‘He’s a future superstar’: Canadiens fans get emotional watching NHL draft

While many outside Montreal’s Bell Centre were pleased with the team’s selection of Juraj Slafkovsky, there was equal disappointment over the Habs passing on Shane Wright.

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Pierre-Marc Pelletier stood at the front of a sea of Montreal Canadiens fans gathered outside the Bell Centre, his eyes fixed on the outdoor screen in anticipation.

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When the Canadiens announced their first overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft — Juraj Slafkovsky, from Slovakia — Pelletier jumped up and down, holding his homemade Slafkovsky sign as high as he possibly could for all to see.

“For weeks, I did my homework, I watched all the videos I could. This guy is a beast, I’m telling you,” said the 43-year-old from Pointe-aux-Trembles, his voice already rasping from screaming.

“Everyone’s going to love him. He’s a future superstar.”

Pelletier was among the many Habs faithful who gathered outside the Bell Centre and filled nearby sports bars Thursday night to take in the draft with fellow fans.

It was the first time the Canadiens got to select first overall since 1980, when the team chose Doug Wickenheiser, and the first time that a city hosted the draft while holding the first pick in more than 35 years.

Gathering before the event, many fans said they were still wrapping their heads around the roller-coaster the last two years have been.

Last summer, many in attendance had been standing at the exact same spot outside the arena, cheering the team on through its improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals. Now they found themselves hoping for an answer through the draft after the team failed to qualify for the playoffs.

But more importantly, fans weren’t going to miss the opportunity to witness the draft in their home city for the first time in decades.

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Wearing a Nick Suzuki jersey, Van Sar, 42, stood outside the arena with his five-year-old son, Rayan. As draft prospects started arriving by bus, he lifted the boy up on his shoulders to make sure Rayan could get a glimpse.

“It’s his first draft and, on top of it, we have the first pick,” Sar said. “It only happens once in 100 years, so we couldn’t miss it. We needed to be here.”

Longtime Habs fans and old friends Éric Lacasse and Robert Paquette echoed that excitement. Sitting on the concrete steps outside the arena before making their way in, they said they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get an early look at the team’s future.

“It’s a historic night,” said Paquette, 60, as he tried to list off the team’s former first-overall selections.

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Paquette said he already likes the team’s young core and was hoping it could pick up a player who meshes with the existing chemistry. But when he added that he hopes the team’s draft choice could soon bring the Canadiens back to their old glory days, Lacasse cut his friend off with a laugh and side-eye.

“Whoa, man, hang on there,” he said. “But I agree, it is an exciting night.”

While many were pleased with the team’s selection, there was equal disappointment among fans over the Canadiens passing on Shane Wright, considered the top prospect by analysts and the expected first overall pick.

When the young player stepped off the bus and onto the red carpet earlier in the night, he was instantly greeted with chants of “Wright! Wright! Wright!” followed by the more traditional “Olé! Olé! Olé!” as he signed autographs.

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Jesse Bourget was among the many in attendance holding Shane Wright signs as they waited for the pick to be made official. Wright, he thought, had all the qualities needed to make a difference at centre for the team.

So when the Canadiens selected Slafkovsky instead, Bourget dropped his head in disbelief, his hands on his knees. A friend rushed to console him, but the disappointment was obvious.

“Not as great as I thought it would be,” he mustered right after, still coming to terms with the surprise.

“But I guess if the scouts think he’s No. 1 … then he could possibly be No. 1?”

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