Canadiens GM Kent Hughes not tipping his cap about NHL Draft

“I believe that I’m deserving to be in that No. 1 spot and I believe that I’m going to be the first pick,” top prospect Shane Wright says.

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We know one player the Canadiens won’t be selecting with the No. 1 pick at this year’s NHL Draft.

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“Jack (Hughes) is not going to be our No. 1 overall pick,” GM Kent Hughes said with a chuckle when asked about his son after the Canadiens won the NHL Draft Lottery Tuesday night. “I can promise you that.”

Jack Hughes, a 6-foot, 170-pound center, is ranked 26th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after posting 7-9-16 totals in 39 games this season with Northeastern University.

Riley Hughes, Jack’s older brother, was selected by the New York Rangers in the seventh round (216th overall) of the 2018 NHL Draft. Riley, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound right-winger, had 2-10-12 totals in 31 games this season at Northeastern.

Kent Hughes knows what it’s like to be a hockey dad and a player agent, which he was for more than 20 years before becoming GM of the Canadiens in January.

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Tuesday night, Hughes was asked what’s the best advice he has for young players like top-rated prospect Shane Wright as they await the NHL Draft, slated for July 7-8 at the Bell Center, knowing which teams hold the first 16 picks.

“From a player perspective, at least, I’ve often described the draft as the most anxious filled event that you might look back on fondly,” Hughes said. “Because it’s a lengthy process, going from (picking) first to fifth, that could be 30-45 minutes when people are waiting and they don’t know what’s going to transpire.

“At the end of the day, it’s a recognition of what they’ve accomplished to this point in time, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Hughes added. “People are going to remember less where you were picked and more what you accomplished. So you kind of keep your head down and you keep working to be the best that you can be. That’s an everyday, throughout-your-career motto if you want to be a really successful hockey player.”

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Hughes didn’t want to tip his cap about who the Canadiens might take with the No. 1 pick. The GM said he was willing to listen to trade offers for the pick, but it’s not something he had discussed yet with Jeff Gorton, the executive vice-president of hockey operations, assistant GM John Sedgwick or the scouting staff. Hughes said it’s not in the team’s plans to trade the pick.

Wright, a 6-foot, 191-pound center, is ranked No. 1 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting after posting 32-62-94 totals in 63 games with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs. In 2019, Wright became only the fifth player in OHL history granted exceptional-player status — following John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day — that allowed him to join the league as a 15-year-old. In his first OHL season, Wright had 39-27-66 totals in 58 games.

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“I believe that’s where I should go,” Wright told Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino about the possibility of being the No. 1 pick at the NHL Draft. “I believe that I’m the best player. I believe that throughout my play, throughout my entire life it has been shown that I’m the best player. I’m a competitive guy and I want to be (in) that spot. I don’t want anyone to take that from me. I believe that I’m deserving to be in that No. 1 spot and I believe that I’m going to be the first pick.”

Juraj Slafkovsky, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound-left-winger from Finland, is the top-ranked European skater for the draft after posting 5-5-10 totals in 31 games with TPS Turku of the SM Liiga.

Hughes, who is headed to the IIHF World Championship that starts Friday in Finland along with Gorton, hasn’t seen Slafkovsky play in person yet, but has watched him on TV and on video.

“We’re excited,” Hughes said. “We’ve got the first overall pick. We think we have the opportunity to draft a player that’s going to have an important role in the future of the Montreal Canadiens. when? How? That’s to be determined, like every other year in the draft. But we’re excited. We’re excited about the potential in this draft.”

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