With the 2022 NHL Draft fast approaching, the Eyes On The Prize team most involved in scouting prospects: myself, European correspondent patrick bexelleditor matt drakedeputy editor jared bookand writer Anton Rasegard — got together in the Habsent Minded Podcast to discuss who the Montreal Canadiens would or should pick in the first round.
The Habs have 13 picks beyond first overall to ponder. With the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal, and with their first three rounds of picks being placed, it’s more likely than ever that the Habs will try to gather local talent to develop.
One name that has come up frequently, specifically regarding the 26th overall pick they got in the trade that sent Tyler Toffoli to Calgary, is Tristan Luneau.
Place of birth: Trois-Rivieres, Quebec
Date of Birth: January 12, 2004
Weight: 190 pounds
Equipment: Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
It ticks a lot of boxes for the Habs. He is a skilled defender, has a great structure, is a local product, plays a responsible defensive game and does not shy away from physical contact. His 12 goals and 43 points in 63 games this season with Gatineau Olympiques ranked him second among draft-eligible QMJHL defensemen and 19th overall.
In a historically high-scoring league (98 draft-eligible defensemen have had higher point-per-game rates than Luneau in the Q), and especially as the primary power play option for Gatineau and a No. 1 overall pick in the QMJHL Draft, these numbers are lackluster.
The main reason Luneau hasn’t absolutely dominated offensively this year is his breakup game. Although his playmaking in the attacking zone is a strength, he has a lot of difficulty keeping his back to the game, which makes his ability to recover pucks behind his keeper, especially under pressure, a weakness. Once he has the puck and looks for options on zone exits, he doesn’t seem to have the knowledge to manipulate lanes and free up a teammate.
This problem is exacerbated by a lower than average forward stride. While the prospect’s lateral mobility and overall agility are among the best in this year’s draft, he doesn’t have that all-important spreader gear to escape counter pressure and properly prepare for an outing or extended pass. It’s not that big of an issue at the QMJHL level, but it will definitely become an issue in the AHL or NHL if it’s not rectified.
Defensively, Luneau is solid and active. He clears the front of the net, picks up cycling threats and uses his lateral mobility well to funnel opponents onto the boards on the run. He ends up checking him out well and often, keeping a good impression of his surroundings to avoid going out of the game unnecessarily.
His offensive tools are well rounded and polished, though he doesn’t possess a particular standout tool in that regard. He uses head feints and shoulder drops to deflect opponents into committing to one lane before hitting another, packs a heavy punch and can get out of trouble decently at his current level. Potentially, he could run an NHL-level power play unit, but some extra trickery and offensive awareness would further materialize that possibility.
Luneau is also quite stripy. He will have games where he dominates on all fronts, followed by dry spells that make you doubt his effort level and abilities in small areas. Although solid defensive displays are almost a guarantee from Luneau on a nightly basis, he can be in and out of games in terms of involvement and intensity, and especially in terms of the efficiency of his ideas offensively.
Elite prospects: #69
FCHockey: #3. 4
Smart Scouting: #71
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #twenty-one
NHL core scan: #24 (American figure skaters)
Corey Pronman (Atletico) #37
Scott Wheeler (Atletico): #31
Luneau’s profile screams “safe pick”: He’s almost certain to play in the NHL eventually. His high ground is a result of his solid and refined defensive game, his big frame and his well-rounded offensive toolkit. The question is whether the right-handed defender can become more of a low-end defender with marginal value on both special teams units.
The problems in his game aren’t the kind that keep a prospect out of the NHL altogether, but they’re definitely the kind that keep him in the lower echelons of any pro lineup. This is precisely what causes Luneau’s preliminary prospect to drop from 21st on Bob McKenzie’s preliminary list to 70th. It all depends on the needs of the team and their current situation.
A contending team with a shortage of right-handed blue liners in their system might very well look to Luneau in the 20s and see a perfect fit. The certainty of him as a prospect makes the acquisition worthwhile for a team with its fair share of stars — think Tampa Bay, Toronto, Calgary and more.
The Habs, however, are not in as favorable a position as those organizations. The team is rebuilding, and a successful rebuild requires stars. The plethora of high-risk, high-reward prospects available at the Habs’ 26th overall pick range makes selecting Luneau counterproductive to the team’s primary goal of replenishing the club with high-level talent. The prospect pool is packed with high-floor, low-ceiling prospects, and with 14 picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, the Habs should consider swinging this year.
If it comes to adding a right-handed defender, all three — Mattias Hävelid, Sam Rinzel and Christian Kyrou — should be available at that range, and all three have ceilings that could result in a top-3 blue-liner with the right development. If Luneau falls in the 50s, then he might be worth the pick, but a contender will most likely select him shortly after the Habs’ 26th overall pick.