Nashville, Tenn. – Speaking after securing the No. 5 pick in the NHL draft lottery in May, Canada’s general manager Kent Hughes said there’s a difference between drafting and building a team. There are qualities Canadians look for in the players they draft, and so those qualities should be prioritized over how a player fits into the organizational depth chart.
On Wednesday night, after taking right-handed Austrian defenseman David Reinbacher with the No. 5 pick in the draft, Hughes stated that if Reinbacher had been a left-handed defender, they might have “cooled” him, but the organization lacks depth on the right side.
It is difficult to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting statements made by the same man six weeks apart. If there is a difference between drafting and team building, the Canadiens’ organizational depth on the right side of their defense should be irrelevant on draft night. When confronted with this discrepancy between what he had said after the lottery and what he had said a few minutes earlier, Hughes responded.
On our list, he was there. We evaluate players for their potential. “Being a right D kicker, the tiebreaker would go to right D than left D. But if we felt there was a better pick, we’d do it.”
In Scouting, there should be no ties. Scouts spend the entire season watching these kids, talking to teammates, coaches, and parents, trying to dig up every ounce of information they can get their hands on. Hughes said he had watched Reinbacher on video all season and loved his progress as the season continued playing in one of Europe’s top men’s leagues. They had scouts visit Kloten in Switzerland all season, not only their European chief scout, Christer Rockström, and not only their co-managers scouts Nick Bobrov and Martin Lapointe, but also some American scouts, just to make sure what everyone was seeing.
One of those scouts asked Kloten GM Larry Mitchell upon his arrival in February what would stop Reinbacher from playing in the NHL. Mitchell’s response was that nothing would stop him from playing in the NHL.
Mitchell said, “Then this particular scout watched two runs and watched two games and we had coffee the next day, and he said I agreed 100 percent with what you said to me a few days ago.”
This level of in-depth personal exploration is what the Canadiens lacked in Matvey Michkov, who then went twice to the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 7. Hughes said that was a major red flag for them. His contract was not with SKA St. Petersburg, nor was the geopolitical scene. The thing was, they didn’t see him play other than the video, and the video doesn’t tell the whole story.
And the Canadians weren’t alone.
“We had some concerns,” said San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Greer, who passed Michkov for fourth. “He’s a special talent on the ice, there’s no question about that. He’s very skilled, he can do things that not a lot of other guys can do.” But there are some things we’re not quite satisfied with that we can take someone with fourth pick.”
The Arizona Coyotes also passed Mitchkov for sixth, not to mention the Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets ahead of the Sharks.
New Flyers program director Daniel Breyer was unsuccessful.
“We took a big swing, but hopefully that turns into a home run,” he said. “Time will tell it’s still a bit early, but we feel that when he’s ready to come in, he can really be a difference-maker. And that’s the risk we were willing to take, waiting a little bit until we have a difference-maker on our hands.”
Just as Hughes’ two comments seemed conflicting six weeks later, these two comments from two NHL GMs said they were a few minutes apart.
Drafting as needed versus drafting the best player available has always been presented as diametrically opposed. Either you do one or the other. But this is not necessarily true.
Having a defensive player with the best double right-handed type is necessary throughout the league because it’s rare. Teams often overpay in a trade or in free agency to get one because of this rarity. Teams often place a much higher drafting premium than most general rosters do due to the same rarity. The New Jersey Devils did just that last year when they drafted Simon Nemec with the second overall pick, the Detroit Red Wings did it in 2019 when they took Moritz Seider sixth overall.
There is a concept of place value that is fed into the MAV formula.
And when Hughes said drafting and team building are not the same thing, I also think that’s not true. Teams are always looking to fill in the organizational gaps, even at the top of the draft. Once again, last year the Devils acquired Nemec and let go of Shane Wright and Logan Cooley largely because they were in the center with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. It happens often.
Drafting as needed has always been a taboo in the NHL because players in the draft were too far away to contribute to your team, and there was no way to know what your team was like once those players arrived. But this is also much less true than it used to be. Players go from being eligible to be drafted into the NHL, especially at the top of the draft, very quickly. Reinbacher is no more than a year away from playing in Montreal. Some believe he could play in the NHL right away, and Reinbacher himself is open to any scenario, including playing in the AHL as Nemec did this season.
But I would argue that blindly crafting the best player available while ignoring your needs and ignoring if you already have that player profile is foolish. Mechkov, in my opinion, will score a lot of goals in the National Hockey League. I also feel that way about Cole Cofield. Mechkov, in my opinion, will drive crazy coaches into indifference when he plays without a puck. I also feel that way, in a sense, about Caufield. You can see the value of the goals Caufield creates from nothing and accept to live with his shortcomings in other areas of his game. But can you live with two of these guys? can you Wins With two of these players? I don’t think you can.
But can you win with someone like Reinbacher? I don’t know. But what I do know is in order to win you need someone like what Canadians feel Rheinbacher will become.
In 2022-23, Reinbacher was playing for 17-year-old Kloten in the second division of Switzerland. He had no chance of being drafted, let alone drafted as the fifth-ranked player in that division. But Cloten won the division and earned promotion to the top flight of Switzerland in a year when that league was as good as ever. They’ve increased the number of imports per team from four to six, had an influx of imports fleeing the KHL, and Reinbacher is still thriving.
But perhaps more importantly, according to his coach, the 17-year-old Reinbacher was a big reason Kloten had been in the top flight from the start.
“He was playing in League Two and he made strides all year that first year with us in that League Two, and he was a big reason we finished up,” said Geoff Tomlinson. This is not easy to do in Switzerland. It was the guy he just ran into. Without it, we would have had a hard time getting up. I mean, he was a bigger difference maker for us defensively and puck-wise. We knew we were in this season, the staff, we all knew he was going to be in our top four this season. We thought he would be in our top four because of just the way he responded to every challenge. And you know he’s a big kid. Well, why not, right? Why don’t you give it to him? “
Responding to every challenge was important to Tomlinson. Early in the season, not believing Reinbacher would get a chance to play in the power play, circumstances dictated that he had to play a game on Kloten’s second play unit. He never left.
“He seemed to surprise us in every attacking role we gave him,” said Tomlinson. “We didn’t start the power play with him at the start of the season. That wasn’t the plan. It was just to get him used to playing in the league and working with him. Then he had the opportunity and he took it in one game. You know, some guys want 10 games or 20 games and still They say, boss, I didn’t get a chance.
“But David always lived up to that expectation we had for him, and he exceeded it. I didn’t expect him to keep playing all year, but he did.”
This ability to exceed expectations comes from Rheinbacher’s nature.
“I think he’s just a quiet kid and he acts like business,” said Tomlinson. “Sure, we all get frustrated, and he is, too. But it’s not at the level where she’s holding him back. He moves on. He really tends to work on things he needs to do after a workout because he’s not happy with it. So maybe he’s taking it to a different level.”
“But he’s really calm in his mind and he’s more than that, how do I say it, he’s not overheated in his head. And I think that’s a very big advantage for him. He’s able to slow the game down there and he’s able to process things more clearly, I think. He was This is a big thing for him.”
Game handling is what Management Canada values most of all.
Thibaud Chatel, hockey data expert and Montreal native, works extensively with teams in Switzerland to track data and provide detailed analytics for his clients and subscribers. His service, NL Ice Data, was tracked 22 games with Reinbacher with KlotenAnd they came to the following conclusion.
To dig deeper, we also have a prospects model, which looks at every player from 16 to 22 and projects their potential career (up to) 30. In that respect, Reinbacher was simply the second-best player in the draft behind (Connor) Bedard, with a chance of 52 percent to be an ‘elite’ (top 10 percent) player in the league on average over the next decade.”
There is a valid argument to be made that if the Canadians had not intended to draft Meshkov, they should have traded and added some value. Hughes said five or six teams were calling him for a selection, but they saw no value in making the trade compared to the value they saw in Reinbacher.
Brière said they were looking for a way forward to make sure they got Michkov.
“For a talent of his caliber, we didn’t think he’d be available in the seventh. So we looked at various opportunities to try to move up.” The value of picks on draft day, for some reason, seemed to have gone up quite dramatically. So we couldn’t get close to any of the other picks in front of us. So we kind of waited and she fell on our lap. So for us, it was an easy decision.”
The problem for the Canadiens is that trading down to No. 7 means they won’t be able to recruit Reinbacher, because he was basically guaranteed to go to the Coyotes at No. 6 if he was available. So badly they wanted this guy.
Canadians may be wrong. Perhaps Reinbacher’s wording was a mistake. But Hughes called him a “diamond in the rough”, someone they considered to have a lot of upside as well as placement value, someone who would play a lot of minutes for the Canadiens for a very long time.
Canadians value players who will perform in a playoff environment, and they see that in Reinbacher.
They are, in essence, betting on themselves and their ability to assess prospects, and they are doing so for the second year in a row in the face of massive public pressure to recruit someone else.
And when Reinbacher was asked if he knew any of the young defensemen in the Canadiens’ system, his eyes immediately lit up and he smiled.
“Yes, absolutely. He had a great game against us in the World Championships,” said Len Hutson Reinbacher. I can’t wait to see him.”
Reinbacher’s profile would make him an ideal partner for Hutson at some point, something Logan Milo or Justin Barron – Two young senior defenders right shot in the pipeline – it will not be.
“It would be great to play with him,” Reinbacher said. “I think he’s left-handed, so he’s a perfect husband.”
Drafting and team building are different? Not sure about that. Hughes denied that this selection was based more on team building than drafting, and I’m not sure.
But I’m also not sure that team building shouldn’t be a factor in drafting either.
(Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
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