Canadiens NHL Draft notebook: The value of live viewings, Hutson’s view of the rebuild and more

LAS VEGAS — It is widely known that NHL decision-makers value live viewings far more than what you can see on video, which is what has made drafting players out of Russia so complicated. You can’t see how the player behaves on the bench on video, how he interacts with his teammates on video, his body language between whistles. There is so much information to be found on a player that you can’t find on the screen when the camera is simply following the puck.

But there is more information to be found with boots on the ground, and the Canadiens were very fortunate to have the boots of co-director of amateur scouting Nick Bobrov, a Russian citizen, on the ground to watch Ivan Demidov.

Not only did Bobrov meet several times with Demidov and his family, but he got to see a side of him that does in fact shine through on video, but is only accentuated when you are there in person.

They don’t send out practices on video, after all.

“I guess the one thing is seeing him practice, and how hard he works, how relentless he is on and off the ice, how much time he spends on his craft,” Bobrov said Saturday after the completion of Day 2 of the draft. “We have other kids, other players who work so relentlessly on their craft that it’s almost too much. Ivan falls into that category of when you watch him play games, it’s exciting. But when you watch him work in practice, you get even more excited because he would be in a very unique category of people who just never stop. So that’s very impressive.”

There were a few teams who were able to get decision-makers into Russia, which is a massive commitment. Western credit cards don’t work in Russia due to financial sanctions over the ongoing war in Ukraine. Crossing the border into Russia is not a simple process by any stretch. And then there’s the inherent chaos of being in a country at war.

This is part of the reason why the Canadiens are this excited about Demidov. They saw sides of him that most other teams didn’t. And it also helps explain why meeting with him in Florida last week at the Gold Star showcase event was less important to them than hiding their intentions so close to the draft.

When Kent Hughes mentioned Friday night that the Canadiens had Demidov on their radar last year when they took David Reinbacher at No. 5 instead of a forward, that was only part of the story. Bobrov’s father, Sergei, has been a scout for SKA Saint Petersburg for 15 years. He had insight on Matvei Michkov most other teams did not have, and he also had insight on Demidov.

He’s been on the Canadiens’ radar for far longer than one year.

“We’ve known Ivan for a number of years now because of my dad’s position and knowing young players in that organization is a big part of his job,” Bobrov said. “So we knew the kid, the family really well. I was fortunate enough to get there a couple of times and spend time with him and his family. We felt that we might have a chance at him, but not a significant one. It worked out, and clearly he was very happy to end up in Montreal. His family was looking forward to that.

“Part of the reason he wanted to be in Montreal was because he loves pressure. He embraces pressure and thrives on it. Sometimes we ask kids whether or not they will be OK playing in this city. He was begging for it. So that’s a good sign.”

That last part is the kicker. Demidov embracing pressure is a big part of what the Canadiens look for.

“His ceiling is as high as some of the best players in the league,” Bobrov said. “And he expects nothing less than that from himself, which is the most important part.”

Director of scouting Martin Lapointe called Demidov “the steal of the draft.” Bobrov said that was “an understatement.” The Canadiens are over the moon about this pick, this player, and the additional information Bobrov was able to gather on the ground is a big reason why.

Lane Hutson’s view of the rebuild

Lane Hutson was at the draft to watch his brother Cole get drafted by the Washington Capitals in the second round at No. 43, or 19 picks before the Canadiens nabbed Lane late in the second round in 2022.

Big brother expects to get a lot of chirps from little brother on that one.

“If I was him,” Lane said, “I would give it to me.”

Hutson got a chance to meet Demidov at the draft.

But this was not Hutson’s first chance to get to know Demidov. No, he knew about him long before.

“I would get sent some clips of him and people were saying you should get this guy, the Canadiens should get this guy. Just my friends, like, have you seen this kid?” Hutson said. “And I’m like, who? But obviously I figured out really quickly he’s a really good player. I’m really happy we got him.”

Hutson has some similarities to Demidov, his shiftiness on his edges being the biggest one, and he definitely appreciated watching those clips and the thought of being Demidov’s teammate one day.

“He’s a really good skater, silky smooth hands, underrated playmaker, great shot,” Hutson said. “He’s kind of the whole package and then some. It’s exciting for our forwards, but especially for a D like me who likes to get it up to those guys.”

In a bigger picture sense, Hutson’s excitement at the thought of getting the puck into Demidov’s hands speaks to how the Canadiens have changed their outlook over the last three drafts, how the infusion of talent is being felt by that talent.

“I think we’ve got a group that’s really young, but a group that’s really excited too,” Hutson said. “When I was coming into that locker room, you never know what to expect, but I was instantly welcomed, everyone was really excited and made it really easy on me. We’ve got a young group that can definitely do a lot of damage, and I feel we’re adding huge pieces here, too … When I think about where our team’s at, I think about the 2010 Blackhawks because I grew up watching them. But I think about all those guys growing up together, growing as a team, they were all young and found a way to win.

“Hopefully we can get to that point.”

The puzzle begins to take shape

Bobrov has a theory that a team needs three really good drafts to become a contender. When he was with the Boston Bruins, Bobrov was part of a scouting group that added Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand in three drafts over a four-year period. When he was with the Los Angeles Kings, they drafted Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez, Drew Doughty and Brayden Schenn over three drafts. Each of those teams would go on to win the Stanley Cup thanks to those players, whether they actually played on the team or were used in trades to help get the final pieces.

The Canadiens just completed their third draft with Lapointe and Bobrov running it under Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes. In that span, including both draft picks and players acquired in trades, this is what a hypothetical lineup of the players that have arrived under this administration would look like, not paying too much attention to who is playing on what side.

Canadiens all-HuGo acquisition team


Ivan Demidov

Kirby Dach

Juraj Slafkovský

Filip Mešár

Michael Hage

Alex Newhook

Florian Xhekaj

Owen Beck

Filip Eriksson

Vinzenz Rohrer

Aatos Koivu

Emil Heineman

Left defence

Right defence

Mike Matheson

David Reinbacher

Lane Hutson

Adam Engström

Bogdan Konyushkov

Johnathan Kovacevic


Jacob Fowler

Yevgeni Volokhin

The addition of Demidov and Michael Hage to that fantasy lineup certainly changes the look and feel of what the Canadiens have done over the last two-plus years.

“We felt we were fortunate to end up with the players in each of those drafts that we ended up with,” Bobrov said. “They’re different flavours, sizes, styles; you need different types of players to compete for the cup. They can’t all be the same, but they all need to really want to win and accept the pressure that comes with the territory where our team happens to play.

“So we felt confident that the types of people that we brought into the organization will deal with that pressure aptly, and Ivan is certainly a big piece of that puzzle.”

Aatos Koivu is more than just a great story

At least that’s what the Canadiens think.

“We liked him as a player, regardless of his last name,” Bobrov said of Aatos Koivu, the son of longtime Canadiens captain Saku. “He’s a late-blooming kid, he started playing at the U18 level and then everything started coming really fast. U20 national team, TPS pro games in Liiga, so for a kid who was smaller just about a year ago and grew quickly, there’s a lot of growth potential. Clearly, his dad taught him very well, his habits are already pro. But the body needs to develop. Our job is to project, project the physique and where the player can get to in five years, so we felt he was just scratching the surface.

“He was a pretty easy pick for us.”

Aatos Koivu spoke to the media from Turku after being picked, as he chose not to come to the draft so he could continue training. He hopes to make TPS Turku and play a big role in Liiga this season, so coming to Vegas appeared to him to be counterproductive to that goal.

But he was ecstatic about being drafted to Montreal, even if he missed it on TV.

“Everyone saw that Montreal was the next pick and everyone was kind of quiet. I actually was kind of looking down and was kind of quiet with my eyes closed,” Koivu said. “I didn’t even hear my name really from the TV but my mom started to yell, she jumped and was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ and I was like what are you talking about? Then I saw my name on the TV, then my dad jumped as well and was super happy. My whole family, my friends, everyone was super happy.”

Koivu is used to the long shadow his father casts, especially in Finland, where Saku Koivu is practically a national hero. Aatos said he used to hear it from opponents on the ice growing up, but he’s not concerned about making a name for himself in the city where his dad is also a legend of sorts, the favourite player of an entire generation of Canadiens fans.

That’s why it should be noted that the media asked that Saku Koivu be made available on that video call with his son. Jarome Iginla was doing interviews everywhere Friday night with his son Tij, who was picked sixth by Utah. But ultimately, we didn’t get Saku on the video call. He left the stage to his son, not wanting to cast a shadow on his spotlight.

It was a nice touch.

Canadiens still looking for trades

Day 2 of the draft was buzzing with big trades across the league, but the Canadiens left Las Vegas without having made one after acquiring Kirby Dach at the 2022 draft and Alex Newhook at the 2023 draft.

“We were at 21!” Hughes said Friday night, referring to their trade up from No. 26 to pick Hage. “That doesn’t count?”

Nice try.

It definitely counts for something, because getting Hage was a significant development. But the Canadiens still have a glut of young defencemen, they still have all of their 2025 draft picks, and they would like to use those assets to improve the team in the short term.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported on the 32 Thoughts podcast Saturday that the Canadiens had talked to the Winnipeg Jets about Rutger McGroarty, but they didn’t get anywhere. This tracks with what Hughes described Friday night about having a potential deal in place in case Demidov wasn’t available at No. 5, but since the Canadiens now had Demidov, it changed the dynamic.

Hughes wouldn’t go further than that, but it would make some sense that McGroarty was seen as a Plan B, perhaps allowing the Canadiens to draft a defenceman at No. 5 while adding him to the group of young forwards in the organization.

Ultimately, it wasn’t necessary, and the Canadiens kept the assets that trade would have cost them. But now, they still need to go out into the marketplace and find a match, something Gorton described Thursday as being somewhat difficult to do with so many other rebuilding teams in a robust trade market.

But something has to give on the Canadiens’ blue line, and they know it.

“Yeah,” Hughes said Friday night, “we’re not done trying.”

(Photo of Canadiens draft table: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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