Stu Cowan: Cayden Lindstrom a tough player for Canadiens to pass on

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It will be interesting to see how much risk Habs management is willing to take with the No. 5 overall pick at this year’s NHL Draft.

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For the second straight year, the Canadiens will have the No. 5 overall pick at the NHL Draft.

Will they be willing to take a risk this time?

“When you pick (No.) 5, there’s only so many chances that an organization gets to add talent,” Jeff Gorton, the Canadiens’ executive vice-president of hockey operations, said in a video the team released after last year’s draft from a pre-draft scouting meeting. “It’s very hard. You can’t do it through free agency anymore, really. You’re getting older players and you have to pay them a lot of money, right? You pretty much have to draft or get lucky to get high-end talent now, right? And sometimes you take a chance. So it seems as though this room has said, ‘No, we don’t want to try this chance,’ and I just want to make sure we’re making the right decision.”

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While the video didn’t make clear which player Gorton was talking about, you have to believe it was Russian forward Matvei Michkov that the Canadiens weren’t willing to take a chance on. With Michkov, there were concerns about the fact he still had three years remaining on his KHL contract, the geopolitical landscape in Russia with the war against Ukraine, along with the mysterious death of his father, Andrei, whose body was found in a pond last April at age 51 under what the Russian Hockey Federation said was “unexplained circumstances.

Instead, the Canadiens took the safe route and selected Austrian defenceman David Reinbacher with the No. 5 pick, while Michkov went to the Philadelphia Flyers with the No. 7 pick.

There was a report last month from Russia’s SportExpress that Michkov could be headed to Philadelphia as early as this summer, getting out of his KHL contract. The Flyers aren’t certain that will happen and team management said last week they are still going on the assumption Michkov will play out the final two seasons of his KHL contract.

We will find out on June 28, when the first round of the NHL Draft is held in Las Vegas, if the Canadiens are willing to take a risk this year.

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Depending on what happens with the four picks ahead of them — the San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets — the Canadiens could have a decision on whether to select another dynamic Russian forward, Ivan Demidov, or Cayden Lindstrom, a centre with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. Demidov, who is 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, had 23-37-60 totals in 30 games this season with the St. Petersburg in Russia’s junior league. Lindstrom, who is 6-foot-3 and 213 pounds, had 27-19-46 totals in 32 games with the Tigers — along with 66 penalty minutes — but suffered a back injury in December and was sidelined until March.

“I’m healing up well,” Lindstrom told reporters in Buffalo last weekend at the NHL Scouting Combine, adding he didn’t think the injury was a major concern to NHL teams. “I’m on the ice three to four times a week. I work out in the gym about five to six times a week.”

Lindstrom didn’t take part in all the fitness tests at the combine, but he did place second in both left-hand grip and right-hand grip, and he ranked fourth in bench press. Lindstrom already has a man’s body, just like Juraj Slafkovsky did when the Canadiens took the 6-foot-3, 230-pound forward with the No. 1 pick at the 2022 draft.

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If the Canadiens are confident Lindstrom’s back won’t be a problem and he’s still available with the No. 5 pick I think he’d be hard to pass on — even if there’s some risk.

Chris (Knuckles) Nilan, who was part of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cup team in 1986, mentioned numerous times this season as a panellist on The Gazette’s Hockey Inside/Out Show that the Canadiens need more “men” in the lineup and Lindstrom already has a man’s body.

“This organization at some point has to add some men to it,” Nilan said. “Men that can play, men that play that big, heavy, physical game and can actually have input into the results of a game. I think with all the assets they have on D they’re going to be able to do that at some point. What that point is, I’m not sure. Is it this (upcoming) year … near the end of the year … in the draft? We’ll see what they do, but they’re certainly going to be in a position to do it. It’s when they pull the trigger.”

“We had a lot of men up front that could play the game and could be standing at the end,” Nilan added about the 1986 team. “I always say that. You got to have guys that are able to go the distance and have input. Not just go the distance and, ‘I’m part of this group,’ but actually have an input into the results that you hope to achieve. That’s a big deal come playoffs. The hardest trophy in sports to win (the Stanley Cup) and if your team is too small you’re not going anywhere.”

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