(Nashville) Kent Hughes does not hide it: the acquisition of Alex Newhook goes “in the same direction” as that of Kirby Dach, at the same date last year.

Tuesday, on the eve of the NHL Draft, the general manager of the Canadian met with journalists for the usual discussion before the first round. The Habs’ selection strategy, however, was largely overshadowed by the deal the team had completed hours earlier.

Hughes thus traded first- and second-round picks (31st and 37th overall) in 2023 as well as minor league defenseman Gianni Fairbrother to the Colorado Avalanche for Newhook. This 22-year-old forward, currently without a contract next year, was struggling to hatch with the Avalanche. He nevertheless played in all 82 games for the club last year and participated in the conquest of the Stanley Cup in 2022.

This is where the comparison with Dach comes into the conversation. The two are obviously not the same player. If only in size: 6’4″ and 212 lbs for Dach, 5’10” and 190 lbs for Newhook.

They do, however, have in common having been drafted in the first round in 2019 – Dach in 3rd place and Newhook in 16th, immediately after Cole Caufield. And to experience a career start that does not live up to expectations.

Even their offensive production is almost the same when they arrive in Montreal: 66 points in 159 games for Newhook in Colorado, compared to 61 points in 152 games for Dach with the Chicago Blackhawks. The latter, however, found his wings in his new uniform, amassing 38 points in 58 games in 2022-2023 under the orders of Martin St-Louis. The organization is now reproducing the same party.

“A good player doesn’t forget how to play,” Hughes warned. We often see how much it helps players to evolve in a new context. We believe that Alex has this potential. »

The manager recalled that, for a young player, finding his place within a club aspiring to great honors is not easy. Landed in Denver at the end of the 2020-2021 season, Newhook has indeed joined a mature formation, with very high ambitions. As proof, a year later, the former Nordiques lifted the Stanley Cup.

He started the 2021-2022 campaign in the American League before being recalled for good by the big club. He was, however, confined to a supporting role there, almost exclusively five-on-five, playing just under 14 minutes per game for two full seasons.

In Colorado, he played both at center and on the wing. At the Canadian, we do not advance on the precise role that we intend to entrust to him.

We also don’t mind the fact that another short forward joins an already petite roster – with the addition of Newhook, at least half of the top 6 could be under 6 feet. “Small, it can be height or weight. But Alex is thick in the lower body, like Sidney Crosby,” said Kent Hughes.

Following the acquisition of Newhook, an experienced player despite his young age, one can also wonder if the administration of the Canadian has not weighed on the accelerator in his reconstruction plan. The GM had, after all, announced at the end of last season that he expected better results from his team in 2023-2024.

This time he was more circumspect. “We will always look for ways to move forward without sacrificing the future,” he noted. We gave two good choices, but we’re looking for a good young player who won’t be a free agent for five years. »

Also, with the 50 contract limit per team, infinitely drafting players isn’t necessarily a benefit. After this transaction, the Habs still have nine selections this week in Nashville.

Unless that changes again by Wednesday evening.

The Canadian, until further notice, is supposed to be the fifth team to take to the stage at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday night. Kent Hughes didn’t open up about the target player, simply pointing out that he and his scouting staff had “several names in mind.” Unless one of the four teams in front of CH falls in love with Matvei Michkov, it is expected that Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson and Will Smith will no longer be available in fifth place. On Monday, Barry Trotz, general manager of the Nashville Predators, said that was where it would get “interesting.” He even argued that it was the CH who had “the key” for the rest of the first round. “If Barry thinks we have the key, we’re glad we have it!” laughed Hughes. “We’re open to anything,” he added.

Great mystery of this draft, the Russian Matvei Michkov finally met team management in Nashville. That of the CH is of the number. “We had a good first impression,” Hughes said. It’s different from going through a translator, but we were watching his body language and his responses were intelligent and mature. Michkov’s self-confidence seems to have come out during this interview. That’s about all we learned about it.

Kent Hughes has also been evasive about his willingness to trade players from his current roster over the next few days. Including Alex Newhook, Denis Gurianov and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, who have yet to reach an agreement with the club, the CH would indeed have 16 attackers with a one-way NHL contract, as well as 9 defenders who have played at least 39 games last season. That’s already a lot of people. “We often talk to teams: sometimes you start discussions without knowing where it’s going and you find a way to make a trade,” Hughes recalled. He further confirmed that Gurianov would not receive a qualifying offer, but he did not rule out agreeing terms with him on a new low-cost contract in the coming weeks. As for Jonathan Drouin and Alex Belzile, who will become unrestricted free agents on July 1, their file is not yet closed, we are told. No contract redemption is also planned for the moment.