played some [with the Tampa Bay Lightning]. Other than goaltending, I think center is probably the hardest position to fill. It takes some time and some mileage to play that position to a degree where you could really help your team win. So I'm not going to write him off there. But we have options we can look at as we speak."