WHO’S IT GOING TO BE? The betting money is the Montreal Canadiens will select Shane Wright at No. 1

“I still think they’ll pick Shane Wright. He’s the best player in this draft.”

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MONTREAL — Does Shane Wright still have the right stuff for the Montreal Canadiens?

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While Montreal general manager Kent Hughes was quiet about who he’ll take with the No. 1 selection in the NHL draft that gets underway Thursday night with Round 1 at the Bell Centre, it would be difficult to see his club shift away from the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs centre.

Though Hughes indicated the staff will decide between Juraj Slafkovsky, Logan Cooley or Wright with the top selection, the newly hired GM didn’t rule out trading the No. 1 pick, but it would take an offer he couldn’t refuse for that to happen.

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The belief in NHL circles is Hughes is just being coy and has no plans to shift gears, but nobody will really know until the Habs step to the microphone at a packed rink just after 7 p.m.

The 18-year-old Wright finished with 32 goals, 62 assists and 94 points in 63 games with the Fronts last season. He had three goals and 14 points in 11 playoff games with Kingston.

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“I still think they’ll pick Shane Wright,” a league executive said Tuesday. “He’s the best player in this draft. Will he be ready to play next year? That’s up to them to decide, but I believe he’s the guy they want and I’d be surprised if they didn’t make him No. 1.”

There have been differing opinions on who should be the No. 1 pick because Slafkovsky and Cooley have both made a case to be in the discussion. Some scouts believe Wright has been rated No. 1 for so long that some scouts have started to see too much of him.

“You watch a player this much and you start picking him apart,” the executive added.

That’s just it. We heard the same about John Tavares when he was selected No. 1 overall by the New York Islanders in 2009 from the London Knights. Instead of seeing all his skill, people started to pick apart his mistakes and he’s gone to have a standout NHL career.

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That year, defenceman Victor Hedman went No. 2 to the Lightning.

It was no surprise to see Craig Button, TSN’s respected director of scouting and former NHL general manager, stick with Wright as the best player during his mock draft released Monday. He has said he believes Wright will be a difference-maker.

“I just simply see him as the best player in this draft,” Button said. “There’s other good players, but Shane Wright does so many different things that impact the game. We can use comparisons and I use Patrice Bergeron.

“Shane Wright’s never going to be a superstar in my mind, but, like Patrice Bergeron, they’re going to be critically important to a team’s success. And that’s whatever team they play on. Patrice Bergeron is going to the Hockey Hall of Fame so if you can draft a player that you think can be a hall-of-famer I think Shane Wright fits the bill.

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“With (Nick) Suzuki and Wright up the middle at No. 1 and No. 2, that sets up the Canadiens big time in the future.”

The ideal scenario would see the Habs select Wright with the first pick and make a deal with the New Jersey Devils for the No. 2 selection to take Cooley or Slafkovsky.

Cooley, a forward with the U.S. National Development team program, he had 13 goals and 36 points in 24 games last season. He has committed to play at the University of Minnesota next season.

As for Slafkovksy, he’s regarded by some scouts as the player who had the most consistent season from start to finish with TPS Turku in the Finnish league. Those who saw him at the IIHF world championship in May said he was by far the best player while with the Czech club.

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Slafkovksy is the most NHL ready, and if the Habs want someone to play next season then they’ll go this route.

Hughes has draft capital with 14 picks, and that’s why he’d like to make a big splash for the home crowd. The Devils and the Ottawa Senators, who have the No. 7 pick, have both stated publicly they’re willing to deal their selections if they can get an impact player in return.

It should be noted all three players have their backers and that’s why there’s uncertainty around who will be the No. 1 pick. The reality is Hughes will do what’s best for the franchise and being the top selection by the Canadiens comes with a different pressure than other NHL markets.

It’s interesting to note Habs special assistant Vincent Lecavalier has already spoken to Wright about that pressure.

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“We’re trying to evaluate how a player projects,” Hughes said. “We can look at a player and say this is what he is at this moment in time in where he’s playing. They’re in different levels of hockey and we’re trying to say, ‘This guy is able to do this at this level, can he do it at the next level?’

“There’s a hockey component, a positional component and there’s all these things we’re evaluating. The other part is it’s hard to be 17 years old and be under the microscope as Shane has and others before him. But it’s almost harder to be the first overall pick in Montreal.”

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Twitter: @sungarrioch


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