Who’s No. 1? Uncertainty surrounding top pick at NHL draft

Rather than say who the Canadians plan to pick with the first pick in the NHL draft, GM Kent Hughes joked that they will all end up having top-3 prospects.

MONTREAL (AP) – Rather than put his hand on who the Montreal Canadiens want to pick with the first pick in the NHL draft, general manager Kent Hughes joked that they will end up having all three of Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley .

If the Canadians want to make a splash, they could end up with two of them.

When the Colorado Avalanche picked Nathan MacKinnon in 2013, it’s uncertain who will become No. 1 for the first time in nearly a decade. After MacKinnon led the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup, the Canadians face a potential franchise change decision in their first selection in 42 years and as the host of the draft that begins Thursday in Montreal.

“If there was one player with a perfect track record it would be a pretty easy decision and we probably would have already explained what we were going to do,” Hughes said on Wednesday. “All we can know, whether it’s Shane or Logan or Juraj, we want to know to what extent they can live with the pressure of playing in Montreal.”

Wright has been playing under pressure for years, under the microscope in the Ontario Hockey League as a long-awaited top pick in this draft. He had 94 points in 63 games in junior hockey last season.

The Canadian center believes he’s ready for the NHL and wants to put the pressure on the Canadiens to take first place overall from the Canadiens at the Bell Center 51 years after they picked Guy LaFleur for the same spot.

“I’m competitive,” Wright said. “I always want to be the first, I always want to be the best. I think no matter what position you are in, no matter where you rank, it’s always your goal and you always want to be first. They want to be the chosen one and that has always been my attitude.”

Dan Marr, head of NHL Central Scouting, said Wright and Slafkosky, a tall forward from Slovakia, are the likeliest prospects of playing in the league next season. Slafkovsky has drawn comparisons to the late Hall of Famer Clark Gillies and was named the most outstanding player at the Olympics after scoring seven goals in seven games.

Slafkovsky reiterated on Wednesday that he would be a good fit on the left wing with Montreal centers Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. When asked if the Canadians would take him, the charismatic 18-year-old replied: “I don’t know. You must ask her.”

With Hughes silent, teams will have to prepare for multiple scenarios with the next picks. The New Jersey Devils have taken a significant number of calls about the second-choice trade, but they’re willing to make it dependent on what Montreal does ahead of them.

“We mapped it out,” said GM Tom Fitzgerald. “At the end of the day, Montreal will pick a player and then we have to make a decision.”

The Arizona Coyotes are third, the Seattle Kraken fourth and the Philadelphia Flyers fifth. Arizona may have a tough choice between Cooley, an American center from Pittsburgh, and Cutter Gauthier, who grew up in the Phoenix area.

The dominoes starting with the top pick could take the design in many different directions.

“Of course, we’ll cross out four names before we name one, assuming we’re going to stick with five,” said Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher. “I can imagine scenarios where almost every player there could be available at 5.”

There’s also a scenario where the Devils could do something surprising, as Czech defender David Jiricek and Slafkovsky’s Olympic teammate Simon Nemec are also in the top tier of available candidates. Much like nine years ago, when long-awaited top pick Seth Jones fell to four, that could happen to Wright.

Or Wright could come first, as most hockey players have come to expect for a while.

“There’s no clear No. 1,” Fitzgerald said. “Most years you’ve had someone, so it’s unique. They’re all really good players, lots of different positions. But at the end of the day, they can all be the same and all be similar, in our opinion. Who’s No. 1? Uncertainty surrounding top pick at NHL draft

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