The Montreal Canadiens would be willing to trade their first-round pick (No. 16) in the 2020 NHL Draft for a player who can help them immediately and has term left on his contract, general manager Marc Bergevin told The Athletic.
“I’ve had conversations with other teams to check on whether certain players might be available,” Bergevin said in a story published Thursday. “I was asked if my [first-round] pick might be available and I answered yes, though I won’t trade that pick just to trade it. It has to be for a player who would help us right away. And then there’s the contract. Trading the 16th pick for a player that has one year left on his contract before becoming a free agent, that’s not the smartest thing to do either.
“But my pick is even more available [than usual], yes.”
The Canadiens have not traded a first-round pick since Bergevin was named GM on May 2, 2012.
The draft will be held virtually, with the first round scheduled for Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS) and rounds 2-7 on Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN).
The Canadiens were 31-31-9 (.500 points percentage) when the NHL paused its season on March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. They were seeded 12th in the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers but defeated the No. 5 seed Pittsburgh Penguins in four games before losing in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since being eliminated, the Canadiens have dealt third -, fifth- and seventh-round picks in separate trades to acquire backup goalie Jake Allen from the St. Louis Blues and defenseman Joel Edmundson from the Carolina Hurricanes.
Montreal has made 15 picks in the first three rounds during the past three NHL drafts, including center Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft. The 20-year-old had four goals in 10 games this postseason and has 42 points (17 goals, 25 assists) in 115 games the past two seasons.
Kotkaniemi and center Nick Suzuki helped spark Montreal in the playoffs this season. Suzuki tied forward Jonathan Drouin for the Canadiens lead with seven points (four goals, three assists) in the postseason and the 21-year-old was sixth among NHL rookies with 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 71 games during the regular season.
Bergevin said the Canadiens are ready to give their growing young core a chance to play and learn together.
“There’s no doubt we are working with a small sample size with what happened in 10 games [in the postseason], but at a certain point you have to take the risk that your kids will keep progressing,” he said. “We’ve reached a point where we’re ready to take that risk. Unless there’s a really good veteran who can really help us … one who can bring us even more than that and who is available, then yes. But at the end of the day, I think we have reached a stage where we need to let our kids progress, even if they struggle at first.”